Canadian Underwriter

ICLR’s Paul Kovacs honoured with lifetime achievement award

February 8, 2021   by David Gambrill

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Paul Kovacs, executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR), has received the Joseph Scanlon Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Risk and Hazards Network (CRHNet).

CRHNet is a not-for-profit organization established in 2003 to share hazards research and promote and strengthen disaster risk reduction and emergency management in Canada.

Kovacs received CRHNet’s highest honour, named after the late T. Joseph Scanlon, a journalist, researcher, and professor. All Canadians are eligible to receive the award, which recognizes individual service to public safety through disaster management practice, research, education, and leadership.

Kovacs heads up the ICLR, which was established by the Canadian property and casualty industry in 1998 as a centre for multi-disciplinary disaster prevention research and communication.

“I’m really, really proud,” Kovacs told Canadian Underwriter Monday, when asked what the award meant to him. “This is an award from my peers. This is from all of those folks in Canada who are working really hard to study storms and severe weather. There are only three people who have received the award and they are all absolute leaders in the field. To be put into the same sort of group [by] colleagues of mine makes me so proud. To be recognized for a lifetime achievement of doing work on disaster research and to promote the importance of science and research is such a wonderful honour.”

For more than 35 years, Kovacs has been a leading authority in the areas of property and casualty insurance, disaster safety, and economic policy. He has written more than 200 publications and articles about insurance, disaster resilience, and adaptation to climate extremes. Since 1996, he has been a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to communicate greater knowledge about human-made climate change.

Apart from Kovacs, three people have received the award since 2016:

  • T. Joseph Scanlon himself, a journalist with the Toronto Star in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He established the Emergency Communications Research Unit (ECRU) at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ont., in the 1970s, going on to study the sociology of disaster.
  • Larry Dale Pearce: a former CRHNet executive director who had a career in emergency management with Emergency Preparedness Canada
  • Alain Normand: emergency manager for Brampton, Ont., from 1999 to 2021 (now retired), Normand’s professional background includes directing relief efforts in emergencies such as the Saguenay floods in 1996, the Quebec Ice Storm of 1998, and the repatriation of Canadians from Haiti after the earthquake of 2010.

For Kovacs, his storied career in conducting and communicating the results of disaster research on behalf of the Canadian P&C industry started almost 30 years ago, he told Canadian Underwriter.

“All of this started in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew struck in Florida,” he said. “At the time, I was employed with the Government of Ontario, the department of finance, and I was approached by the Insurance Bureau of Canada. They asked if there was an interest in working on this topic with the insurance industry. The specific concern at that time was that the Americans had had a storm that caught them by surprise, and that cost them a lot of money, and some insurance companies went bankrupt.”

IBC approached Kovacs to start a project in Canada that would solidify the scientific rigour behind research into severe weather, earthquakes, and other extreme perils in our country. The mandate was to use the research to figure out what the actual risks were and how to help the industry and society prepare for them.

For Kovacs, the most gratification in his work comes from seeing how the research can change behaviours for the better. “When the science and the many people involved in doing the [research] work actually take what we know and make ourselves better off — when I see an actual change of behaviour, watching how the industry is managing [disaster risk and prevention] more proactively than it ever did before — that’s really exciting to me.”

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