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Protecting Communities from Climate Change: Using Portsmouth, Virginia to Kickstart Global Solutions
September 30, 2021

Virtual Forum

On September 30, 2021, we brought together industry experts for a virtual afternoon of in-depth, results-focused discussions exploring the science behind climate change, what we can expect from its impact over time, and actionable ways to safeguard communities for the future.


Our tabletop exercise used Portsmouth, Virginia as a case study to establish real-world adaptive strategies and risk mitigation solutions that can be applied to vulnerable communities around the globe.


Click here to read our Forum Recap!

Craig Tillman serves as President of RenaissanceRe Risk Sciences Inc., a U.S.-based RenaissanceRe affiliate that provides intelligence on natural perils. In his current role, he directs a team of advanced scientists with specialties in oceanography, meteorology, wind engineering, structural engineering, seismic risk and computer simulation. Mr. Tillman also serves as President and Director of RenaissanceRe Risk Sciences Foundation Inc., a non-profit foundation that supports advanced scientific research in natural catastrophes, the development of risk mitigation techniques to safeguard communities, efforts that reduce the economic turmoil following disasters, and organizations that preserve coastal habitats. He currently serves as an Executive Director for the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS). Mr. Tillman holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Mathematics, as well as the Associate in Reinsurance (ARe) and Risk Management (ARM) designations. He is a longstanding member of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), the International Society of Catastrophe Managers (ICSM) and the CAS Institute (iCAS).

Dr. Ed Kearns is the Chief Data Officer of First Street Foundation, and as such, provides leadership for the organization’s science and data activities. Dr. Kearns previously served as Chief Data Officer for the U.S. Department of Commerce, overseeing the governance and management of data assets from its 12 bureaus. Appointed as NOAA’s first Chief Data Officer in 2017, he has led the development of strategies and practices for managing NOAA’s data as a national asset. Kearns promotes new uses and wider understanding of federal data through new public-private partnerships and technologies, such as the NOAA Big Data Project. As a workgroup leader for the White House’s Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset initiative, he helped develop the new Federal Data Strategy. Dr. Kearns holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Marine Science from the University of Miami, and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Physical Oceanography from the University of Rhode Island.

Jessica Whitehead was named the Joan P. Brock Endowed Executive Director of the Institute for the Old Dominions University’s Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience (ICAR) in February 2021. Ms. Whitehead joined ODU from the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR), where she served as its first Chief Resilience Officer. Prior to beginning with NCORR, she was the coastal communities’ hazards adaptation specialist for North Carolina Sea Grant, where she assisted coastal users with integrating information about resilience to coastal weather and climate hazards into their decision-making processes. Ms. Whitehead serves on the American Meteorological Society’s Board of Outreach and Pre-College Education and the advisory board for the North Carolina State University Climate and Society Masters Program. She was a member of the Independent Advisory Committee on Applied Climate and the Sustained National Climate Assessment federal advisory committee. Ms. Whitehead earned her Doctor of Philosophy in geography and Master of Science degree in meteorology from The Pennsylvania State University. She also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics with a concentration in meteorology from the College of Charleston.

Brian Swets is the Manager of Comprehensive and Strategic Planning for the City of Portsmouth. Brian has been a city planner for 15 years, with jobs in Portsmouth and Chesapeake. He earned a BA from the College of William and Mary and a master’s degree from Old Dominion University. 

Jeff Manson is a seasoned underwriting executive who was instrumental in developing RenaissanceRe’s global primary catastrophe reinsurance portfolio. Building on his broad client relationship management experience, Jeff is now leading the company’s collaborative efforts across a number of public and private sector initiatives to help enhance resiliency in vulnerable communities around the world and lessen the impacts of economic and environmental disasters. He has been with RenaissanceRe since 2006. Previously, Jeff was a Partner and Managing Director of an environmental consulting firm focused on resource use and climate change issues. Additionally, he has extensive project management experience in the commercial construction industry. Jeff holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Biology from the University of Guelph in Canada.

William (Skip) Stiles Jr. serves as Executive Director of the Wetland Watch a statewide nonprofit environmental group based in Norfolk, Virginia, and has been involved in sea level rise adaptation work at the community level for over 12 years. Prior to this, Mr. Stiles started as an independent consultant in 1998, providing editorial and public policy services to a number of clients on issues related to science, the environment, and public policy. A partial list of his clients includes: the While House Office of Science Policy, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Pew Center on Agricultural Biotechnology, RAND Corporation, and the National Academy of Sciences. Before that, Mr. Stiles served in a variety of senior staff positions during 22 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was chief of staff for Congressman George E. Brown, Jr. of California, staff director of the House Agriculture research and environment subcommittee, and Legislative Director for the House Science Committee. He is the author of a number of publications on sea level rise and adaptation. He served on the Virginia Climate Change Commission in 2008.

Roy Wright joined IBHS in 2018 with more than 20 years’ of experience in insurance, risk management, mitigation and resilience planning. He leads a team of scientists and risk communicators who deliver strategies to build safer and stronger homes and businesses. IBHS’ real-world impact enables the insurance industry and affected property owners to prevent avoidable losses. Mr. Wright joined IBHS from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) where he served as the Chief Executive of the National Flood Insurance Program, led the agency’s Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, and directed the resilience programs addressing earthquake, fire, flood, and wind risks. In these roles, he guided several programs that promote a risk- conscious culture, enable faster disaster recovery, and address long-term vulnerabilities to life, property, and well-being in communities across the United States. Mr. Wright earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Azusa Pacific University and a Master of Public Administration from The George Washington University.

Jake is a Managing Director located in Guy Carpenter’s Norwalk, Connecticut office. Jake’s responsibilities fall within Guy Carpenter’s North American broking operations. He started his insurance career as an underwriter with Chubb. In 1992 he joined Guy Carpenter and over the years has represented regional, national and global insurers across the reinsurance marketplace. In addition to his account responsibilities, he is a member of the Company’s Public Sector practice with responsibility for North America. During his tenure at Guy Carpenter, Jake spent four years on assignment in Munich Germany handling multi-national client engagements, and previously served as a representative of Marsh & McLennan Securities Corporation (the predecessor organization to GC Securities). Jake earned his BA degree as a government major from St. Lawrence University.

Kristin Owen, AICP, CFM is the Floodplain & Dam Safety Manager for Henrico County, Virginia. In this position, she is responsible for managing development within the county’s mapped floodplains (FEMA and County), providing technical assistance, educating the public on flood risk and insurance, and managing five county-owned dams. Kristin works closely with other departments to coordinate flood risk reduction efforts and is actively working to join FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS) Program. Additionally, Kristin currently serves as President of the Virginia Floodplain Management Association and is a member of Governor Northam’s Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework Technical Advisory Committee. Prior to joining Henrico County, Kristin worked for the Commonwealth of Virginia as the Acting NFIP Coordinator and Floodplain Program Planner. Kristin worked closely with FEMA, state agencies, and local communities in Virginia to provide technical assistance and training related to flood risk and floodplain management. In this role, Kristin also assisted Governor Northam’s Office with developing and implementing two executive orders aimed to reduce flood risk and increase Virginia’s resiliency to natural hazards.

Jamie Rhodes is an expert in risk mitigation that falls at the intersection of policy, technology and project development. He is the Director of Insurance-Linked Finance at re:focus partners, co-founder of the TRT Group, and a Co-Principal Investigator of the RE.bound Program. Jamie also serves as president of the Embori Group LLC, which includes several firms engaged in developing near-term approaches to reduce CO2 emissions and mitigate associated climate risks. Jamie’s works in these fields spans 16 years and includes roles in academia, in the private sector, and as a grantee on projects designed to advance the public interest. He is an entrepreneur who holds multiple parents and has founded and built multiple successful enterprises across diverse industry segments. Jamie earned a Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon Unive4rsity,m and worked as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and then a Staff Researcher a U.C. Davis.

Angela A’Zary is Senior Vice President of Client Risk Analytics and is responsible for helping to foster client relationships through the sharing of the underlying knowledge within RenaissanceRe’s proprietary risk and science models. Ms. A’Zary also is responsible for various strategic initiatives including collaborating with clients to explore and develop new flood products. From 2010 to 2015, Ms. A’Zary was responsible for reinsurance and insurance risk modeling at RenaissanceRe, including evaluating external models and developing internal models to support RenaissanceRe’s underwriting teams. Ms. A’Zary has over 20 years of insurance and reinsurance experience, including catastrophe modeling, insurance pricing, reinsurance pricing, reinsurance structural analysis, reserving, reinsurance broking, capital market securitization and personal lines underwriting. Ms. A’Zary earned a Bachelors of Business Administration in Finance from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Antoine serves as CEO of AXA Climate. In 2008, after working at Google France, he co-founded fifty-five, a global data marketing agency. Five years ago, he joined AXA France ExCom, as Chief Marketing, Digital, Partnerships and Customer Officer. He has published three books, including “Big Data, Smart Data, Stupid Data” last year. No doubt – parametric insurance is the best space to mix data, technology, and protection.

Bridget Gainer is Vice President of global public affairs for Aon and a commissioner on the Cook County Board. She brings a unique perspective to civic life with more than 25 years of experience in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Her career at Aon has spanned finance and strategy and most recently, Gainer has led the effort to bring apprenticeships to the financial services sector through the launch of Aon’s Chicago Apprenticeship Program. Gainer was elected to the Cook County Board in 2010 and has brought both finance credentials and a strong commitment to Chicago to lead on several fronts. Gainer’s first act as a county commissioner was to create the Cook County Pension Committee. As chairman, Gainer has led the charge to find a pension reform solution that was fair to both taxpayers and the workforce. She also started and chairs the Cook County land bank, the region’s most comprehensive response to the foreclosure crisis. Gainer is a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana and has an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Chris Parry is Global Head of RenaissanceRe’s catastrophe joint ventures, including DaVinci, Vermeer, Upsilon, Top Layer Re and Medici. He is also co-portfolio manager of Medici Fund. Prior to joining the Capital Partners group in August 2016, Mr. Parry was head of the International Capital Markets team at Aon Securities with a specific focus on insurance linked securities. Mr. Parry led several successful international cat bond and sidecar transactions. Prior to this Mr. Parry gained 10 years of experience working with Dresdner Kleinwort Investment Bank as a structurer on the Alternative Risk Transfer desk and at Citigroup in London. Mr. Parry is a Qualified Chartered Accountant and has a BSc degree in Management Science from the University of Warwick.

Michael Cohen serves as Senior Vice President, Chief Counsel of Government Affairs for RenaissanceRe, a global provider of reinsurance and insurance to cover the risk of natural and man-made catastrophes. Prior to his current position, Mr. Cohen was a director of industry and state relations at Freddie Mac. He also served as the Deputy Chief of Staff of the White House Community Empowerment Board in the Clinton White House, was the White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and ran the Office of Special Actions for HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. Michael was a legislative assistant in U.S. House of Representatives and has held various other positions both in and out of government. He grew up in Miami, Florida and earned a B.A. at Columbia University and a J.D. at Emory University School of Law.

Joshua Saks serves as Deputy Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia. In this role, Joshua works on natural catastrophe planning and resilience, land conservation, historic preservation, wildlife and outdoor recreation. Prior to his appointment, Joshua spent eight years as the Legislative Director for the National Wildlife Federation, where he worked on an array of issues including climate and clean air policy, agriculture policy, flood and hurricane preparedness and toxic chemical reform. Prior to working at National Wildlife Federation Joshua worked as the Federal Affairs office the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Joshua has degrees from Ithaca College and St. John’s College.

MaryAnn E. Tierney is currently serving in the role of Region 3 Administrator and is responsible for leading FEMA’s efforts in the mid-Atlantic to help people before, during and after disasters. Mrs. Tierney was appointed to the position in August 2010 and also served concurrently as Acting Regional Administrator in FEMA Region 2 for ten months following the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy on New York and New Jersey. From April to June 2017 she served as the Acting Associate Administrator for Mission Support at FEMA Headquarters. From January to June 2021 she served as Acting FEMA Deputy Administrator at FEMA Headquarters. Mrs. Tierney holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from American University and a Master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in public and nonprofit management from New York University.

Curtis Brown most recently served as the Chief Deputy State Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. He has homeland security and emergency management policy experience at the federal, state, and local levels. Previously, Curtis served as Regional Emergency Management Administrator for the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, professional staff on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, and Senior Special Assistant to the Governor in the Office of Commonwealth Preparedness. Curtis received a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Radford University, Master of Public Administration from Virginia Tech, and Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a graduate of the Virginia Executive Institute, Commonwealth Management Institute, and FEMA’s Emergency Management Executive Academy.

Ian Branagan is responsible for all aspects of RenaissanceRe’s Enterprise Risk Management, manages the development of corporate strategy, and leads the company’s Insurtech endeavours. Mr. Branagan also represents RenaissanceRe on collaborative initiatives across public and private sectors to build resiliency in vulnerable communities around the world and lessen the impacts of economic and environmental disasters. Mr. Branagan joined RenaissanceRe in 1998 to open the Dublin branch and lead the company’s modelling and client risk intelligence activities. He relocated to Bermuda and most recently London, assuming underwriting authority for several classes of business and ultimately becoming Group Chief Risk Officer in 2009. Prior to joining RenaissanceRe, Mr. Branagan led the international activities of Applied Insurance Research Inc. (“AIR”), which included the development and marketing of AIR’s catastrophe models and tools. He also worked in the London market at DP Mann Limited, developing pricing and risks analytics. Mr. Branagan has a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and European Economic History from Manchester Metropolitan University. He currently serves as Chair of the Risk Modelling & Mapping Group of the Insurance Development Forum.