Students Learn Invaluable Skills Working with Hornstein on Pro Bono Storm Resilience Project

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Don Hornstein
Don Hornstein

If a storm devastates North Carolina’s Outer Banks and Barrier Islands between now and June 30, some property owners will be able to fortify their houses for free, with help from a UNC School of Law pro bono project.

The six-month, pilot mitigation project, which began Jan. 1, will fully fund storm-resistant replacement roofs for eligible people with homeowners’ policies through the nonprofit North Carolina Insurance Underwriting Association (NCIUA).

The industry-leading storm-mitigation construction initiative has caught the attention of those in the nation’s most prominent home — the White House. Carolina Law professor Don Hornstein, faculty adviser to the pro bono project and NCIUA board member, gave three White House briefings about the plan late last year.

In December, Hornstein participated in the last meeting in a two-year study of climate resilience and insurance by the Obama administration. NCIUA General Manager Gina Schwitzgebel also attended.

“When this dialogue began in 2014, neither the NCIUA nor any entity affiliated with North Carolina was at the table. At the final meeting, we were at the table — largely because of the mitigation efforts of the NCIUA begun last fall with the assistance of the Carolina Law pro bono project,” Hornstein says.

The NCIUA mitigation project was mentioned in a December 2016 blog post by Ali Zaidi, associate director of Natural Resources, Energy and Science at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Hurricane Matthew’s havoc, with an estimated billions of dollars in damage — much of it in North Carolina — last October, is just the latest storm to underscore the need for climate-resilient construction.

Ethan Blumenthal
Ethan Blumenthal 2L

The mitigation plan will “give the NCIUA on-the-ground experience with practical aspects of storm-mitigation construction projects, to inform even larger programs that the pro bono project may develop,” says Hornstein, project lead attorney and chair of the association’s mitigation subcommittee.

NCIUA has partnered with the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety to conduct trainings on North Carolina’s coast, so contractors, roofers and inspectors can become certified in storm-resilient construction.

Carolina Law’s NCIUA pro bono work has huge potential impacts.

“We are tasked with working out the details of a potentially unprecedented, insurer-driven coastal-mitigation program,” Hornstein says, “which could result in the largest wind-mitigation program by an insurer in our asset class in the United States.”

Details will be presented at the NCIUA May board meeting.

The pro bono project was showcased in Hornstein’s keynote address at a World Bank conference on climate change and development last December in Washington. And the plan will be featured Jan. 25 at an Environmental Defense Fund meeting in Washington on coastal resilience.

UNC students involved in the NCIUA project have provided a range of support, including helping prepare for the OMB briefings and World Bank talk, researching and writing memoranda, and reviewing presentations to clients.

Students accompanied Hornstein to meetings with North Carolina Home Builders Association president Mike Carpenter and the NCIUA mitigation subcommittee.

Those experiencesinvolve “precisely the sort of skills transactional business attorneys use routinely,” Hornstein says.

In December, Ethan Blumenthal 2L attended an OMB briefing and the World Bank conference at which Hornstein spoke, and had a private White House tour.

“The NCIUA was able to share data from our project for OMB to use. Most of the time this is not the case, so the people in the room really seemed to perk up when that was mentioned,” Blumenthal said of the briefing.

The networking opportunities were most valuable to him.

“Another good takeaway was watching Professor Hornstein present to two very different audiences back to back,” Blumenthal says. “It provided a good lesson in knowing who you’re talking to and tailoring your presentation to those ends.”

-January 10, 2017

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