It’s early 2014, and a major winter storm is bearing down on Nashville just as thousands of co-op employees and board members are making their way to the NRECA Annual Meeting.

It’s certainly not the first time that foul weather has impacted the event, but the potential for heavy snow and ice and massive travel disruptions throughout the region created a very real possibility the annual meeting might have to be severely curtailed or canceled at the last minute.

The fluke ice storm in Nashville “was so close to the annual meeting, and we thought what would have happened if everyone canceled or we had to cancel the whole conference altogether,” said Janice Hylton, NRECA’s privacy officer and risk manager.

In the end, the storm was lighter than expected, and only 100 of the 7,300 registrants canceled because of travel difficulties. But the close call led NRECA to buy an event cancellation insurance policy that is helping the association manage fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus and subsequent government responses have forced the cancellation of 101 NRECA in-person programs, including 81 on-site deliveries of NRECA training, through June 24. That has impacted roughly 3,500 members and accounted for hundreds of thousands of dollars in registration fees.

Ultimately, the policy is part of “how NRECA works toward being a good steward of our membership’s resources,” says Danielle Sieverling, NRECA’s chief risk and compliance officer.

Since 2016, NRECA has held cancellation insurance that covers revenue and expense losses due to weather-related events, terrorism and communicable diseases.

“Weather impacts were our first concern, since we had direct experience with a number of storms that impacted members traveling to our programs,” said Tracey Steiner, NRECA’s senior vice president of education and training. “But we included additional terrorism and pandemic coverage since those risks seemed important to consider.”

The association had looked into conference insurance over the years, especially after the September 11 terrorist attacks caused widespread event cancellations. But the idea was always shelved due to prohibitively high premiums, said Hylton.

However, through the years premium costs have dropped considerably. For example, the 2004 premium quote to provide cancellation coverage for the annual meeting in New Orleans was $52,060. In 2020, the premium for the New Orleans annual meeting was $7,900.

“Through the years we’ve looked at event cancellation insurance, and the decision we made was to ensure our contracts were strong to mitigate NRECA losses since the cost of this type of insurance was so high,” Hylton said.

But the reduction in premiums and the 2014 annual meeting scare changed the landscape. Since 2016, Hylton estimates NRECA has recouped about $103,000 in conference losses, including those caused by three major weather storms and the January 2017 shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

It has yet to be determined how much the event cancellation policy will reimburse NRECA for pandemic-related event losses, but it is expected to be a significant amount.

“We’re working with our current insurance carrier in submitting claims,” Sieverling said. “We are confident that our insurance will reduce the impact of NRECA losses due to canceled events.”