On the Scene
Claims professionals in the field shed light on Matthew’s first response.
By Eric Gilkey
Although Hurricane Matthew damage estimates are still being determined, it’s clear that the storm wreaked serious havoc. Catastrophe modeling firms AIR Worldwide and RMS pegged insured losses between $2.5 billion and $8.8 billion for both the U.S. and Caribbean, which, if true, would easily put the storm in the top 10 for costliest storms in history.
We wanted to know what the scene was like for claims professionals tasked with responding to disaster victims, so we spoke with Cunningham Lindsey’s Dallas catastrophe team to see what the first response was like. Here’s what they had to say.
“What was the scene like when you arrived?”
“Our initial claims assignments for the first two days were in the Orlando area, which only received tropical storm winds,” says Bill Higgins, an 11-year catastrophe claims veteran. “As we moved to the coast near Daytona, we saw more damage and devastation. Driving along Coastal Highway in St. Augustine, we saw many homes along the beach that were completely collapsed. As we inspected one home in the area, a neighbor was confronting people stopping to take photos of the destruction. Our insured said, ‘People have been coming by nonstop to take photos of my home and my neighbors’ homes, and the tragedy is that not all the homeowners have insurance and they have lost everything.’”
“We arrived in Daytona Beach on Sunday, Oct. 9,” says Rex Chavet, who has four years of handling catastrophe claims. “We live in an RV and had a hard time finding a spot to park as several of the RV parks did not have power and had sustained heavy tree damage. We saw lots of tree damage along with roofs and fences damaged from wind and falling trees. Once we started working claims up the coast north to Palm Coast, it seemed to get worst.”
“Can you describe an interaction or common scenario that stuck with you?”
“As a flood adjuster, I find a common scenario is that I have to explain that I am the one who will work from the ground up (rising water), whereas the property insurance claims professional will work from the roof down,” says Paige Haddack, a catastrophe claims professional with 15 years of experience.
“We arrived to inspect the home of an elderly insured who lived on the intercostal waterway near Ormond Beach, Florida,” says Higgins. “She was intent on walking around the property with us, so we moved tree limbs and branches out of the way so she could get past with her walker. She wanted to be sure to point out all of the damage to her home and fencing, along with the boat that had washed up into her yard that did not belong to her. She said that she had never encountered this kind of damage in all the years she has lived there and was quite impacted by the damage she saw.”
“We handled several content claims in the beginning with lots of the tenants who were living in apartments along the coast that had water intrusion from wind,” says Chavet. “I enjoy interacting with insureds and helping them to understand the process since most people never go through this type of loss. There is always confusion about what is covered and what isn’t when it comes to water intrusion. Most people think that, if water comes in, then it’s covered. They don’t always realize that it needs to be an opening caused by the storm and not just water being driven by wind under a garage door.”
“The interaction that will stick with me the most from this storm took place with one of the new property claims professionals that I worked with in our storm office,” says Lewis Shallcross, who has been handling claims since 2001. “He took me back to my first storm in that I could see him fighting a lot of the same issues that I had fought so many years ago. I think like most people in this industry, I had several mentors and I owe my success to them, so I felt like it was my turn to ‘pay it forward’ by working day and night with him in the beginning of the storm to ensure our success. It is an extremely rewarding feeling to help someone else, and I was privileged to have had a small part in his initial success.”
“What do you like most about your job?”
“The best part is helping people!” says Haddack. “I meet the best people in the worst situations of their lives. It’s great to be able to help them recover what they have lost.”
“I like interacting with people and helping them to get back some type of normalcy,” says Chavet. “I have a construction background, so I’m able to answer questions concerning what claimants need to do to move forward with repairs, which is gratifying. Also, the opportunity to travel and see this great country and see how people come together in tragedy is rewarding.”
“I work together with my wife, who is also a licensed adjuster in multiple states,” says Higgins. “Our job is basically helping others in their time of need, which is rewarding. Working as a husband and wife team allows both of us to scope the losses together, and it reduces the amount of ‘windshield time’ since one of us can work while the other drives. Beyond that, there are always opportunities for adventure as an insurance claims professional. Every new setting provides a different learning experience. The more opportunities you have to learn, the more opportunities you have to become an even better claims professional. When you have the knowledge and skills for the job, insureds can see that you are there to help them put their lives back together after a disaster, and it helps put them at ease.”
“How has technology helped or transformed the claims process during disasters?”
“Technology has greatly increased my ability to reach out to all team members on this deployment,” says Shallcross. “I could remotely connect to other team members’ computers to adjust software settings, walk them through software workflows, and transfer necessary documents. There is absolutely no way I could have reached out to so many people if it were not for this type of technology. It is extremely nice to be able to talk them through issues knowing that I could step in and ‘drive’ if needed. Also, everything I did with regard to this storm was paperless. I brought a printer, but I never even plugged it in.”
“It is wonderful to get real-time accounts of activities and assignments,” says Higgins. “We may get a new assignment that we are able to view on our phone that happens to be near another appointment we have the same day, so we can schedule it at the same time. While in the truck, we are able to upload claims while on the road instead of waiting until the evening when we get back into the hotel. Technology has allowed for faster response times all around, which makes the entire process run more smoothly and efficiently.”
“Technology has evolved immensely since I first began in this business,” says Haddack. “Then, we were using paper files, gluing photos onto photo sheets (after they were developed, of course), and mailing in reports the old-fashioned way.”
“Since Sandy in 2012, things have streamlined and become more interactive,” says Chavet. “Xactimate and Symbility have become a lot more user friendly. I am adapting to all of the latest technology, which can be hard, but it is so helpful.”