9/27/2019
Disaster Lessons From 2018

Disaster Lessons From 2018

Three takeaways from last year’s disaster season

By Thomas X. Simoncic

Many businesses and property owners suffered a range of damage and destruction during the 2018 storm season. At the forefront of many conversations were the wind and water damages caused by the Atlantic hurricanes. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the 2018 storm season produced 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes, with Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael leading the way.

In September 2018, Hurricane Florence was one of four named storms active at the same time; it went on to cause destructive flooding in both North Carolina and South Carolina. Several rivers in these states reached record flood levels in the days and weeks following the storm.

Hurricane Michael followed in October. As a Category 5 storm, it was the strongest storm on record to hit the Florida panhandle. At its peak, Hurricane Michael reached sustained wind speeds of 161 mph, and the storm remained strong as it tracked inland. With maximum sustained winds speeds of 115 mph, it was a Category 3 hurricane when the eye passed into Seminole County, Georgia.

Winter weather also took its toll on businesses and property in 2018. In March, a nor’easter moved up the eastern coast, spreading rain over New York and Pennsylvania before it then turned to snow. According to a March 2 National Weather Service report, New York’s Madison County reported 29 inches of snowfall, while Pennsylvania’s Pike County reported 20 inches during this same period.

Consisting of fierce winds, widespread flooding, and snowy conditions, this particular storm resulted in power outages, travel disruption, and property damage in several states. Many saw firsthand what they already knew: Heavy wet snow can bring down trees and power lines, and roof collapses become a major concern. Damage reports associated with this storm showed trees that had crashed into buildings, trucks that were overturned, and trains that were flooded.

Hail storms also made headlines in 2018. In June, a massive hail storm made a notable impact in Boulder, Colorado. According to The Denver Post, some hail stones reached up to three inches in diameter; at that size, they can reportedly fall at speeds of up to 80 mph. Storms like these have caused the Denver Metro area to be nicknamed Hail Alley.

And, it’s virtually impossible to talk about the 2018 storm season without touching upon tornado activity. According to NOAA, 2018 provided relatively low tornado counts, with 1,030 preliminary reports. It is estimated approximately 800 of these sightings were confirmed tornadoes.

On average, the U.S. can expect an estimated 1,253 tornadoes per year based on weather statistics compiled between 1991 and 2010. What was particularly unusual about 2018 was that there were no confirmed EF4 or EF5 tornadoes—a first since 1950 when tornado statistics first began being collected. Although a relatively light year in terms of tornado frequency and severity, those in the paths of these storms saw notable damage from the twister activities.

While the California wildfires were devastating, most weather experts and claims professionals will agree that the 2018 storm season was considerably light in terms of widespread damage and catastrophes. Still, it is helpful to reflect on this past year, and analyze the lessons learned and the state of the industry. Technology, talent, and preparedness are three areas that most readily come to mind.

Technology

Technology continues to play an increasingly important role in property-loss adjusting. While the use of drones was little more than a buzzword a decade ago, today drones are playing a notable role in responding to some of the more high-profile catastrophes. For example, Hurricane Florence was a monster rainstorm that left Wilmington, North Carolina as a virtual island. The heavy rains and flood waters made it extremely difficult to access the area. Drones were used to survey the hardest hit areas and help first responders gain access to people and properties. In turn, these actions cleared the way for loss professionals to follow and begin work sooner than would have otherwise been possible.

While drone use is increasing, it is still not commonplace and available for routine loss adjusting. Early on, drone use met resistance from both the public and regulators, and it was often price prohibitive. Today, the value of drones is being recognized in certain catastrophe response efforts as drones are very adept at surveying hurricane and wind patterns and widespread areas of destruction. Drones provide aerial images of locations that may otherwise not be physically accessible. Resistance to drone use is slowly eroding, and advancements are making usage more affordable. While not routine today, drones will likely be a common tool loss professionals use to survey storm- and weather-related damage within five years.

What has become commonplace, and widely used throughout the 2018 storm season, is the use of mobile apps to facilitate the loss adjusting process. There are apps available today that contain adjusting guidelines, pricing data, and other valuable information needed to survey and assess damage. What this means is that loss professionals can survey damage, input their observations and assessments into their mobile phones, and have a report ready to issue upon completion. This, in turn, can be delivered to an insurance company that can issue a check for damages within days. This is a remarkable advancement for business and property owners who strive to restore, repair, and resume operations very quickly.

Additionally, mobile apps provide loss professionals with access to readily available tools to help them throughout the evaluation and assessment process. Measurement apps provide lasers for easy and accurate use. Some apps offer assistance with pitch gage when surveying roof damage. And the new generation of smartphones offers excellent camera functions that produce high-resolution images, making it easy to document damage and share photos with numerous parties and stakeholders. Apps also allow for efficient and effective communication and coordination of resources. These are just some of the technology tools that are widely used today and that had a notable loss-adjusting impact throughout the 2018 storm season.

Talent

The 2017 storm season was epic, producing Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in rapid succession. The California wildfires put further strain on existing claims resources. In response, the industry was quick to recruit additional talent to be ready to deploy when the 2018 storm season arrived.

Loss professionals received training related to specific coverages and specific perils. They learned about the loss-adjusting process and the technology available to them. Management accompanied these peofessionals on initial assignments and provided field support, coverage clarifications, and answers to questions. After the initial hiring and training, these new teams of recruits then waited.

The 2018 storm season did not hit full throttle, and many of the new professionals were left wondering when they would have an opportunity to put their new skills to the test. Some saw very limited action. With unemployment rates falling, some of this new talent migrated to what was perceived to be more attractive or lucrative financial opportunities.

Extended periods of inactivity could cause talent and labor levels to diminish. If this happens, the industry must be prepared to address the potential attrition that could occur. Talent and labor shortages could be especially devastating in the event of multiple hurricanes should they hit densely populated areas anywhere in the U.S., or if earthquakes occur along any of the major fault lines.

Preparedness

If there is one lesson to take away from the 2018 storm season, it is the importance of being prepared and able to deploy at a moment’s notice when the next storm event occurs. This includes being prepared to respond to the different needs presented by different types of perils, whether it’s hurricanes, nor’easters, hail storms, tornadoes, or earthquakes. The technical knowledge needed to address each type of incident regardless of the terrain or location is essential.

It is also important to be armed with the latest technology to expedite the evaluation and assessment process. It will be necessary to quickly communicate with other stakeholders to issue insurance checks and coordinate remediation, repair, and recovery resources. And it is important to build and establish relationships with these experts and negotiate service agreements prior to any occurrence.

As this 2018 recap shows, storm seasons can be uncertain and take many shapes and forms during any given year. However, what is certain is that bad storm seasons will arise and produce significant damage and disruption for many businesses and property owners throughout the country. It is during these relatively quiet periods that the industry must reflect and take the necessary steps to respond more quickly and efficiently than ever before.

Through it all, one observation remains constant: A career in property loss adjusting remains among the most fulfilling and satisfying positions available. It genuinely offers an opportunity to provide assistance to businesses and property owners during a time of great need. They are the ones who set the wheels in motion to restore, repair, and return to normal. Certainly, property loss professionals are to be commended for their past efforts and future contributions to industry and commerce.



Thomas X. Simoncic is president, property Americas, for Sedgwick. thomas.simoncic@sedgwick.com

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