The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is just around the corner, with most tropical systems forming June 1 through November 30. Starting this year, the National Hurricane Center will begin issuing regular tropical weather outlooks beginning May 15. Currently, the weather models are forecasting an above-average season. As we prepare to help those who will be impacted by these storms, we’re keeping close tabs on weather prediction — analyzing the activity and response from prior years to see how we can hone in on and refine our team’s efforts.
Reflecting on 2020
Last year provided the basis for many learning opportunities — testing our mettle as we encountered a historic period of extreme weather disasters, including major hailstorms, seismic activities, wildfires and hurricanes. In fact, 2020 had a record number of 30 named storms or hurricanes that spun up out of the Atlantic.
In addition to the number of storms reported, it was a year filled with highly unusual weather-related activities and events. In August, we witnessed a powerful line of severe thunderstorms known as a Derecho move across the Midwest. With straight line wind gusts exceeding 120 miles per hour, these storms brought down trees and power lines — hammering states like Iowa and Illinois.
Hurricane Isiais was another epic storm that captured headlines as it pummeled Florida and Georgia before making its way up the east coast — claiming lives and wreaking havoc on cities and communities in its path. Hurricane Marco and Hurricane Laura hit the northern Gulf Coast and made landfall the same week, just days apart between August 22 to 27. For the first time in my career, it became necessary to evacuate my team of loss adjusters from those responses for another event, Hurricane Delta, as it brought more destruction to an already ravaged Louisiana.
The COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of complexity to storm response in 2020. It became difficult to move loss adjusters around the country due to varying COVID-19 jurisdictional restrictions. For example, Florida loss adjusters headed for New York assignments were required to quarantine 14 days prior to arriving onsite. Many other states had similar requirements which were continuously changing. In turn, our response required strategic, chess-like thinking to identify loss adjusters with proper licenses who could travel to impacted areas while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions and safely completing assignments. Securing necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) amid high demand was another high-stakes game and an essential part of the process.
Taking care of what matters most
Through all the events that 2020 introduced, Sedgwick was able to respond to every single call for loss adjusting assistance. Not a single request for claims services was turned down. And this level of response does not happen by accident. It requires enormous preparation and strategy long before the first report of loss is filed, or the first photograph or documentation of storm damage is collected. Each event and its response adds to our collective knowledge and shapes our approach going forward. Every event holds multiple lessons to be learned and what-if scenarios to be addressed.
As we observe Hurricane Preparedness Week, here’s a quick look at how we prepare to help others in the path of a storm:
- While the number of staff adjusters and roster of contractors who supplement our forces during catastrophic events is impressive, our success depends on being able to harness and direct those resources with speed and precision.
- Our main office hubs in Orlando, Dallas and Naperville help mobilize our resources and direct our response. As we identify and monitor pending storms, we select the most appropriate office hub for our response center based on the location and characteristics of the event.
- We know it is important to have redundancy in operations, networks and support staff to orchestrate a large-scale response. As we watch developing storms, we begin to assess staffing needs. We know we must reach out to staff adjusters and contractors to determine who is available for response. The simple verification of licenses and necessary credentials is a large undertaking and important part of the process.
- Handling a large influx of calls from insurers and clients in response to fast-moving events is critical. Our support staff must be able to manage and direct calls to phone banks as volumes of information come pouring in.
Following our initial preparation steps, our IT resources help secure necessary mobile phones, tablets, laptops and supporting devices for the response team and makes sure that each are properly set up, maintained and remain in working order. Our IT resources are also available to respond to questions and inquiries from team members who are onsite assessing damage. Often, power outages are widespread, internet connectivity is lacking, and alternative solutions must be considered. With some many moving parts, having high-level information technology (IT) resources onsite at each hub is essential.
Having carefully monitored a storm’s development and projected path, the team begins to mobilize resources two to three days before the storm makes landfall. This includes securing hotel rooms where the team can huddle, review client instructions, outline assignments, and define roles and responsibilities. Primary and secondary contact information including mobile phone numbers and email addresses are compiled. As the team awaits release, contingency plans are discussed and considered.
Mindful not to interfere with those evacuating or fleeing the weather-impacted area, team members are generally held a few hours outside the storm zone. As soon as it is safe to travel and restrictions are lifted, the team sets out to the areas affected. Inevitably, the police, fire, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and loss adjusters are first on the scene following a disaster.
Once onsite, loss adjusters are responsible for quickly and thoroughly documenting the damage. Their work will be used to develop a plan for repair, restoration and recovery. Photographs are taken and descriptions are written as part of the damage assessment of properties. In some instances, drones are flown to capture widespread destruction, particularly where power lines are down and danger is imminent.
When internet connectivity is unavailable, information is captured onsite and downloaded later in a location with power or upon returning to the hotel. Working tirelessly over an extended period of days, weeks, and sometimes months, team members know the goal is to assess damage. This ensures that payments can be issued, direction is provided to mitigate further damage, or resources are secured to begin the recovery process.
Sedgwick offers assistance from our repair solutions division, EFI Global and building consultants to help foster a more immediate and complete response in these situations with our claims management and loss adjusting. While size and scale matter, what is more important is arriving on scene with potential solutions and business partners who can make a difference in the speed and effectiveness of the recovery and rebuilding process.
As you take time to observe Hurricane Preparedness Week, know that we are assessing every angle, considering staffing and resource needs, and further imbedding technology in our capabilities as we prepare to assist those in the path of the storm. Sedgwick’s catastrophe (CAT) planning and response teams are here to support our clients and communities where and when we’re needed most. Visit our CAT resource center for the latest.