Eastern Australia floods: regional catastrophe, global response

July 20, 2022

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By Steve Powell, EVP, loss adjusting; Clare Cordingley, senior manager, major event response; and Brad Mountford, head of business development, Australia

You probably recall that Australia experienced devastating bushfires in 2019-2020, as the catastrophe garnered global headlines.

Regrettably, many fewer people beyond Australia are familiar with an even costlier and more recent disaster: the severe flooding that ravaged the country’s east coast earlier this year. In fact, the floods — caused by unrelenting rainfall over a span of weeks in early 2022 — took the lives of at least 23 people and mark the fourth-costliest natural disaster event in Australia’s history, with CAT claims to-date totaling nearly AU$4.8 billion.

Mobilizing to help

As we learned about the devastation to more than 140,000 properties across major cities like Sydney and Brisbane and smaller towns like Maryborough and Lismore (where our second-story claims office was underwater), we quickly entered full-scale catastrophe response mode. With the ongoing skilled talent shortage, lingering bottlenecks related to pandemic lockdowns and the scope of the flood damage, we recognized that even an all-hands-on-deck approach from our Australia team would not suffice in meeting the urgent needs of our clients and their many affected policyholders.

It’s times like these when having a deep global talent base is particularly handy! We put out the call to Sedgwick’s team of adjusters around the world and were soon overwhelmed by an outpouring of support. Ultimately, we selected 38 colleagues from our teams in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, UK and Ireland who would bring to Australia a wealth of technical expertise in flooding claims, commercial and residential loss adjusting and repair solutions. Additionally, these talented colleagues demonstrated sincere commitment to our caring counts philosophy and readiness to work in a catastrophe environment, where people have experienced trauma and lost their homes, businesses and possessions.

Leveraging technology

Shortly after arriving in Australia, each of our international adjusters received a tablet and a crash course on the integrated application they’d be using for data capture at the loss sites. Putting uniform devices and a common mobile app into the hands of the entire team enabled us to speed up the training process and get them into the field faster. Additionally, the app’s intuitive prompts and pre-populated menu selections served to promote data consistency and ensured that everyone collected all information necessary for compliance with Australian rules and regulations.

Our team also used satellite imagery and drones to gain visibility into hard-to-reach locations where road slip and landslides had occurred and to expedite assessments where an on-site visit was not required. (Because of the particulars of flood coverage, most claims do require an in-person inspection.) In some cases, we were able to employ digital twin technology to collect data on flood damages and reduce the burden on our overloaded adjusting team — enabling them to focus their efforts on helping others.

Forging connections and finding balance

For most of the time our international adjusters were in Australia, they stayed in groups centered around major areas of loss. Working in the field as a CAT adjuster can sometimes be isolating, but the experience of our international teams in Australia was quite the opposite. Despite being far from home and coming together from different countries, they quickly became a cohesive and collaborative cohort.

They worked side-by-side in the field, debriefed on the day’s events every evening, compared notes on policies and coverage, and exchanged best practices from their respective home countries. They cooked for one another, cared for team members who fell ill, and checked in on each other when the work felt overwhelming. Our Australia operation delivered outstanding support to the global team, from safety briefings and government updates to technology equipment and a claims support hotline. (Some local colleagues may also have giggled a bit when their overseas counterparts encountered some uniquely Australian vermin and wildlife on the job!) Overall, the collective experience was the realisation of Sedgwick’s commitment that “we work as one company, one team and take care of one another.”

Throughout the flood response, we aimed to strike a balance between addressing the seemingly endless stream of property owners in need of assistance and tending to our colleagues’ physical and mental well-being. In turn, ensuring that our hard-working colleagues were well cared for enabled us to take better care of our clients and their customers.

A learning experience

From amid the flood’s devastating path of destruction, our team gleaned some valuable takeaways.

  • Continually expect the unexpected and be prepared for anything — even unprecedented levels of rainfall and the ensuing potential for widespread destruction.
  • The multiple benefits of leveraging Sedgwick’s global presence. Drawing talent from around the world, we were able to quickly bring in expert professionals to address the pressing needs on the ground. Additionally, we are now piloting a program whereby a team in the UK is conducting desk assessments of Australia properties to help us expedite more claims.
  • How much our colleagues around the world have in common. The team came together seamlessly during a crisis, thanks to a shared commitment to Sedgwick’s promise that caring counts. Our international adjusters came away with a new network of professional contacts — and a new set of friends.
  • Our jobs are about much more than adjusting claims. In a CAT situation, we are among the first responders. Many of the insureds we service want an opportunity to tell their story, and our adjusters are there to lend a listening ear while conducting inspections. Regrettably, a significant number of the property owners we visited are not covered for flood damage under their policies; however, we were still there to support them by showing empathy and sharing information about government assistance grant eligibility.

Inspired by the notion that taking care of people is at the heart of everything we do, the global Sedgwick team made a meaningful difference in the lives of thousands of Australians at a time when they desperately needed us. We’ll be ready for the next CAT event, whenever and whenever it may be.

Special thanks to Dawn Brown, loss adjuster, for her contributions to this piece and her outstanding efforts to support our colleagues and clients.

Learn more — read about Sedgwick’s global catastrophe response and major and complex loss capabilities.

Tags: Australia, Caring counts, CAT Claim, Cat Insights, CAT response, CAT work, Catastrophe, catastrophe claims, Catastrophic claims, catastrophic event, Claims, flood, flooding, Floods, international, Loss adjusting, major and complex loss, MCL, Property, Property claims, Property damage, Property loss, View on property