2024 hurricane watch: the importance of planning ahead

April 9, 2024

2024 hurricane watch: the importance of planning ahead
Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook Share on X

By Elizabeth Witten, District Environmental Principal, EFI Global; Jay Sitapara, AIC, AINS, AIS, Vice President – GA, AL, FL, Sedgwick

Early forecasts of the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season — spanning from June 1st until November 30th — suggest an intensely active one. Forecasted sea surface temperatures August through September will be warmer than average and are likely to influence the Caribbean trade windows, both factors that will enhance Atlantic hurricane activity. Though significant uncertainties remain in the extended outlook, the time to prepare is now.

Preparedness is key

Preparedness is sometimes the only measurable difference between experiencing a loss or not, protecting your property and assets or not, and for locals, even making it through the storm safely or not. Whether you’re directly on the coast or situated inland, the value of preparing ahead of time and forming a plan cannot be understated. 

For the catastrophe (CAT)-related teams deployed to the affected areas after a hurricane hits, preparation is equally consequential. Whether it be the forensic investigation teams restoring damaged buildings or the claims adjusters handling property losses, while it may appear their work begins at the time of disaster, these professionals have engaged in months of pre-planning, strategizing, asset relocation and triaging before the disaster occurs to be there for customers when they need it most.

Hurricane Idalia: forensic restoration

When Hurricane Idalia made landfall as a Category 3 Hurricane in Florida’s Big Bend region on August 30, 2023, a number of counties saw extensive tree and structural damage extending inland to Georgia, while coastal counties experienced devastating storm surges 7 to 12 feet high.

Long before Idalia hit, EFI Global had been contracted by the state of Florida and had been busy finalizing plans to facilitate in the recovery of three separate school systems spanning several counties post-catastrophe. The school systems collectively encompassed 196 individual buildings — elementary schools, high schools, auxiliary buildings, etc. Their goal was simple: to restore each building if possible and return children to their classrooms as soon as possible after the hurricane subsides.

Florida’s government sought a swift post-hurricane recovery, which accelerated the operating deadline to two weeks. By July, more than a month prior to the storm, EFI Global’s team had met with the client and remediation companies to formulate a game plan. Communication and logistical plans were laid out, and each side moved forward confidently knowing the other parties’ expectations. An off-site report writing team was established to facilitate the quick, same day to one-day turnaround time that was necessary to administer the protocols, which was integral to finishing the job.

Once Idalia hit, EFI Global deployed 26 full-time forensic engineering and investigation staff to evaluate the hurricane’s impact. The forensic team carried out moisture mapping, building materials sampling for asbestos and water sampling to determine if a Category 3 water condition was present in each affected area. Meanwhile, various laboratories were held open to conduct forensic testing, and couriers ran data and samples to and from the labs around the clock.

The forensics team also has one consequential responsibility at the project’s outset: setting the appropriate scope. In doing so, optimal efforts are prioritized and performed on track with the target schedule. Utilizing architectural drawings of the schools, restoration contractors were given targeted, specified areas to work on rather than confronting the whole beast at once. Determining the correct scope not only allows for a timesaving, efficient and focused response, but also reduces costs associated with tightening the scale of operations to include only what’s necessary.

The off-site report writing team produced protocols for the remediation companies to follow dictating actions to complete within the given timeframe. Thanks to the high-level resiliency planning, long-held relationships with priority vendors, stellar coordination efforts and the teams’ cumulative wealth of expertise and experience, all three school systems were effectively cleared for opening within two weeks; the policyholder’s operations were effectively restored.

The success of this undertaking hinged on the robust pre-planning that occurred beforehand, as well as the comprehensive network of company resources and experts — environmental, fire investigation, loss adjusting and marine, among others — available to pull from to supplement needs as they emerged. 

Hurricane Ian: property damage claims

A year prior to Idalia, the costliest hurricane in Florida’s history and the third costliest in U.S. history unleashed chaos. On Sept. 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwestern Florida at Category 4 intensity, and brought catastrophic storm surge, damaging winds, and historic freshwater flooding across much of central and northern Florida. All in all, Ian would unfortunately cause 150 direct and indirect deaths and more than $112 billion in damage. 

The readiness of responding loss adjusting teams directly affects the speed at which the staff can inspect loss sites, adjust claims and take care of policyholders. To that end, all pieces had to be precisely in place well before Ian made landfall to ensure a smooth recovery. Staff within Sedgwick’s CAT division “solve for x” on an immediate basis — day in and day out — by balancing all critical variables related to CAT preparedness: organizing resources, curating responses to potential unknown asks, planning for each possible worst-case scenario.

Understanding client expectations in advance helps to form a strategy. Clients’ needs dictate what an appropriate response will entail, and how many personnel are needed at each location. When the storm clears, building consultants, pre-screened adjusters, engineers and marine surveyors are deployed to the impacted areas to respond. Sedgwick’s temporary housing division books hotel rooms for the adjusters close by the loss sites, which effectively minimizes staff travel time, maximizes productivity and quickens turnaround time for the insureds. 

Sedgwick’s adjusters handled ~15,000 claims resulting from Ian’s devastation throughout Florida, through 170 to 180 clients. To manage the high volume of claims quickly and effectively, resources needed to be stationed appropriately. During the week leading up to a hurricane touching down, meteorology reports are closely monitored, and resources are shifted in kind. Hurricanes are highly fluid events that require the utmost flexibility and readiness to adapt. 

With such an expansive footprint, Sedgwick has the power to bring forward additional support, rotate folks in and out, reduce wait time and ensure an immediate response. Ian’s recovery exemplified this. Majority of Sedgwick’s Florida-based full-time adjusters were dispatched, 60+ full-time adjusters were brought in from outside the region, and hundreds of 1099s aided in the efforts.

One local adjuster flew his own plane to hard-to-reach loss sites; another used their personal boat to reach insureds’ homes. Sedgwick’s loss adjusters’ ultimate purpose is to take care of the customer — by any means necessary — and deliver services with an empathetic touch during this traumatic and uncertain time.

Looking forward

Due to global warming, future hurricanes that form are more likely to become intense, according to NASA. Global climate models predict hurricanes will cause more intense rainfall and result in worsened coastal flooding due to higher storm surge events and rising sea levels. Preparedness will only become more critical — for both the deployments responding to CAT events, and the residents unknowingly situated within a future hurricane’s path.

There are a range of preparedness steps people living in hurricane-prone areas can take to protect themselves and their property. But don’t wait until it’s too late; the best time to prepare is before the hurricane season begins. Consider developing an evacuation plan, creating a communication plan with a hand-written list of contacts, strengthen your home, get an insurance checkup (as flood insurance requires a 30-day waiting period) and document your possessions, and assemble disaster supplies such as food, water, batteries, chargers, a radio and cash.

Special thanks to Tracey Dodd, senior managing principal of EFI Global’s environmental large complex loss practice for contributing to this article. 

Learn more: 

  • To stay up to date with global CAT events and explore planning and response solutions, visit Sedgwick’s CAT resource center.
  • Listen to our recent podcast about navigating hurricane seasons in the Atlantic.
  • Find out more about EFI Global’s CAT response forensic engineering and investigation services.

Tags: Carrier, Cat Insights, CAT response, Catastrophe, hurricane, hurricanes, Property, Property damage, Property loss, Restoring property, Weather, Weathering disasters