John Roblin, CEO, Cover-All Technologies, shares recollections of Hurricane Andrew, which occurred while he was serving as CIO of Baltimore-based USF&G:
What adjustment teams expected:
We had a good amount of exposure in the south, mostly along the Mississippi, but in Florida as well, as basically everybody did. We responded in the usual way for those times, which involved deploying trailers or RVs as provisional claim centers. The staff of these vehicles had check-writing authority, so if a person could demonstrate that they were a policyholder, they could write a check.
The lay of the land:
However, this storm was unlike any previous one. Andrew made neighborhoods unrecognizable and took out street signs and other directions. The mobile units were set up more for the convenience of the companies than the policyholders; you tried to park as close to where your policyholders might be, but it was difficult to get information to them. Furthermore, policyholders were afraid to leave their homes because of looters and other hazards. They were between a rock and a hard place, waiting for people to come to them. Some even put up signs with their addresses on their garage doors or simply painted it on their house. Adjusters couldn't get to where they were, so they were left hoping that news cameras might broadcast the information.
Difficulty in finding policyholders:
Of course we didn't have GPS in those days or any of the other tools we take for granted today, such as Google Maps or driving instructions. You'd have these little obsolete paper street maps, which had their faults even if there were street signs. In this case, the landscape itself was altered and in some cases houses and even whole blocks were missing.
Nevertheless, we decided it would be more efficient to send the adjusters to the insureds. The first task was to extract policyholder information from the claim system. We worked on geocoding the information, but that was of limited use because of the poor quality of the maps. We ended up having to interpolate geocoding and create our own maps. We distributed those maps to our adjusters and sent them into the field. They'd attempt to verify an address and basically say, "We believe you're USF&G insured; would you like to file a claim? We're here to help." It was much more effective to go to them than to sit in a trailer and hope someone would come to you.
Hurricane Andrew helped insurers to learn how to appreciate the magnitude of an event and be able to reach out to claimants more effectively, which is why carriers were better prepared for events such as Katrina. There's also more appreciation for the fact that it's not all a matter of personal lines -- there are business interruptions.
What's changed the most since:
The biggest change between Hurricane Andrew and now is the network of communications and the ubiquity of portable devices. There were portable computers in those days, but they were unwieldy and they generally needed a source of electricity in order to function because their batteries weren't very useful. Adjusters in those days basically had to rely on paper. There are so many things now that we take for granted. Virtually every large company was on mainframes. Perhaps the biggest factor was the lack of mobile phones. They existed by that time but adoption was very sparse. A company could equip itself with mobile phones, but to be useful, there needs to be someone at the other end of the line!
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio