The very essence of insurance is designed to make you whole after a loss. I’ve talked before about claims management and shared my own personal experience after my house burned down earlier this year because how you are treated in the aftermath of a loss event is an important story to tell.
As millions of people work to put their houses, businesses and lives back together following hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it only makes sense to highlight the topic—and the critical role brokers play—once again. The following is a personal account of Richard Blades, chairman of Wortham Insurance in Houston. We’ve outlined his experience during Hurricane Harvey to bring to light your own processes and preparation before, during and after a loss event. There are always lessons to be learned, and as you read along, take a moment to remember what our industry is all about: customer service, customer experience, relationships and trust.
The message on the homepage of Wortham’s website is simple: Our Houston office has been affected by the flooding brought on by Tropical Storm Harvey. We have activated our Business Continuity Plan and our staff are fully prepared to assist our clients via normal email, fax or telephone methods.
As the city of Houston and the surrounding region reeled in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Wortham Insurance operated in a “business as usual” mindset. And that’s by design, according to Blades: “The most important thing we do is rehearse our disaster recovery plan. Based on where we’re located and where a lot of our clients are located, you have to realize that something like this is a possibility.”
Wortham’s “rehearsal” is actually physical practice. At least once a year, Wortham’s IT department tests the equipment and operating systems inside of a state-of-the-art Mobile Recovery Unit, and employees are required to spend a full day working on a disaster recovery virtual desktop. Each MRU, essentially a giant mobile communication trailer, has space for 36 workstations. When Wortham saw the storm approaching, they took steps to make sure all team members could work remotely and triggered the reservation of two MRUs, which were located out of harm’s way in College Station. They arrived on location on Wednesday night to augment Wortham’s remote capabilities, which use an offsite data center. “When things get hectic, it’s not the time to be making decisions. You need to just execute your plan. Especially during a CAT loss—that’s the most important time to be assisting clients. You can’t be down.”
“We were without email and phones for just a short period of time on Saturday night and we were back up and running in a matter of hours. It was a real team effort. Our employees were able to access files, take calls, field emails and communicate with clients quickly and efficiently,” says Blades.
Still, Wortham Tower took on significant water and at the time of this writing, Blades had no timeline for the building. “We’re operating on the basis that it’ll be at least a couple of months before we’re back.”
That just shows the complexity of dealing with an unprecedented CAT event. In addition to helping clients and the community, you have to take care of your own. “We reached out to everybody through our phone trees, trying to get their statuses quickly,” Blades says. “We’re offering any assistance that we can…. You’ve got to take care of your people first.” About 20 Wortham employees were seriously affected by the storm.
Wortham’s other offices around the state offered support, providing additional team members to process claims and offices for some employees who evacuated Houston to work. And the larger insurance community has also reached out. “It was very heartwarming…to know you have that many associates around the country who were thinking about you and willing to help with genuine offers of assistance. It makes you appreciate the people in our industry,” Blades says.
As Houston’s clean-up efforts continue, stories of the human spirit abound. “You just would be amazed. There are wonderful stories about people helping people. That’s just the Texan Way.”
While it’s still unclear how many Wortham clients were affected (they’re taking in volumes of both personal lines and commercial claims), the storm has made clear how critical flood insurance has become. “There were two stages to the flooding in Houston,” Blades explains. “One was from the initial rain and the second was from the release of the reservoirs. Nobody anticipated that the reservoirs would be breached the way they were. With Houston’s development over the last couple of decades, the city has to do a better job of flood control. People are going to be in unique circumstances and will need federal help. I think more people will buy flood coverage going forward.” (For more on the current state of the NFIP, check out the feature “Under Water” in this issue.)
We are proud of how our industry has and continues to respond to both Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Your support and commitment to serving your clients is what makes our industry so special. Our thoughts continue to be with our member firms, their teams, clients, families and communities in Texas and Florida as they rebuild.