Responding in the Wake of Catastrophic Events

21 May 2021
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The aftermath of any CAT (catastrophic) event is hard to imagine. With a hurricane, homes are shredded by wind and debris, businesses are often left with aisles and warehouses full of ruined inventory. Roadways, trees, and landmarks are gone. There’s an eerie silence, in the absence of traffic or local wildlife. The people left behind have nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait for help. And still, the mortgage check is due, employees have to be paid, and the kids have to be fed. For these communities, life as they knew it has washed away, much like the storm surge flooding the land.  Still, they are expected to keep moving forward. Every moment without power, running water, shelter, or safe passage adds to the burdensome emotional load these families and companies must carry. 

Because of these harsh realities, the work we do following a CAT event is not for the faint of heart. It requires dedication, resolve, flexibility, stamina, and empathy. And the 2020 hurricane season was unlike any before, with 30 named storms and 12 hitting the US – five alone in Louisiana—the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is the most active ever recorded. In total, the season is estimated to cost $47 billion in damage and recovery. Walter P Moore responded to clients from Texas to New Jersey, helping homeowners and business owners come to terms with their losses at one of the worst moments in their lives. On top of this, COVID-19 restrictions interfered with these communities’ ability to prepare and recover.

Responding to all of the claims we received this year should have been impossible. We had 250+ individual projects within this scope and the combined workload needed 55 engineers across 10 offices, including Panama. And logistically, the total response effort was a beast. We faced innumerable challenges, but our major issues including:

  • Getting engineers to and from rural and semi-rural locations.
  • Finding housing for deployment teams, as most utilities were out for weeks.
  • Shifting from short-term deployment to multi-month embedding for continuous client access and service.
  • The compounded difficulty caused by COVID, and all that comes with it – pandemic restrictions, PPE for staff, contact tracing, exposure risks, safe and socially distant housing options, etc. 

We deployed to communities across the Gulf Coast and into the East Coast throughout the season, but the bulk of our caseload came from the stretch of the I-10 corridor between Houston, TX, and Panama City, FL. Lake Charles, LA bore the brunt of two Category 4 direct hits in Hurricanes Laura and Delta, upending homes, businesses, industrial facilities, and the tourist-attracting casinos. Our deployed teams were living in campers off generated power at points because the damage to the infrastructure was so severe. Once the utilities were back online, the only undamaged hotels available were completely booked with displaced residents.

We learned many lessons for easing the burden on clients moving forward: increase digital workflow, integrate tech into fieldwork, hire key CAT response staff, and train for essential certifications, like first aid. We also identified the need to develop a client portal for digital report delivery to minimize our response time and allow our clients access to all their reports in one place. We are working to implement that ahead of the 2021 storm season.

Our mission after a CAT event is to help affected communities, business owners, and homeowners regain normalcy as quickly as possible. We know that no matter how competently we conduct our assessments, it will never be quick enough to completely remove the anguish these displaced communities face. Hurricane recovery takes months, even years, but our team acts with precision, efficiency, and compassion to move the insurance process forward and start the journey.

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