No business today is immune from the ravages of storms and power outages – not to mention earthquakes, fires or other unforeseen disasters that can strike in a minute.
Although all companies need a disaster recovery plan, insurance agents have an even greater obligation to put one in place to enable them to operate after a catastrophe to handle the claims of hard-hit clients.
Here are five tips to keep in mind when developing a plan for confronting disaster and for keeping your agency operating through tough times.
Commit to Having a Plan
The surprising truth is that many companies – insurance agencies included – have an inadequate disaster recovery plan if they have one at all. In fact, one study indicates that up to 60 percent of small business owners don’t.
Commit to developing a plan that covers at minimum three critical areas: IT, customer service and employees.
If you can’t make the time, hire a dedicated outside firm or join an association, such as the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) that offers preparedness and recovery plans to members.
Ask clients if they have a disaster recovery plan and provide recovery firm referrals if they don’t.
Documenting that you not only had a plan on file but reviewed it regularly with your staff and recommended disaster plans to clients can help protect you from potential errors and omissions (E&O) claims.
Back Up Your Data and Figure Out How to Get Internet Access … Quick!
Keeping your data secure and accessible is the number one priority. Back it up and store off-site for ready access and to ensure your ability to work remotely if your physical office location is compromised.
Remember, too, that your data and systems will be of little value without power. Although your agency might be tied to the carrier’s system for reporting claims, this process will be of little use without Internet access.
When considering backup power sources like generators, check with local laws and building regulations. One company lost power for a week after severe thunderstorms but was unable to use a generator due to an obscure city ordinance.
Be prepared for the worst possible scenario and maintain a list of active clients (particularly GL clients in the event zone) with key policy information. Store the information on a USB drive or storage disc located offsite.
Keep IT Near and Dear
Today’s agencies are dependent on increasingly more complex technology. So it should come as no surprise that your IT team is critical to keeping the agency afloat during a crisis. Keep an updated list of all support personnel and their contact information handy. If they’re local, make advance plans for how to meet up with them in situations when they can’t be reached using typical communication modes.
Educate Your Clients
Be proactive by making sure your policyholders have the information they will need in a disaster, especially one that might affect your office as well. Remind them to check their policies to be sure that they have adequate coverage and insure that all their properties or business locations are included under the policy.
One Oklahoma insurance agency had the right idea. On the home page of its website in big red letters, customers found “TORNADO SEASON IS HERE” with a link to a list of carriers and their phone numbers, advice on critical pieces of information to print out (policy, carrier phone numbers, alternative contact information for agency), and storage suggestions.
When possible, call your carriers in advance to discuss their protocols, especially with events of the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy. It’s comforting for clients to hear what they can expect, i.e. you talked to XX carrier, they are doubling their staff, and they have rallied their claims personnel to be out in force.
Some companies use a third-party answering and calling service to deliver scripted messages, emails, text messages or social media updates to clients and employees informing them of a disaster, office closures and alternate contact options.
Stay ahead of the curve going forward. For example, keep abreast of the redrawing of flood zones and understand the impact on your clients located in vulnerable areas.
Communicate with Your Employees
Develop an employee communication plan. Workers often complain they didn’t know what was going on because their firm hadn’t set up an adequate backup means of communication. While making personal cell phone numbers available for emergencies can be helpful, cell service isn’t always reliable in disasters so consider various options. Once the disaster strikes and primary communication is spotty or down, it’s too late.
If you have advance notice, tell employees what they should take with them – such as contacts, certain paperwork and devices. During Hurricane Sandy, many employees didn’t think to take their laptops when evacuating buildings never imagining it would be another six weeks before they were allowed back in without an escort.
Depending on the nature of the disaster, your employees might be as impacted as the company. Be prepared to operate with less staff since a number of them may be dealing with their own crises.