How Agents Prepared and Fared as Gustav Hit Gulf States

By | September 22, 2008

On the morning of Sept. 1, Gustav’s eye made landfall on the Louisiana coast just shy of Category 3 status. Experts estimate Gustav caused about $8 billion to $10 billion in insured damage.

On Aug. 29 as Hurricane Gustav headed for Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, finally making landfall a couple days later, Insurance Journal polled agents in the area. The email asked how they and their employees were doing, what if any disaster planning they implemented, and when they thought they might be back in operation. Obviously, agencies hit hardest by Gustav had better things to do than reply to a survey but a number of those in Gustav’s wake did.

Gladys Broussard, a producer with Waguespack & Associates Insurance in Baton Rouge, said on Sept. 2 that the town was “95 percent without power.” She said the streets and roads were not passable.

From a blackberry, Broussard wrote, “Phone lines down or jammed with calls. I have not been able to get through to our agency located in Gonzales 25 miles away. We did have a plan in place for contacting clients and staff. All are safe.”

Jane Bock, a licensed property and casualty adjuster with Edmondson & Associates in Houston, Texas, said she and her family did not evacuate prior to Gustav’s landfall.

“Rest assured our family members in New Orleans metropolitan area did evacuate – they went to Tennessee and Kentucky,” Bock said. “As for the independent adjusting firm I work for, we do have a disaster and evacuation plan. We are well equipped to even handle our customers’ needs should we have to evacuate.”

While Gustav did not affect the Florida panhandle, forecasters cautioned the entire region to either evacuate or be prepared for the storm.

Trey Hutt, of the Hutt Insurance Agency in Panama City, Fla., said while evacuation was not necessary, traffic to the area from the west was fairly heavy over the weekend (Aug. 29-Sept. 1). “We dusted off our evacuation plan when we were less sure of Gustav’s track, however, and tweaked a bit as we seem to do each hurricane season,” Hutt said. “With the track still a bit unknown, we had a staff meeting on Friday (Aug. 29) and distributed copies of our updated ‘Red Folders,’ which is our formal, written catastrophe plan. We went through it in some detail, and especially solicited input from staff that has joined us since last hurricane season.”

Hutt said he rewrote the company’s entire catastrophe plan in the car on the way back from Bay St. Louis, Miss., after assisting in southern Mississippi five weeks after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

After two quiet seasons, Hutt said he considered Gustav as a wake-up call. “We received a number of calls before the storm – folks getting a bit panicky and wanting us to bind coverage. Obviously, we couldn’t help them, and our binding authority remains suspended with most carriers, now due to Hanna,” Hutt said. “We’ve done the hurricane dance many times, so it’s well practiced, and we’re always glad to help others. Next time, it might be us in the line of fire.”

Sandra M. Golden, of ISA/Stewart Insurance in northwest Louisiana, said the impact of Gustav in her immediate area was minimal and that no one had to evacuate. “But several of us have evacuees with us at this time,” Golden said. “Standard operations are in place. We did print out all claims reporting instructions and contact information prior to our departure for the weekend.”

Golden said her firm did not need to activate its disaster recovery plan. “There was no missed time,” she said. “Our greatest concern is if the weather system stalls over our area causing flash flooding.We are very fortunate that Gustav seems to be less of an impact in our area than originally thought,” Golden added.

Thomas J. McMahon Jr., president of New Orleans-based Eustis Insurance & Benefits Inc., said the same catastrophe plan that saw his firm through Hurricane Katrina did so again with Gustav. “We are in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Mandeville, Louisiana,” McMahon said. “We all evacuated and are back in our New Orleans offices today – 48 hours later.”

Juan C. Rivera, vice president of Alice, Texas-based Carlisle Insurance Agency Inc., said the hurricane bypassed his area and that no evacuation was necessary. “We have four offices, and made arrangements for the other offices to pick up work if one or two offices were impacted,” Rivera said. “We have a disaster plan that we put into effect over a year ago, and we modified it about a month ago. We have had some calls, but no urgent ones.”

Agents not in the path of Gustav were pulling for those in its path. Rodney Taylor, president of Charlotte Insurance Agency Inc. in Punta Gorda, Fla., said there only minor rain and winds from Gustav in the area.

“I live in Punta Gorda, Florida, and as you know we where hit by Hurricane Charlie on Aug. 13, 2004,” Taylor said. “My hope and prayers are with those agents and clients that have been hit by the storm. As an agency owner, and a resident, I would never want to go through that experience again. If there is any help I can be with other agents in terms of what we learned, I would be happy to share my experience with them.”

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Insurance Journal West September 22, 2008
September 22, 2008
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