NOT ONLY WAS
Florida hit hard by wind, rain, and flood this hurricane season, but it was also, by necessity, invaded by insurance adjusters. The Florida Insurance Council estimated that as of September 30, 15,000 to 20,000 adjusters were working claims from the four hurricanes that hit in rapid succession in August and September. To do their jobs properly, adjusters received specialized catastrophe training, at both their usual and customary training sessions and at on-site orientations.
State Farm, the largest insurer of homes in Florida, had 3,500 adjusters in the state at the beginning of October, according to spokesman Robert Phillips. About 2,000 arrived in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley in August, and the rest have been imported as each succeeding hurricane increased the demand for more adjusters.
For the most part, the catastrophe claims adjusters sent into Florida are experienced, well-trained professionals who constantly hone their skills. For example, State Farm runs their catastrophe adjusters through a 10-week training session in Jacksonville, Fla., where, according to Curtis Hubert, a catastrophe trainer for State Farm, adjusters learn everything they need to know, from the opening of a claim to its close, starting with something as elementary as how to set up a ladder.
Most property casualty insurers have catastrophe deployment teams at the ready, according to John Eager, senior director of claims for the Property and Casualty Insurers Association of America, a property/casualty trade association representing more than 1,000 member companies.These teams, Eager says, will likely train throughout the year, working on topics ranging from customer service to technical issues relating to claims-adjusting software. When the catastrophic event hits, companies, particularly those bringing in lots of adjusters into the affected area, set up staging areas in which to run these adjusters through quick training/orientation sessions before they get their assignments.
In Florida this fall, some hotels filled rooms with the thousands of adjusters who spread out across the state. The more than 3,500 State Farm adjusters, says Phillips, operated out of emergency sites in a variety of locations, from shuttered roller skating rinks to closed-down Target stores.
While every property and casualty company has its own staff of catastrophe adjusters, in an emergency they likely will have to hire independent adjusters to lend a hand. These independents will be trained in a similar fashion to staff adjusters, Eager says.
In Eager's opinion, one of the first things that should be stressed to an adjuster is the customer service implication of the job he or she is doing. “This is not like some typical small claim,” Eager says. “These are people whose entire lives have been turned around. Adjusters need sensitivity training, listening skills, and must be able to react to the immediate concerns of the customer. Do they have an immediate need for water, for example? That's a pressing concern before you get to their claim.”
When Hurricane Charley hit, State Farm set up staging areas both in Jacksonville and Lakeland, Fla. Hubert estimates it took one-to-two days to run each adjuster through a training/orientation and that it took an entire week to process every adjuster who arrived in Florida during the initial rush after the hurricane made landfall.
Although The Hartford has a smaller presence in Florida, it still sent in 250 adjusters to handle its hurricane-related claims. To take care of its claims from Charley, the insurance company set up a staging area in Pensacola, Fla., “out of harm's way, but in close proximity” to the areas Hartford adjusters would be covering, according to Robert Wilkey, claims manager. Each adjuster went through a three-hour training/orientation process, he says, which included some quick education on local and state regulations, building codes, deductibles, and other issues specific to Florida.
While any catastrophe is traumatic, particularly for those directly impacted, some are more unusual than others and could require different types of training for adjusters. Wilkey points to the events of September 11, 2001, as a case in point. “With the [collapse of the] World Trade Center, we did specific training relative to dealing with trauma,” he says. That kind of training is also covered, to a lesser extent, in events like hurricanes. He adds that adjusters have to be sensitive to picking up signs of trouble from customers who are on the edge emotionally.