First on the Scene: Keeping track of Matthew

While Hurricane Matthew did not have the same impact as Superstorm Sandy, the track that it tool and the swathe of damage it caused put the full range of Crawford’s U.S. capabilities to the test

Hurricane Matthew began as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa on September 22, 2016.

Tracking across the Caribbean, it intensified rapidly, spiking from a Category 2 to Category 5 hurricane over a 15-hour period, with wind speeds topping 160 mph. On October 2, it made first landfall over the southwest coast of Haiti as a Category 4 storm, with successive landfalls in Cuba and Grand Bahama. Then, with wind speeds nearing 140 mph, Matthew shifted northwest and began bearing down on Florida.

“We had approximately 65 U.S. adjusters, including adjusters from the U.K. and Canada, focused on the Bahamas,” says Beverley Trice, vice president of Operations, Crawford Catastrophe Services (CAT). “At that point, most people believed the U.S. was going to take a miss on this one. But then Matthew turned towards Florida and for many it looked as though their worst nightmare was to become a reality – this was going to be the storm we’d been talking about since 2005.”

Watching the storm build Crawford had been tracking Hurricane Matthew for days in advance. Constantly monitoring all relevant news and weather alerts, as well as utilizing proprietary mapping and analytics technology, the teams strove to stay ahead of the storm.

“Several days before the projected U.S. landfall, we were modeling potential impacts up and down the eastern U.S. coast,” explains Larry Thomas, CEO of Crawford U.S. Services and Contractor Connection®. “We were also conducting callouts with key clients to identify their potential needs and working directly with pre-identified network contractors to identify resources to mobilize into those areas affected as soon as the authorities provided access.”

Trice and the CAT team were working round the clock to establish a clearer picture of the forecast loss impact for their clients. “We were using client policy information to generate numerous claims scenarios based on varying tracks, wind speeds and water levels to get a sense of how many policies might be affected, and we were sharing this information with the particular companies. We already have in place contracts stating how many adjusters we will supply or how many claims we will handle.”

The Crawford Global Technical ServicesSM (GTSSM) team was also on high alert, as Richard Lafayette, chief technical officer, GTS explains. “Given that the initial focus was on Florida, we put our Florida GTS team on standby and discussed their specific resource needs for their nominated accounts. Once we had established that, the next step was to contact our GTS adjuster base to determine who had capacity to assist in Florida, or wherever the storm might finally make landfall.”

“The adjusters were also in direct contact with account holders, providing advice on how to prepare and what to do in the event of a loss,” he continues. “While this was ongoing, the GTS leadership was in regular contact with our clients, informing them that we were ready to assist in the event of any losses and to set up central points of contact.”

A pressure situation
Predicting the movements and potential impact of Matthew wasn’t the only major challenge facing the Crawford team. With its path putting the storm on track to traverse within 75 miles of Jacksonville, Florida – the location of the Contractor Connection operations center – Crawford also had to prime its own catastrophe response and business continuity plans.

“It was a unique situation for us,” Thomas states. “We were preparing for a major catastrophe response somewhere along the eastern U.S. coastline, while at the same time preparing our offices and staff for a potential direct impact to our operations center. We had to ensure that we preserved the safety of our staff while maintaining our ability to provide 24/7 client service.”

The potential scale of the impact was also putting adjusting resources under extreme pressure, as firms sought to ramp up their adjusting capabilities in advance of the storm hitting Florida. “We have about 5,000 fully vetted seasonal CAT adjusting employees available to us,” explains Trice. “As Matthew was developing, we put them on standby and once the storm hit the Bahamas we started pooling all of our available resources.”

“We set up our induction center in Jacksonville and pulled the trigger on all available resources to report into the facility. The induction process enables us to get our adjusters up-to-speed, putting them through any client-specific training they might need, and providing them with any necessary technology or software.”

The Pro-ActSM team, Crawford’s response taskforce of multidisciplinary professionals, was also on full deployment. “That’s one of the many advantages of being part of such a large organization,” adds Trice, “you have such a broad pool of specialists you can tap. They bring expertise from across the company, whether that’s IT, compliance or finance.”

As Thomas points out, a key benefit of the year-round interaction between the Pro-Act team and those clients who are part of the Crawford Catastrophe Program, is that in times of peril the information you need to respond is at your fingertips. “For the Contractor Connection team,” he says, “this means that in many cases, we have the policy in-force data mapped out by contractor coverage, and can leverage historical storm information and weather data to anticipate potential responses and contractor needs.”

Heading up the coast
With Florida hunkered down and ready for the worst, a slight deviation in its forecast track mercifully saw Hurricane Matthew barrel up the southeast coast rather than make a direct landfall. “There was a tremendous sense of relief when it became clear that Florida would not take a direct hit,” says Trice, “but there was still a great deal of uncertainty as to exactly what track the storm would take. At that point, we really couldn’t look at redeploying adjusters because frankly we didn’t know exactly what Matthew was going to do.” “It’s tough at the best of times keeping track of a large group of adjusters when they are located in one place,” she adds, “but when you have to mobilize them over such a large area the logistics are ramped up considerably.”

As Matthew paralleled the coast, the big challenge for the Crawford adjusting team was how to get sufficient feet on the ground given that the swathe of damage caused by Matthew was now over a much broader area than had initially been anticipated.

Its track up the coast brought extensive damage to property and infrastructure in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. With Crawford’s loss adjusting forces stationed in Jacksonville, a new induction facility was set up in Atlanta to enable the faster placement of adjusters into the affected areas once it was safe to do so.

“Since most of the losses were scattered along the Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina sea coast,” Lafayette states, “it was difficult moving our GTS adjusters from one state to the other given the configuration of the shoreline and the fact that there was no direct route. The type of damage also meant that while in some cases we were able to inspect affected areas within one to two days, in other areas where there had been extensive flooding it was weeks before access was available to us and others to carry out initial inspections.”

“As you headed along the coast, the scale and type of damage that you were dealing with changed,” Trice explains. “In Florida, the majority of the damage was wind related – there was only limited damage from wind driven rain, and no real damage from tidal surge. However, as you moved up the coast, and particularly by the time you reached North Carolina, there was severe flooding across wide areas.”

Rainfall analysis by NASA revealed that extreme weather in North Carolina, resulting from the storm meeting a frontal boundary, saw some 20 inches of rain drop in the state as Matthew passed. The study also reported that a slow-moving frontal system in the last week of September had already saturated the region.
In fact, even by October 12 major rivers in the area such as the Tar and Neuse were still rising.

An extensive clean-up
Given the nature of the event, the Crawford team dealt with an expansive range of losses in the days, weeks and months that followed. “Our preparation plans meant that the Contractor Connection team was able to start receiving assignments overnight,” explains Thomas, “as Hurricane Matthew began impacting South Florida on its path up the east coast.

“The initial focus was on mobilizing our contractors for emergency service needs. These assignments ranged from removing fallen trees from buildings, emergency water extraction and emergency board-up and tarping.

These services were invaluable to the policyholders as in many cases it meant that they were able to stay in their homes or keep their businesses running. “It also meant that we were able to ensure our clients could ‘be there when it counts’, which is the Contractor Connection motto.

Our ability to respond quickly not only mitigated any potential additional damage, but also bolstered the customer service capabilities of our clients at a time of extreme pressure.” To date, the Contractor Connection team has worked with approximately 5,000 policyholders of its clients, providing emergency services and general contracting services. For the GTS team, the range and scale of the losses required the full extent of their capabilities.

“We handled wind damage to roofs and other structures, coastal flooding, as well as significant inland flooding from various rivers,” says Lafayette. “We had several losses involving habitational risks such as condos, apartment complexes, churches, municipalities and golf resorts, as well as manufacturing and industrial risks. In addition to deploying adjusters along the U.S. east coast, we also had adjusters in the Bahamas and Caribbean tackling extensive wind damage to a number of
luxury resorts.”

While the number of claims stemming from Matthew was considerably less than the record number of claims tackled by Crawford in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, what made the storm such an extreme event for the team was just how extensive the damage footprint was.

“I’ve worked in the catastrophe arena with Crawford since 1979,” says Trice, “and I can honestly say that Matthew was a harder storm to manage than Sandy or many of the other large storms I’ve been involved with during my career. It was a tough storm to tackle and, given just how far the damage extended, it was certainly a very trying event for our employees who were operating under very difficult conditions and under exceptional amounts of pressure.”

“You would think that after the number of storms that I have been through over the last 38 years you would have everything down to a science,” she concludes. “But every storm brings something completely different.”

 

April 2017