Insuring needs after the storm

Cathy Hamby FitzGerald, Chapin

July 31, 2009 

I remember it well. Anyone living in South Carolina at the time has a Hugo story. Even if you weren't directly impacted, you knew someone who was or you were involved in some way. Since I live in Chapin, all we got was some pretty stiff wind that knocked over one small tree. That's not my story, however. I was working for a major insurance company at the time, and for the next nine months, our claims department was turned upside down and inside out.

When my phone rang about 6 the morning after Hugo's nighttime raid on South Carolina, I knew immediately that it was my boss. Get to the office as soon as you can was all he said. Now, I realize that my experience in an office cannot compare to that of those who lost homes or loved ones, or even to the stories of the emergency personnel, or even the on-site claims people. I'm not pretending that I was emotionally traumatized in any way, but my day-to-day life as the manager of the Workers' Compensation Claims Dept. pretty much ended for the next several months. I had very little experience with property claims, having mostly done auto and workers' compensation during my 14 years in the claims business. That day, it didn't matter.

I (and many others) got a crash course in property damage. We set up a command center in a classroom and stuck a sign on the door that read "Storm Room". For the next nine months, a rotating staff of claims adjusters dedicated to handling hurricane-related claims would man that room. Our regular 8-to-5 workday became a thing of the past. We worked 10-12 hours 6-7 days a week. The two supervisors in my workers' compensation department had to pretty much take on my duties in addition to their own as I became well versed in a "foreign" environment. Much of our earlier responsibilities involved reassuring people that they had coverage and simply processing their information to be handed over to the adjusters on site for inspection and evaluation.

Some of the claims were fairly simple and just needed to be processed and paid without actual eye-balling. What was overwhelming was the sheer volume of phone calls and paperwork coming in. I'm surprised the fax-machines, copiers and computers didn't just burst into flames! It was also overwhelming to deal with those people who did not have adequate or proper coverage on their homes...to have to tell them, "I'm sorry, but, you don't have flood insurance," or, "I'm sorry, but your coverage is not enough to replace your home." Some of our employees suffered losses, too, but they came to work everyday to help others who faced loss. Some of them were sent to Charleston and other areas for weeks at a time, away from their families, to work claims in the damaged areas. Again, I know that this may sound trifling to many, but, with all the bad rap insurance companies get (some of it well-deserved), I just thought I'd share a glimpse from the inside and remind everyone that there is, indeed, compassion and dedication to be found inside those walls. -- Cathy Hamby FitzGerald, Chapin

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