We are an Independent Insurance Agency, and not unlike most of our South Florida neighbors, suffered during the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma. We were left with damaged property, no electricity, an interrupted business, and employees that, each, suffered similar consequences. Yet, we were not permitted the freedom to be unprepared and the time to recover; after all, we were Insurance Agents, and assumed a duty, when we took our client’s premiums, to be there After the Storm.

Our Catastrophe Recovery Plan (CAT Plan), while not perfect, contained elements that served our employees and community, well. Even with our failures, we managed to be available to our community before the storm and after, to discuss recovery and manage claims. This commitment required that we, first, take care of our own so that they, in turn, would be available to take care of our clients.

Our CAT Plan, a sixty page document, included, among other things, strategies for preserving property, redundant resources, data preservation, communications (with satellite telephones), and access to client data. It included systems and methods to reach all personnel, confirm their status and offer assistance, if needed. The Plan included:

  • Continuity of pay, and provided for flexible work schedules to help each employee cope with their personal “home and health” emergencies;
  • Gas allowances for anticipated gas shortages;
  • emergency “cash” loans;
  • A 24-hour Emergency Claims and Service Line located out of state for service during periods of interruption;
  • An on-call mobile office with generators, computers, Internet services, and satellite communications;
  • A 24-hour Employee Resource Line to communicate news and status to employees, including anticipated recovery dates, as well as status of operations and co-workers.

In the days after Hurricane Wilma hit on October 24, 2005, these strategies served us well; however, days of coping turned into weeks. Wilma had slashed across Florida as a Category Two storm, causing 35 deaths, widespread damage estimated in the range of 25 billion and massive devastation to critical infrastructure.

Thanks to our CAT Planning team, however, and a wonderful group of loyal employees, our client services were fully operational. As Independent Agents, we not only insure our clients’ properties and business continuity, but assist them in the development of their own catastrophic recovery planning. We are experts at this, correct? Didn’t our industry, after Hurricane Andrew, develop insight into effective (and ineffective) catastrophe planning and recovery? Well, yes and no. With all our preparation, the greatest value derived was from what went wrong, and the lessons we learned from our failures – lessons we shared with our employees, our clients and our community.

After debriefing, we realized that even though we had taken great steps to prepare for catastrophic situations, more planning was still needed. After discussion, we understood that full (effective) redundancy required a fully staffed facility in another part of Florida (or, was that New Mexico?). We’ve built one in Orange County, Florida. We now operate, solely, with digital data. Our data is contained in-house, and backed up (via the internet) to a secured, off-premises site. Our phone systems are networked, our paper is scanned…

At the threat of another storm, and each storm thereafter, members of our senior staff are prepared to travel to our Orange County location, wait it out, and respond, if needed, on behalf of our South Florida community. We plan to do our part during and after the next storm, share our successes and lessons, and be around to honor our commitments.