Learning how to deal with disaster during a crisis is probably not the right way to go. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, employers are reminded of the importance of insurance, disaster planning and claim preparation.
“Always at a time like this, organizations who were not affected need to take a step back and ask themselves, ‘What if?’” says Neil Harrison, group managing director, Risk Control, Claims & Engineering, at Aon Risk Solutions. “We are spending a lot of time talking to organizations and helping them to say, ‘OK, what if it was us? Would we have been ready? Were we prepared?’”
Smart Business spoke with Harrison and Roland Laury, CFPS, senior risk consultant at Aon Risk Solutions, about some best practices business owners can use to help them ride out any disaster.
How did Hurricane Sandy affect the overall insurance industry?
An event like Sandy gives the insurance industry an opportunity to demonstrate why it exists. Too often, businesses look at insurance purely as a cost, but the industry is playing a role in business specific and general economic recovery. From the perspective of brokers and insurance companies, they expect to be judged in terms of their performance and how they respond to clients. There is a lot of resource pressure, as the number of claims is significant, so already busy staff is suddenly taking on increased workloads. Resource scale and leverage become key, and operational efficiency is a prerequisite for success.
It’s too early for anyone to comment on the longer-term impacts of insurance pricing or coverage availability for individual businesses or industry segments. When these events happen, almost everybody has an opinion of the cost, and those opinions vary widely. The reality is nobody knows at this early stage. Property damage, business interruption and contingent business interruption all come together to create the overall cost. In addition, just because an organization is based in St. Louis or somewhere not in Sandy’s way doesn’t mean businesses didn’t have customers, suppliers or vendors who were affected. This may indirectly affect them in terms of business interruption or contingent business interruption.
What should business owners know about their insurance policy for an event like Sandy?
There are some key things that organizations should look at. The first step is making sure you’ve got the right insurance coverage — the terms, the conditions in place, definitions of perils — for this kind of event and that you understand it. Business owners need to understand limits and exclusions. They should aim to have claims preparation coverage on the property cover, meaning there’s the opportunity to engage an expert for some of the accounting work critical to quantifying and making the claim. With this coverage in place, and with a relevant expert engaged, generally speaking, a claim is better prepared and the process runs more smoothly.
Linked to that is the need to make sure that the values at risk — asset values and business interruption values — are well understood and accurate. Too often, an organization has a claim and then is found to be underinsured or overinsured. A best practice is having an external expert work with you on assessing those values during your policy renewal process. The business interruption is particularly important because it’s far more complicated to work out in post-loss panic mode. If you think about the economy since 2008, everybody has different values at risk now than they did then. Organizations may have just continued to index link their values or sums insured.
Looking beyond insurance, what can businesses do to respond well to disasters?
The organizations that have responded well are those with business continuity plans which are well defined, kept up to date, frequently tested and broad. The plans cover not just the direct issues of building damage but also employee safety and welfare issues, supplier issues, customer issues, etc. There’s no alternative to investing the time, and probably some money, in a far-reaching business continuity plan because it gives the balance sheet the best protection possible.
Insurance is an outcome in many ways of business continuity. Take a broad look at the business, plan for every eventuality, make sure everyone knows what to do when an incident happens, have restoration firms on contract so you’re first in queue when an incident happens, and have access to generators or additional alternative power.
How can a business best submit claims if it does suffer damage?
When a significant incident hits, the company has some responsibility to mitigate the damage and the cost of the loss. Much of it is common sense, but common sense is easier to apply when it’s written down and people know what they are responsible for. Make sure that:
- Everyone knows to report the loss to a broker or insurer immediately and there are clear lines of communication.
- Immediate action is taken to minimize loss.
- You keep the documents, invoices or receipts for any vendors brought in for restoration or to provide alternative power, etc. Later, this will become a part of the insurance claim.
- You take photographs of the damage. It’s surprising how many people get everything repaired and then try to make the insurance claim without proof.
- You engage an external expert, if needed. Sometimes when a business is in trouble mode, it’s all about recovery. Outside expertise allows the business leader to talk to customers and suppliers and deal with staff, while the expert handles the more tactical, and somewhat more mundane, issues.
It’s important for businesses to have continuity planning, follow best practices for insurance, consider a claim preparation clause and ensure common sense is applied when a loss occurs. Recognize that disaster response, claim response and claim preparation are specialist technical disciplines, and many organizations find that their investments in those areas have a positive return.
Neil Harrison is the group managing director, Risk Control, Claims & Engineering, at Aon Risk Solutions. Reach him at (312) 381-5660 or [email protected]
Roland Laury, CFPS, is a senior risk consultant with Aon Risk Solutions. Reach him at (314) 719-5120 or [email protected]
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