The Inevitable Evolution From a Claim-Based to an Event-Based Response
October 1, 2021
The Reality of Climate Change
In the past few years, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have left very little doubt that our climate has indeed changed drastically. Extreme weather events that used to happen once in a lifetime have become more frequent and are now accepted as the new normal. Regrettably, these events bring an unprecedented level of destruction to structures and facilities and often overwhelm owners, property managers, and insurers. The catastrophic damage inflicted on the city of Barrie, Ontario this past July by six EF-2 strength tornados is one recent example.
The insurance industry has long recognized the impact of climate change and subsequent extreme weather events on the volume and size of insurance claims. In response, nearly all major insurers have created a centralized unit dedicated to handling claims arising from extreme weather events with names such as National Catastrophe Claims and National Catastrophe Response Team, commonly referred to as CAT units.
While the creation of such centralized units has afforded some added level of coordination, for the most part, responses to these events remained within the traditional claim-based model. This is primarily due to the absence of pre-assembled teams comprised of forensic engineers and restoration professionals with the capacity to handle multiple claims concurrently. In this article, an alternate Event-Based Response Model is presented to allow for more efficient and cost-effective handling of the sudden spike in claims that arise from an extreme weather event.
The Transformation From Coordinated to Integrated Services
Our experience has shown that northern, rural, and smaller towns and cities usually bear the brunt of extreme weather events. Local engineers and contractors in these communities can quickly become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of insurance claims arising from a single major weather event and, as a result, some losses may remain unattended for several days. As members of the forensic engineering industry, we fully recognize how important it is, and how challenging it is, for insurers to expediently respond to and fully mitigate extreme weather losses. Loss mitigation and cost control in the wake of an extreme weather event requires the rapid deployment of ready-to-respond teams.
Through partnerships with restoration contractors, we propose the development of Rapid Response Integrated Teams that specialize in handling multiple claims from a single extreme weather event. Each Rapid Response Integrated Team would consist of a forensic structural engineer, a drone pilot, an estimator, and a restoration project manager. This quartet would ensure a seamless evaluation-mitigation-estimation process and allow for immediate determination of the size of the loss based on whether the damage is repairable or complete reconstruction is necessary. In addition to traditional forensic engineering services, the Rapid Response Integrated Team would provide the following much-needed services:
- Prompt initial assessment reports on the condition of the impacted properties, including the foundation where accessible, to determine whether a structure is repairable or must be entirely demolished and reconstructed for safety reasons and/or cost-effectiveness.
- A preliminary environmental assessment to identify any hazardous building materials that could potentially impede loss mitigation and repair efforts.
- Immediate emergency and mitigation instructions to restoration crews and on-site hand-drawn schematics for temporary shoring and weather protection enclosures.
The use of drones to assist in inspecting and digitally documenting properties damaged by an extreme weather event is vital. It is not uncommon that an extreme weather event renders several properties unsafe to access. Skilled drone pilots can fly compact drones in dark and confined spaces, such as attics, and photograph areas of interest. This not only facilitates the immediate assessment of the damage and shoring requirements but also allows real-time remote broadcast to the handling adjusters, enabling them to view the conditions from the comfort of their offices. The use of drones is a quick and safe way to document the condition of impacted properties in the immediate aftermath and gather the essential measurements needed for initial estimates. Tethered underwater drones can be utilized to safely inspect and document flooded basement spaces and damaged on shore properties.
The Proposed Event-based Response Model
The benefits of utilizing Rapid Response Integrated Teams would be maximized when retained for a cluster of losses. The basic tenants of the proposed event-based model can be summarized as follows:
- The national CAT units of the insurance carriers would identify their respective insured risks within the area impacted by the weather event.
- Rather than waiting for the individual insureds to report the damage, each CAT unit would proactively contact their insureds within the area of impact to identify the initial scope of damage (the number of losses within the affected area).
- Ideally, a higher level of coordination and communication would take place between the major insurance carriers to coordinate their response to the weather event, so that buildings on the same street, semi-detached dwellings, and row houses could be quickly assessed by one team on the ground as opposed to multiple professionals retained separately.
- Once cleared by the local authorities to enter the devastated areas, a rapid response integrated team can be deployed to provide initial damage assessment, loss mitigation, and safety measures for a cluster of losses.
The Importance of Rapid Response Preparedness
To efficiently and timely deploy Rapid Response Integrated Teams to an extreme weather event, the following preparedness measures must be closely followed and coordinated between the participating restoration contractors and forensic engineering firms: –
- Once an extreme weather event occurs, Environment Canada and media reports can be used to identify the front load of the response, assess potential challenges to access and determine the scale of the incident.
- The logistics and cost of mobilization are analyzed, including airfare, ground transportation, trucks, trailers or RV rentals, and accommodation.
- Anticipate the immediate support needed in the form of the number of professionals, supplies, equipment, and assistance from the preferred service providers.
- Constantly replenish stock of pre-packed supply items including appropriate clothing and propane heaters for a cold/inclement weather response, non-perishable food items, water bottles, batteries and power banks, portable fuel containers, first aid kits and the like. Where needed, generators can be supplied by the restoration contractors.
- During the intake phase, an administrative person will be designated as a coordinator for the rapid response team and information technology providers will be alerted to ensure smooth access to services such as file transfer, photo sharing, and real-time broadcast of drone inspections.
- Extreme weather event losses must be prioritized and as many professionals as needed are promptly deployed to complete the task in a timely fashion.
The Benefits of The Event-Based Response Model
In addition to the sound technical expertise and high level of professionalism of Rapid Response Integrated Teams that are skilled at managing multi-risk situations rapidly and proficiently, the insurance carriers will enjoy the following benefits under the Event-Based Response Model:
- Higher client satisfaction as claims are processed proactively and decisions are made much faster than under the conventional claim-based model.
- Significant cost savings due to the economy of mass and by employing such measures as advanced scanning equipment. By grouping multiple losses together, the cost per file is much lower than bringing multiple professionals to inspect damaged properties one at a time.
- Expedited assessment process through the full utilization of advanced technology, including commercial drones and professional-grade infrared cameras. Experienced drone operators are able to access confined spaces and they excel at flying inside buildings that are deemed unsafe for access.
- The ability to provide immediate on-site instructions to restoration contractors for shoring, mitigation, and protection.
- The quick identification of hazardous building materials which expedites their proper treatment and abatement and allows structural repairs to proceed rapidly.
- The convenience of streamlined and well-managed communication for multiple losses through a single point of contact: the team coordinator.
Climate change has already modified the way the insurance industry operates, as evidenced by the creation of CAT units. The industry appears to be on the cusp of an inevitable evolution from an individual claim handling model, where the losses are reported individually by the insureds, to an extreme weather event response model. Here, the risk is proactively assessed, and integrated teams of forensic engineers and restoration professionals handle clusters of losses to ensure timely claim processing, prompt loss mitigation, and the immediate implementation of proper safety and security measures.
The primary objective of the proposed event-based response model is to better serve the insurance carriers and help them deliver enhanced customer service to their insureds. Working in partnership with the restoration contractors, the forensic engineering firms must position itself to anticipate and respond to the emerging needs of the insurance industry.
Adapting to the effects of climate change is extremely important to all sectors of our society, but perhaps to none more so than the insurance industry. Through frequent consultation with our clients, colleagues, and partners, we are committed to pursuing innovative ideas to mitigate the impact of extreme weather events and to rapidly restore the devastating damage they often leave behind.
Mazen is the President and strategic lead of Origin and Cause. He is a designated Consulting Engineer in Ontario and is qualified as an expert witness in civil and criminal courts in four provinces. With 30 years of experience in the industry, he has performed over 3300 fire, product liability, and alarm system investigations. Mazen is a recognized leader in the forensic engineering community and a visionary who always anticipates the needs of the insurance industry.