Catastrophe Claims

Bird’s Eye View of Hurricane Damage

The use of drones allowed insurance companies to speed up the claims process and improve safety for their staff.
By: | October 27, 2016 • 4 min read

Hurricane Matthew, which battered the East Coast and the Caribbean in October, was the first major U.S. event where insurers used drones to inspect damage and help process claims.

With estimated losses from the Category 4 storm expected to reach $4 billion to $8 billion, according to industry sources, the need for the quick processing and settlement of claims has never been greater.

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Already more than 90,000 claims totaling almost $550 million have been filed in Florida, according to the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation, while in North Carolina that figure stands at $1.5 billion.

Allstate’s communications manager, Justin Herndon, said the use of drones had the potential to double the amount of properties a claims adjuster could look at in one day.

Just weeks before Hurricane Matthew struck, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) introduced new regulations governing the use of commercial drones that made it easier for insurers to use them to inspect and assess property damage after a disaster.

As a result, insurance companies were able to enlist drones for the first time to speed up the claims process and improve safety for their staff after the storm blew back out to sea.

Justin Herndon, communications manager, Allstate

Justin Herndon, communications manager, Allstate

“Drones are absolutely speeding up the process,” Herndon said. “Where an adjuster now might be able to take measurements and photos and look at individual damage in a couple of hours, a simple 15-minute drone flight can capture everything that’s needed and immediately upload it to the cloud for our review.

“Where an adjuster and a ladder might be able to look at three to four homes in a day, an adjuster with a drone could potentially inspect six to eight homes in a day, if not more.”

So far, more than a dozen insurance companies have received approval to operate drones in the U.S., including Travelers.

Jim Wucherpfennig, vice president of claim property at Travelers, said that a team of 20 claims professionals trained to pilot drones were deployed to assess residential and commercial property damage in the five states primarily hit by the hurricane.

So far, he said, more than 125 drone inspections were carried out at affected sites, taking “days” out of the claims process.

“It definitely speeds up the processing of claims,” he said. “With the use of a drone we’re able to do everything in one visit; analyze the damage, get all the measurements down, write the property estimate and give the customer payment for covered losses.

“The anecdotal feedback we get is this is cutting down the time to payment and/or claim rejection.” — John Geisen, senior vice president, aviation practice, Aon

“That enables the repairs process to begin much more quickly.

“It definitely takes days out of the process in terms of eliminating multiple site visits and the scheduling of contractors, and helps the customer get back on their feet more quickly.”

The company launched its training program last Spring in anticipation of the FAA rules and to date it has 60 FAA-certified professionals, with hundreds more being trained in the next several months.

Herndon of Allstate said that the drones assisted in the inspection of around 25 homes, opening the door to more wide-scale use of the technology in the future.

Allstate had previously tested the drones, which can capture 4K-resolution images, enabling adjusters to zoom in with much greater detail, in Texas after a hailstorm.

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“To be able to use drones with our customers who have actual storm damage is a big step forward,” said Allstate’s chief claims officer Glenn Shapiro.

Lockton doubled its use of drones during Hurricane Matthew from previous smaller events, said Sheri Wilson, senior vice president and national property claims director.

“My sense is that Matthew was still more of a test op for many insurers than widespread deployment, but it clearly is trending to greater use,” said John Geisen, senior vice president with Aon’s aviation practice.

“The anecdotal feedback we get is this is cutting down the time to payment and/or claim rejection. If faced with a large count of claims, you might not have the time to scrutinize each as deeply so the ability to quickly assess for damage and focus attention, has value.”

Jim Wucherpfennig, vice president of claim property, Travelers

Jim Wucherpfennig, vice president of claim property, Travelers

Josh Spencer, in catastrophe operations for Zurich North America said that the company used imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association as well as data from its call centers and its staff on the ground to assess damage.

The use of drones had also improved the safety of claims professionals by removing the need to climb ladders to inspect roofs and other structures, Wucherpfennig said.

Herndon said: “Safety is a major concern for any adjuster getting on a roof today. There can be steep inclines, slippery/wet surfaces or weak areas from damage where a tree fell, for example.

“A drone evaluation takes all of those concerns away and so we see the future use of drones as a great way to improve safety for our claims professionals.”

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

This senior risk manager values his role in helping Varian Medical Systems support research and technologies in the fight against cancer.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

When I was 15 years old I had a summer job working for the city of Plentywood, mowing grass in the parks and ballfields, emptying garbage cans, hauling waste to the dump, painting crosswalk lines.  A great job for a teenager but I thought getting a college degree and working in an air-conditioned office would be a good plan long term.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

I was enrolled in the University of Montana as a general business student, and I wanted to declare a more specialized major during my sophomore year. I was working for my dad at his insurance agency over the summer, and taking new agent training coursework on property/casualty risks in my spare time, so I had an appreciation for insurance. My dad suggested I research risk management for a career, and I transferred sight unseen to the University of Georgia to enroll in their risk management program. I did an internship as a senior with the risk management department at Sulzer Medica, and they offered me a full time job.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks. If we initiate a collaborative exercise with the risk owners — people who may have unique knowledge about that particular risk — and include a cross section of people from other corporate functions, you can do an effective job of taking the risk apart to analyze it, figure out a way to manage that exposure, and then reap the upside benefits while reducing the downside exposure. That can be done with new products and new service offerings, when there isn’t coverage available for a risk. It’s asking, is there anything we can do to reduce the risk without transferring it?

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber liability. There’s so much at stake and the bad guys are getting more resourceful every day. At Varian, our first approach is to try to make our systems and products more resilient, so we’re trying to direct resources to preventing it from happening in the first place. It’s a huge reputation risk if one of our products or systems were compromised, so we want to avoid that at all costs.

We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

I’ve worked with a number of great ones over the years. We’ve enjoyed a great property insurance relationship with Zurich. Their loss control services are very valuable to us. On the umbrella liability side, it’s been great partnering with companies like Swiss Re and Berkley Life Sciences because they’ve put in the time and effort to understand our unique risk exposures.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

One hundred percent through a broker. I view our broker as an extension of our risk management team. We benefit from each team member’s respective area of expertise and experience.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

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I think so. The brokers were kind of villainized by Spitzer. I think it’s fair for brokers and insurers to make a reasonable profit, and if a portion of their profit came from contingent commissions, I’m fine with that. But I do appreciate the transparency and disclosure that came out as a result of the fiasco.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

David Collins, Senior Manager, Risk Management, Varian Medical Systems Inc.

While we might be doing fine here in the U.S. from an economic perspective, the Middle East is a mess, and we’re living with nuclear threat from North Korea. But hope springs eternal, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m hoping saner minds prevail and our leaders throughout the world work together to make things better.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My Dad got me started down the insurance and risk path. I’ve also been fortunate to work for or with a number of University of Georgia alumni who’ve been mentors for me. I’ve worked side by side with Karen Epermanis, Michael Rousseau, and Elisha Finney. And I’ve worked with Daniel Dean in his capacity as a broker.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

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Raising my kids. I have a 15-year-old and 12-year-old, and they’re making mom and dad proud of the people they’re turning into.

On a professional level, a recent one would be the creation and implementation of our global travel risk program, which was a combined effort between security, travel and risk functions.

We have a huge team of service personnel around the world, traveling to customer sites to do maintenance and repair. We needed a way to track, monitor and communicate with them. We may need to make security arrangements or vet their lodging in some circumstances.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My 12-year-old son thought my job responsibilities could be summed up as a “professional worrier.” And that’s not too far off.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Varian’s mission is to focus energy on saving lives. Proper administration of the risk function puts the company in a better position to financially support research that improves products and capabilities, helps to educate health care providers and support cancer care in general. It means more lives saved from a terrible disease. I’m proud to contribute toward that.

When you meet someone whose cancer has been successfully treated with one of our products, it’s a powerful reward.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]