Insurance Industry

Chubb Brings Ground Zero Flag Back Home

The iconic flag’s inclusion at the 9/11 Memorial Museum helps to commemorate the 15-year anniversary of the 2001 attacks.
By: | September 12, 2016 • 5 min read
Topics: Brokerage | Claims

Hours after the World Trade Center towers fell, newspaper photographer Thomas E. Franklin hitched a ride on a rescue tug boat to Manhattan and stood on the West Side Highway.

Across the wide road, atop the towers’ smoldering rubble, three dusty firefighters were affixing an American flag to a pole jutting skyward.

Franklin pointed his telephoto lens and snapped a picture that would appear not only on the front page of his paper, “The Record” of Bergen County, N.J., but in newspapers around the world.

The breathtaking image aptly captured a moment of unimaginable loss, resilience and hope, and echoed the famous photo of the flag being raised on Iwo Jima in World War II.

The flag at Ground Zero, which had been purchased at a boat show 10 months earlier for $50, was the centerpiece of one of the most memorable photos from one of the worst days in American history. In a snap, it became an invaluable national treasure.

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But hours later, the flag disappeared. And no one seemed to know who removed it or where it went.

After a few twists and turns, and 15 years, the iconic 4-by-6-foot American flag finally returned to New York City, courtesy of an insurance company.

“The raising of this American flag was a powerful symbol of hope, strength and resilience at one of the most trying moments in our nation’s history,” said Evan Greenberg, chairman and CEO of Chubb, at a ceremony on Sept. 8.

Chubb got involved when a claim was filed after the flag was initially lost.

“As we prepare again to pay tribute to those who were lost, this flag is a timely reminder of the spirit of our heroes and the resolve of a great city and great nation.

“Chubb is honored to donate the flag to its new, permanent and proper home in the 9/11 Memorial Museum,” Greenberg added.

Flag on Yacht Caked in Debris

When the World Trade Center’s twin towers came under attack, the flag was flying on the Star of America, a charter yacht docked nearby. The 130-foot-long, three-level boat with ivory-colored suede ceilings was owned by Shirley Dreifus and her late husband Spiros E. Kopelakis. It was insured by Chubb.

Evan Greenberg, right, chairman and CEO, Chubb, and Brad Meltzer, author and History channel host. Photo credit: Jin Lee, 9/11 Memorial

Evan Greenberg, right, chairman and CEO, Chubb, and Brad Meltzer, author and History channel host. Photo credit: Jin Lee, 9/11 Memorial

New York firefighter Dan McWilliams spotted the flag flying on the debris-caked yacht about 5 p.m. the day of the attacks, according to news stories published at the time. McWilliams removed the flag along with its pole from the deck, carried it toward West Street and with help from firefighters Billy Eisengrein and George Johnson, hoisted it.

While they have never met in person, the key players in the photo were linked again six month later when Dreifus and Kopelakis tracked down the three firefighters through a lawyer and asked them to sign affidavits stating that yes, they did remove their flag from their yacht.

The “New York Times” reported in March 2002 that Dreifus made the request as a legal formality that would allow her and her husband to donate the flag officially to the city, and perhaps claim a charitable deduction on their taxes.

The now-historic flag was invaluable. Chubb paid the full limit of the owners’ rental insurance to cover the claim.

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But, what no one knew at the time was that the wrong flag was recovered.

When Dreifus prepared to formally donate the flag, a size discrepancy was discovered: While the yacht’s flag measured 4-by-6 feet, this flag was 5-by-8 feet. Dreifus started a website in an effort to get the historic flag back.

After the mystery was featured in an October 2014 episode of “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” on the History channel, a man who wished to remain anonymous turned over the true original flag to police in Everett, Wash.

Police contacted representatives involved in the  documentary and together they began a forensic investigation that overwhelmingly determined that the flag was the Ground Zero Flag.

The story of the flag’s recovery and journey back to New York was retold in a television movie, “Ground Zero Flag Found,” which aired Sept. 11 on the History channel.

“We had always hoped this special flag and its story would be shared with our millions of annual visitors coming from around the world, and for that, we are thankful to Shirley Dreifus, the City of Everett, History, A&E Networks, and Chubb,” 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels said in a statement.

“In the darkest hours of 9/11 when our country was at risk of losing all hope, the raising of this American flag by our first responders helped reaffirm that the nation would endure, would recover and rebuild, that we would always remember and honor all of those who lost their lives and risked their own to save others”

Shirley Dreyfus, left, Howard Bergstein, president, Erich Courant & Co.; and Marlene Cuadrado, personal lines manager, Courant

Shirley Dreifus, left, Howard Bergstein, president, Erich Courant & Co.; and Marlene Cuadrado, personal lines manager, Courant

On Sept. 8, Chubb joined with the flag’s original owner, Shirley Dreifus, and donated it to the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum in honor of Dreifus’s late husband.

Representatives from Erich Courant & Co., the insurance brokerage which handled the renters insurance claim on behalf of the owners, were also at the ceremony with their client.

“Never in my life have I handled a claim of this cultural magnitude,” said Howard Bergstein, Erich Courant’s owner and president.

“The photograph of this flag being hoisted by firefighters caused this flag to become an iconic symbol of American patriotism and unity. We are at once thrilled to be a part of it and also hope never to be part of something so devastatingly tragic ever again.”

It was “a once in a lifetime claim in terms of its cultural significance,” he said.

“Have I ever had another claim where the client was paid the full amount of their coverage because the lost product was deemed to be invaluable?

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“No, I never have been in that situation,” he said, noting that “the notoriety, the excitement of the flag’s recovery, the history, the sentiment,everything that has accompanied this claim has been extraordinary and I am hoping we never have to deal with something arising out of a tragedy again.”

The museum where the flag is now on display honors the 2,983 people killed in the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 as well as the car bombing at the WTC on Feb. 26, 1993.

It displays more than 10,000 personal and monumental objects linked to the events of 9/11, while presenting intimate stories of loss, compassion, reckoning and recovery that are central to telling the story of the attacks and aftermath.

Chubb has played an ongoing role in the museum since conception. ACE, which merged with Chubb to form the current company, was a founding member of the 9/11 Museum & Memorial. Additionally, Chubb North America’s general counsel, Kevin M. Rampe, sits on the 9/11 Memorial’s board of directors.

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]