On Sept. 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian made landfall onto Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast. It was just shy of a Category 5 hurricane, and it left a path of devastating damage as it traveled eastward across the state. It was a historic event and will take years for affected areas to fully recover. My October article was in draft form when a direct hit to Florida became imminent – that article had nothing to do with natural disaster relief – this article certainly does because our organization specializes in hurricane damage-related restoration, and I wanted to share my love/hate relationship with these events in hopes it will hit home, or be valuable to fellow restorers.
Most restoration companies don’t have the opportunity, or desire, to participate in storm relief operations, and I get it – they’re not for everyone. Typically, most are too busy taking care of business on the home front, and the thought of deploying to a storm-damaged area is simply too much. Where would we sleep/eat? Where’s the work coming from? Where/how do we get supplies and fuel? How do we get paid and how long before we get paid? There’s a ton of preparation required before even considering taking on this type of work, and that brings me to one of my first love topics related to storms…
Aside from the given – the desire and ability to help people in their time of need (my #1 motivator when it comes to storm relief and the primary reason we exist as an industry), I love the planning involved in storm season preparation. Personally, I have been involved in relief efforts for nearly every major hurricane (and some other natural disasters) from Matthew in 2015 to Ian in 2022. We’ve helped thousands of people from southern Florida to eastern Texas, and each event presented unique planning challenges. It’s the planning before the storm season approaches that I love – ensuring those supporting our efforts have updated insurance and current agreements in place, briefing participants on the risks versus rewards, logistical discussions, discussions and action plans to apply lessons learned from previous events to get better each time – I love it!
I also love the process of evaluating and determining who (carriers and TPAs) we choose to support during these events and negotiating pricing pre-storm. There is typically more work than available contractors, so you can afford to be selective during these large-scale events. I ask myself questions like:
- Who feeds us regular daily work?
- Who is offering the fairest pricing or has the most “reasonable” referral fees?
- Who is the least painful to deal with administratively?
- Who will survive the storm and not go insolvent?
It’s a unique dynamic because rarely do we have the luxury of being so selective. We’ve learned from past events which carriers truly value the contractors supporting their insured and those that do not; and we avoid those that do not like the plague.
When the storm hits, it is controlled chaos – and I love it! Carriers and TPAs are desperate to unload the barrage of incoming claims to contractors and we are eager to accept, integrate into our system, and get them dispatched to participating entities for service. The days/weeks following are a blur of claim input, dispatching, estimating, invoicing, receiving payments, disbursing payments, and putting out fires. Not much rest during these times – but I love it! I love to see the team come together – each doing their part to support the operation.
Although considered “opportunity events” in our business model, I love what storm relief has done for the growth of our organization. Storm-related revenue allowed us to make the transition from a multi-unit restoration company to a franchise system. Each new franchise adds to the inventory of available storm relief assets. We are getting bigger and better each storm. We’ve matured from a 250-claim event (Hurricane Matthew), to a 3200+ claim event (Hurricane Ian), and that translates to significant opportunities to our franchisees and other storm partners – and helping a whole lot of people when they need us most. How can you not love that?
For all the good that comes from storm work, there’s the opportunity for an equal share of bad – the things I hate –
I hate the risk to brand reputation the most. No matter how hard you try to get to each insured just as fast as possible, no matter how good your intentions, for some it won’t be fast enough or good enough. The internet has provided a widespread sounding board for the disgruntled, and they know how to use it. Most customers are very understanding of delays caused by the nature of a storm such as restricted access, fuel, and other supply shortages, manpower shortages, communications issues, etc., but others are convinced theirs was the only home affected. They are oblivious to the challenges, and when their expectations are not met, you’re now the bad guy. It’s a minuscule percent of customers, but they can have a significant impact to your reputation. I hate that.
I also hate the constant harassment from TPAs regarding timely updates of claim status early on during a storm. It is self-inflicted, I know, because we choose to support them during a storm, but it becomes an administrative nightmare. Until such a time when a project management system exists which can fully integrate with every single TPA/carrier portal, providing a means of real-time updates from our system to theirs – this will remain a thorn in our side. Want to become a bazillionaire? Develop that system. The money we’d save from employing a large temporary staff just for claim updates would be better spent on a monthly subscription to a fully integrated system.
I understand it, but I hate the fact we must install roof tarps using non-invasive means (primarily securing tarps with sandbags) – a mandate from most carriers. It is mostly ineffective, and when the installation fails due to conditions out of our control, somehow, we are to blame. Some want us to return and “fix” the installation for free – citing poor workmanship. Homeowners rarely understand why their neighbor’s tarp was nailed down and they have a huge sail on their roof held down with ugly sandbags. If we were sent a roof tarping assignment by a carrier and we nail down roof tarps on a salvageable roof, we likely just bought that roof. Others, working outside of these programs, don’t seem to have the same liability. I hate that.
Lastly, I hate how long it takes to get paid for storm work. No carrier is staffed to handle such large-scale events, so naturally there is a delay in processing claims, including our invoices. There is significant financial risk in performing storm work, and much of that risk is mitigated by timely payment of invoices. Getting documentation to the claim source as quickly as possible has proven key to expediting payments. The smallest delay in submitting required claim documentation can result in a significant delay in payment. If you do not have enough capital to fund storm related expenses for at least 60-days after landfall, you are setting yourself up for failure. Unfortunately, many have learned this lesson the hard way.
So, there you have it – storm-related loves and hates according to me. Since Ian hit in our backyard, it will be a part of our daily operation for the next several months. If you deployed here to assist – thank you and I wish you a ton of success.
Until next month…