U.S. businesses warned against Sandy-like disasters

Oct. 17, 2013 at 8:56 AM
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NEW YORK, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- Many U.S. businesses are not equipped to deal with a crisis similar to the setback suffered in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, a report said.

It dubbed weather events such as Sandy's onslaught last Oct. 25 the "new normal" of environmental change.

Insurer Alliance Global Corporate & Specialty warned businesses to take more seriously the need of precautions against a similar eventuality. There is heightened awareness, but many businesses have not yet implemented adequate changes, the study by the specialist corporate insurer said.

A new Risk Bulletin from AG CS, the Alliance Group's dedicated carrier for corporate and specialty insurance business operating in 160 countries, examined the cost of the disaster and outlined what businesses need to do to ensure they can mitigate the adverse financial impact of future storm events.

Many AG CS customers were hit hard by Sandy, with the insurer responding to nearly 900 claims ranging from damaged cargo to flooded premises, and resulting in a total financial impact for AG CS of $113 million. Despite the immediate disruption, AG CS claims adjusters were deployed to clients immediately following the storm and issued the first advance payment of $2 million within 48 hours, the company says.

"Many businesses are not as prepared as they could be. Today, businesses need to prepare for the new normal of weather events and this can be a laborious process," said Tom Verney, regional manager for Alliance Risk Consulting in the Americas.

"For many companies it takes time -- in some cases years -- to appropriate funding and actually make the much needed changes. For others it may just be about focusing on the right things at the right time. Alliance is committed to helping clients identify vulnerabilities, mitigate risk and be as prepared as possible."

Superstorm Sandy was the deadliest windstorm in the northeastern United States in 40 years and the second most costly in the nation's history. Many businesses and individuals are still recovering from its damage, with the total financial toll still unknown.

As terrible as the storm was, there are important business lessons to be learned in its aftermath, the report says.

Alliance said it has identified four key steps businesses can take to be better prepared.

Firstly, it says, businesses must update and test emergency preparedness plans. It recommended a comprehensive written emergency response plan that is reviewed and tested annually.

Secondly, businesses should review business contingency plans. Sandy hit the Northeast on a Monday, which made it difficult for employees to develop and implement business contingency plans while preparing their homes and families for the storm.

Business contingency plans, it says, must take a global view as supply chains continue to expand, particularly in Asia and Latin America. Allina's Managing Disruptions Report examines the complexities of supply chains and how insurers and industries can make them more resilient.

Thirdly, it says, businesses should understand their insurance policy. Business owners should take the time to read their current policies and discuss with their brokers what is covered and where there may be gaps.

"Determine if the limits of liability are in line with the current dollar value of the cost to repair or replace the damage. Consider adding an extended period of indemnity clause to the business interruption coverage to support the business until it returns to its pre-loss financial condition."

Fourthly, it says, businesses must know for what to prepare. Planning for a windstorm involves different preparation than planning for flooding. In the case of Sandy, the storm came ashore at high tide on a full, harvest moon.

Full moon conditions at the onset of a hurricane lead to increased storm surge heights and the potential for more severe flooding. The majority of Sandy preparation was based on a high wind event, leaving many businesses unprepared for the flooding caused by the storm surge.

As more sophisticated tracking models are introduced in the wake of the storm, more accurate information will be available.

In early October, the National Flood Insurance Program extended the deadline for the all-important "proof of loss" form, giving property owners affected by Sandy's devastation six months more to document losses. The due date, originally Oct. 28, has been extended to April 28.

"The government did the right thing here," said C. Glen GED, chief executive officer and co-founding partner of the disaster recovery firm of Ellis, GED & Bod den.

"A lot of people are hurting, and many of them just could not meet the one-year deadline. Now victims of Super storm Sandy have some breathing room to deal with their insurance issues."

But GED urged affected property owners not to hesitate or delay in working with their legal team to get necessary documentation together, as soon as possible.

"These cases can be very complicated, and it takes time to prepare them. There's a lot involved, so people need to still work with a sense of urgency," GED said. "The best advice I have for them is to stay in constant contact with the legal professionals working on their behalf, and to make sure they are getting expert advice. Too much is at stake to try to go it alone."

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