August 29, 2012

CNA announced to the public yesterday that it’s Catastrophe Operations Center was fully operational for handling claims expected from Hurricane Isaac, but the Chicago-based commercial lines carrier was already well into its preparations to not only assist policyholders in potential affected areas, but also to protect its colleagues in the path of the storm and ensure no interruption of operations in support of claimants or other customers.

Nick C
Nick Ciabattoni, CNA

CNA’s preparations began with routine storm tracking as Tropical Storm Isaac approached the mainland, according to Nick Ciabatonni, VP, property and marine claims. The insurer initially prepared for a landfall in Florida, closing its Tampa and Plantation, Fla., offices for a day. However, CNA was cautious in its catastrophe response efforts, Ciabattoni notes. “We’re careful not to move our resources into harms way and prematurely deploy them to the wrong place,” he says.

As the storm’s potential impact became clearer, the insurer took more specific measures. “We overlay the storm’s wind fields onto our geo-coded insured locations,” relates Ciabattoni. “Like other carriers, using information from NOAA, we’re able to predict customers needs in advance, while the storm is developing.”

As a commercial lines carrier, helping customers with their own business continuity concerns is a high priority for CNA, Ciabattoni explains.

“We engage a variety of vendors who go through a strenuous and detailed vetting process,” he says. Through providing for cash disbursement and the ability to make emergency repairs and undertake other business continuity measures, he adds, “we’re helping them take care of their customers, just as we take care of ours.”

[For more Hurricane Isaac coverage, see La. Parish President: Isaac "Is Not a Category 1 Storm".]

Ciabattoni stresses that the battle to ensure available resources is fought in the off-season, in what he calls a slow, methodical and thoughtful way. Thorough preparation saves bandwidth for activities that can only be undertaken in response to the unpredictable and rapidly changing nature of a weather event. As the storm landfall became imminent, CNA activated its Catastrophe Operations Center and beefed up staff to handle calls at facilities in Boston, Reading, Pa., and Littleton, Colo.

“It’s a multichannel operation that can take information from about any source, including phone, fax and internet communications,” Ciabattoni elaborates.

Meanwhile, the carrier put “boots on the ground,” in towns in the path of the storm. CNA equips claims professionals with all the technology needed to do their jobs in catastrophe conditions, including wireless computing platforms, estimation software and access to every back-office system they might need, according to Ciabattoni.

“We have people poised and ready to go right in the storm’s path because they live there, and we also have people stationed outside the immediate area,” Ciabattoni says. “We’ll often fly people within a couple of hundred miles who can relocate to the affected areas later. We don’t want them sitting in an airport unable to get where they need to be following the storm.”

As the storm impacts the Gulf Coast area, CNA will be in contact with key brokers and agents, to make sure they have power and are able to communicate with policyholders and CNA, according to Ciabattoni.

“We’ll make sure they’re up and running and that their business continuity plans are working,” says Ciabattoni. “That’s key to a successful response.”

Making sure CNA’s own business continuity plans are functioning during the event is even more fundamental, suggests Steve Gore, business continuity planner within the insurer’s Corporate Security and Safety department. Job number one is keeping people safe, after which the priority is making sure there are contingency plans to enable workers to do their jobs remotely, according to Gore.

Steve Gore
Steve Gore, CNA

“We consider all the ‘what-ifs’ relating to possible storm paths and plan for the possibility of employees being forced out of their offices,” Gore says. “Our job is to coordinate all the technology and equipment, such as phones and wireless Internet hotspots.”

After a closing the two Florida offices, CNA decided that its Birmingham, Ala., branch could stay open. As Isaac headed for New Orleans, CNA closed its Metairie, La., office within the metro area.

“We decided that employees attached to that office would work from home, using laptops or otherwise accessing remotely from home computers to a virtual desktop in Illinois,” Gore says. “They have been given the necessary instructions and are working from home as we speak.”

CNA has also used social media extensively since the emergence of the threat posed by Isaac, says company spokesperson Sarah Pang.

“Twitter is our best channel during an emergency,” Pang asserts. “We Tweet to industry associations such as landscapers and construction groups whose members may be clients of ours. We pre-identify groups that we insure and track traffic."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek ...