Inside Farmers Insurance's Mobile Command Center

Take an in-depth look at Farmers Insurance's Mobile Command Center, an industry-leading mobile CAT response vehicle.
By Nathan Conz

It seems like only yesterday when insurers were developing mobile claims vehicles to differentiate themselves from competitors in the catastrophe (CAT) response space. But now that all the major players have introduced some sort of mobile claims vehicle, the rules of differentiation are changing. It's not about having a mobile claims vehicle anymore — it's about what functionality you have on board.

Following lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance, which has more than 15 million policyholders, reorganized and revamped its CAT operation, setting lofty goals. "We wanted to put together a catastrophe response that [would be] unequalled in the industry," relates Jeff Losey, Farmers' assistant vice president for large property, commercial property and catastrophe operations.

A major part of that push for an unparalleled CAT operation was the Mobile Command Center, a 45-foot bus equipped with satellite communications and other technology to facilitate the CAT claims process. The bus debuted in October 2006 and saw its first action responding to the storms that ravaged the Pacific Northwest in December 2006.

A little more than a year later, at the end of January 2008, Farmers completed its second bus [pictured], which features subtle changes based on lessons learned but also major improvements resulting from state-of-the-art technology — demonstrating the difference that 14 months can make in the battle for mobile CAT vehicle supremacy. Odom Wu, national manager for strategic initiatives for Farmers, estimates that a full 30 percent of the capabilities available on the newest bus couldn't have been incorporated into the first vehicle because the technology was not yet advanced enough. "From our first bus to our second bus, we've got two pages' [worth] of new technology that we didn't have on the first bus when we deployed it," he says.

The key piece of new technology, Wu and Farmers' strategic initiatives project manager Kevin Miller agree, is Farmers' mesh networking capability — a node-based networking system that allows the carrier to extend the Mobile Claims Center's Internet access out to field adjusters, who are equipped with Panasonic (Secaucus, N.J.) ToughBook laptops; air cards from Verizon (New York), Sprint (Reston, Va.) or AT&T (San Antonio, Texas); and mobile printers. "Our claims representatives are able to walk around with their laptops, go through a claim, write an estimate and cut that check on the spot because we have that wireless satellite service coverage," Miller says.

GPS technology, meanwhile, helps Farmers dispatch field adjusters as efficiently as possible. "As first-notice-of-loss calls come in, we actually filter those calls based on the location of their adjuster to service our customers faster," Wu says. He notes that, in a catastrophe situation, Farmers' record time from first notice of loss to placing a check in the customer's hand currently is 45 minutes.