Blown Away: Derecho Claims Response Sets the Stage for 2021
The morning of August 10, 2020, most Midwesterners hadn’t heard the term “derecho” and weren’t aware such a storm could exist. Farm Bureau Financial Services client/member John Buhr was an exception.
“My middle daughter called and said there was a storm coming. She called it ‘a 2011 kind of storm’ so I knew what we might be in for. So, we tightened everything down and went into the house and within about 20 minutes it was here.”
The Buhr farm experienced severe damage from a derecho in 2011 and, with the help of their Farm Bureau Agent and Claims Team, they rebuilt. In late 2020, they were rebuilding again.
Claims and clean-up were top priority
As soon as winds quieted that August day, Farm Bureau agents were on the ground taking calls and helping neighbors.
“We went down to the basement of our office and stayed there until it was clear…actually, we stayed until the phones started ringing. We did not have power for computers, but we were able to use our office phones because of battery backup there. It was pretty apparent within an hour of coming out of the basement that this was severe,” said Agent Teresa Meyer.
Agent Chris Oberbroeckling had gone home to ride out the storm. His first response was to help his neighbors, some of whom were client/members, clear their street. “I have an elderly neighbor who’s also a client, who had a huge ash tree down. It smashed her car like a pancake, she was very distraught, so I had to help her.”
After a couple of days and still no electricity, Agent Randy Strnad started sitting in the parking lot of his office. “Client/members would drive up in their vehicles that were damaged or destroyed, sometimes even glass was broken out and we assured them that everything would be okay. We explained to them what our claims process was going to be, made a plan for how they should go forward.
The Catastrophe Response Team delivered
The Farm Bureau claims team mobilized immediately, sending adjusters and staff to the hardest hit areas within 24 hours. In the days and weeks that followed the derecho, Farm Bureau had more than 300 agents, claims staff and independent adjusters working diligently to assess damage, personally deliver claims checks and help client/members get back on their feet.
One specialized team stood out from the rest – the Catastrophe Response, or CAT, team. Made up of 16 members who are specially-trained to handle large storm claims events, this team’s goal is to be the first-in, first-out when it comes to processing insurance claims. When a storm hits, activated team members arrive on-site to inspect property damage and write repair estimates at their designated storm site. The team typically works no more than 21 days in a row before having a 7-day break, but the magnitude of the derecho required a different level of service.
“We had a member of the CAT Team in our office basically full-time for five weeks, I think. He was able to cut checks right there for Randy and me to deliver, and as people called in with questions, they were able to come in to visit with him as well,” said Agent Chris Oberbroeckling.
“I actually kept track of the checks that I delivered, and it totaled $2.76 million. We probably put close to 1,200 miles on my truck in the course of three weeks, just driving out to farms and homes to deliver the checks that were going to get people back on their feet,” added Agent Randy Strnad.
The impact of the CAT Team was lasting for client/members Bart and Kim Gingrich who operate a pumpkin patch in eastern Iowa. “Probably the thing that caught me off guard was when our adjuster said, ‘I’ve looked at your policy, I know what’s on it, so now we get started going through what you might have for claims.’ And I thought, you took the time to study my policy already before you got here? That saved a lot of time just by knowing he knew what was going on. Then I just felt relaxed, because I knew I had an adjuster that was straight-forward and detailed.”
Crisis Therapy Dogs came to help, too
Two weeks after the derecho, with extensive clean-up efforts still underway in the Cedar Rapids area, Farm Bureau’s three Crisis Therapy Dog teams were deployed to visit the area. The owner/dog teams were stationed at a Farm Bureau office where members of the community could stop by to pick up bottles of water, pet and play with the dogs and take a moment’s pause from the difficult work of cleaning and repairing their city.
“Luna and I arrived two weeks after the storm, which seemed like the perfect time, as everyone was ready for a much-needed pick-me-up. We got to go out with Agent Brian Berg as he delivered checks to our client/members. Luna’s arrival brought so many smiles to people’s faces – for that brief moment, people could forget about the storm and focus on petting a happy dog,” says Rosio Duarte, Business Center Director and Crisis Therapy Dog Owner.”
Looking back, relationships made all the difference
Client/members across Iowa were already busy rebuilding in the fall of 2020, but several of them took time to visit with us about their derecho experiences.
Bart Gingrich, owner and operator of Bart’s Farm & Pumpkin Patch was already dreaming of his new barn. “Our big barn had been up since 1929, so when we reviewed our coverage we were pretty confident that we wouldn’t have too much of a problem with that and weren’t going to add any. But our agent asked if there were a big storm and we had to replace it, how would we want to do that. And so we insured it and I’m so glad he did that because now we can rebuild the barn.”
And, of course, John Buhr who’d been through this before, was once again grateful for his agent who sits down with him to do a SuperCheck every year. His Agent Teresa Meyer shared, “We go through all his stuff every year. He isn’t always excited about it, but he pretty much knows that it's vital. He knows he's seen the results of that not just once, but twice. Having the right coverage and making decisions year-by-year can really make a difference in his bottom line.
In total, Farm Bureau’s agents and claims teams responded to more than 42,000 claims, at an estimated value of $278 million in damages.
We train for this
The arrival of spring has severe weather on the minds of many. And while the chances of another 770-mile-wide storm causing $11 billion in damages may be slim, our teams are preparing as if every storm could be the next big one.
In the end, it was a Sales Associate for Agent Teresa Meyer who may have said it best. She said, “We've been training for this. We train for this every day. We meet with people, we review their coverage, we offer the things that we know they could potentially need someday, and we hope they never do need them. But when they do, we're going to win this game for them. It's going to be a good outcome and we're going to score well.”
Check your coverage before the storm
When asked why they do what they do, Farm Bureau Agents will almost unanimously say it’s because of the relationships they build in the communities where they live and work. All of the agents we spoke to for this story lived in the communities that were hit hardest. Their own offices and homes sustained damage, yet their first priority was their client/members, neighbors and friends.
When you meet with a Farm Bureau agent to review your coverage, you won’t find they simply check boxes. They’re asking questions to get to know you and what’s most important to you. Only when they do that are they able to best help you customize your insurance to fit your needs. Because when storms hit hard, we work harder.
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