Derecho 2020: One Year of Perseverance
The morning of August 10, 2020, most Midwesterners hadn’t heard the term “derecho” but by evening, that would all change.
In total, Farm Bureau’s agents and claims team responded to more than 42,000 claims, at an estimated value of $278 million in damages.
One year later, new trees are growing, communities are stronger, families are rebuilding.
A comeback takes root
Starting earlier this spring, tree plantings have offered hope. As communities recover and grow stronger, agents have been working with their local FFA groups and nurseries to plant dozens of trees to replenish some of the trees that were destroyed.
Farm Bureau agent Teresa Meyer and members of the Vinton-Shellsburg FFA planted 20 trees at various properties throughout the county. Agent Larry Horbach and members of the Tama County FFA planted 10 trees at Toledo local parks and the high school. Agent Jared TeBockhorst and members of the Cedar Rapids Prairie County FFA planted 13 trees along city streets and in parks throughout Swisher and Walford. A variety of trees were planted included maple, oak, flowering crab, burgundy belle, and white birch.
More plantings are planned for fall 2021.
Looking back, agents jumped into action
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.
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.
Agent Jared TeBockhorst writes a lot of his business in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, one of the hardest hit areas. He remembers being there for every single one of his clients throughout the recovery process. He, and many other agents and claims representatives, worked 16 hour days for months. After seeing the quick response from his team and the entire company, he’s even more confident that we'll be there for our client/members when we’re needed most. Jared noted that seeing a company come together to quickly care for its client/members solidifies that being a Farm Bureau agent will be his last job.
Watch Jared's story here.
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.
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.
We train for this
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 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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