Colodny Fass Holds a Webinar on Hurricane Preparedness During the COVID Pandemic
Jun 4, 2020
On June 4, 2020, Colodny Fass held a webinar “Pandemic + Hurricane Part 4.” The webinar is the fourth in series to provide information relating to the COVID pandemic and how it will change how the state of Florida and the insurance industry prepare for the 2020 hurricane season. The hour-long webinar was hosted by Katie Webb, head of the Colodny Fass Governmental Consulting practice, and featured presentations from Senator Wilton Simpson, President-Designate of the Florida Senate; Greg Thomas, Director of Consumer Services at the Florida Department of Financial Services; David Merrick, Director of the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Program and Center for Disaster Risk Policy at FSU; and Robin Safley, Executive Director of Feeding Florida.
President-Designate Simpson told the group that Florida is “slowly getting back to normal.” He believes that Florida is well-prepared to deal with issues that may arise with the state budget. He said that Florida has $4 billion in reserves and $1 billion in budget stabilization funds. He also said the state received $8 billion from the federal CARES Act and that not all of that money has been spent so far. Simpson said the state is “in reasonably good shape” for the rest of the year. He believes next year’s budget will be a challenge and anticipates budget cuts of as much as $2 billion to $5 billion during the 2021 legislative session.
Simpson believes the state is preparing for an active hurricane season during the COVID pandemic. He said utility companies and hospitals have PPE plans in place to protect staff while they are working after a storm. Similarly, nursing homes and hospitals have transfer plans for residents and patients if they need to move people to different locations before or after storms.
Robin Safley said that the Feeding Florida network of 1200 food banks serves all counties in Florida. The organization normally distributes 5.4 million meals per week but has been distributing 8.3 million meals per week during the COVID crisis. Feeding Florida works with the state’s Division of Emergency Management. Feeding Florida holds over 700,000 MREs and 1.2 million half-liter bottles of water as inventory for the state.
Feeding Florida coordinated food deliveries to hotels and motels that housed evacuees after hurricane Irma. During the COVID crisis, Feeding Florida staff and volunteers have had to start pre-boxing and pre-bagging food so there is “no-touch” with clients when clients pick up food. This experience will be helpful if a storm strikes Florida during this season.
David Merrick explained that the state’s Division of Emergency Management usually does an exercise before hurricane season to test the policies and procedures they will use during the season. Due to the COVID crisis, the state did not do such an exercise this year. However, he noted that the state’s Emergency Operations Center has been active for the past 90 days and the experience gained communicating, coordinating, and managing resources will transfer to hurricane season.
Merrick said that emergency personnel have conducted meetings with social distancing during the COVID crisis and that will help them during the hurricane season. Similarly, everyone is experienced with video or phone conferences or phone and is becoming more comfortable with communicating and collaborating at a distance. FEMA and the insurance companies are adopting to using drones and other technology to assess damage from storms and adjust claims. The damage assessment process will be faster and less expensive both for the government and insurance companies.
He said that housing during a hurricane evacuation will be a challenge. Counties will have less shelter space because of the necessity of practicing social distancing. During a typical evacuation, Merrick said that 27-30% of the evacuees use shelters. He said we do not know how behavior will change during the COVID pandemic. Merrick encouraged everyone to have an evacuation plan in case they do not want to go to a group shelter.
Greg Thomas urged insurers to be prepared for the upcoming season. He specifically warned that the process for licensing emergency adjusters is not activated for every storm. But he said thousands of adjusters can be hired if insurers prepare in advance. He said that having adjusters and staff prepared to help customers after a storm reduces the number of complaints filed with the department and reduces the number of times that customers engage attorneys or public adjusters.
Thomas said the department is planning to set up insurance villages after a storm as it has done in recent years. This year’s villages will likely be outdoor events using tents or mobile homes so that social distancing can be practiced. The department will again work with OIR to determine which insurers to invite to insurance villages based on which insurers are most likely to have claims in the area.
He said the Department of Financial Services has continued to function during the COVID pandemic. Most of the over 200 hundred employees in his divisions are working remotely. The department’s processes are web-based and consumer complaints are mostly filed online or by phone. He said the department increases the call center hours after a storm and will do that again this season.
Colodny Fass will hold future webinars and events to provide timely relevant information to insurance industry stakeholders as they prepare for the 2020 hurricane season.
The statements made in this webinar are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Please consult with your own attorneys regarding any legal issues addressed in this webinar.