Insurance industry hastens comms after Katrina hits

NEW YORK: The insurance industry, facing the most costly natural disaster in American history, has been working overtime to coordinate consumer and media relations while scrambling to settle billions of dollars in claims.

NEW YORK: The insurance industry, facing the most costly natural disaster in American history, has been working overtime to coordinate consumer and media relations while scrambling to settle billions of dollars in claims.

The Insurance Information Institute (III), the main trade association for the property and casualty insurance industry, has stepped up to assume the bulk of the industry's communications duties in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. III is well experienced in disaster response in general, and hurricanes specifically, having handled similar duties for past monster storms like Hurricane Andrew.

The Institute's 10-person core communications staff has already spoken to "thousands" of reporters from around the world, according to III VP of communications Loretta Worters. In the immediate wake of the storm, the group unveiled a website, disasterinformation.org, that provides constantly updated contact lists and other resources for reporters and consumers.

III personnel have also established a local presence in Louisiana to connect with media and homeowners in the impacted area.

Worters said that the Institute had the advantage of a crisis plan that has been well honed through many disasters, including the World Trade Center attacks. "We've been doing this for years," she said, "but obviously this is an unprecedented storm."

The Institute must deal with an impact zone that covers three states, while facing hurdles like wrecked communication infrastructure and lack of hotel space that have slowed many of the general relief efforts.

The Katrina response has also drawn resources away from the normal day-to-day communications work of the III. "It's a challenge," Worters said. "There are other issues the industry wants to convey to the public [as well]."

Individual insurance companies have been forced to focus their efforts on their own stakeholders. "Many of the people who've been personally affected are Allstate customers," said Peter Debreceny, VP of corporate relations for Allstate. "Right now we're concentrating on trying to look after those folks, and our own employees."

The III, by contrast, aims to provide a broader context for the industry at large. "We provide a national industry perspective," said Worters.

She said it is impossible to tell how long the Institute will remain in Louisiana, but noted that after Hurricane Andrew, the team remained on site for nearly a year. She compared their current work to the industry's actions after 9/11. "It was a very huge undertaking," she said. "And it was very successful."

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