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Fort McMurray: How Can We Help?

Posted By Thom Young, May 10, 2016

Fort McMurray: How Can We Help?

Despite a host of issues to discuss, my focus in this column is on the Fort McMurray catastrophe. The scale of the tragedy and scope of the disruption is just becoming known. As I write, the current estimates are that over 1600 “structures” have been lost to date and several hundred more are in imminent risk saved only by the whim of the winds and the valiant efforts of the fire fighters and volunteers doing all they can. By the time you read this column, our industry response to this historical disruption to the people that we serve will be well underway. The media has conveyed the confusion and the concern in this mass scramble to evacuate a community of more than 80,000 people and the reality of people navigating their vehicles with their families and whatever possessions they could grab through the conflagration of a forest engulfed in flames. One client of ours reported that the windows of his car were, at one point in his journey to escape, too hot to touch on the inside. Another told the story of his family seeing the flames lapping at the back of their home as they were going out the front door. By some form of providence, no lives were lost directly from the fire, the sad tragedy of a traffic accident taking two young lives notwithstanding. I cannot recall such a successful movement of that many people in so short a period of time and over geographical distances of such proportions. Floods cause evacuations with a much lesser sense of urgency than feeling the heat of a fire on your back while running away. This truly amazing story has only just begun.

Our insurers have sent many notices about the systems in place to deal with the clients who are out of their homes with little or no documentation and very confused about what to do now. While they can find help in many places, getting the information out to these people is the problem. The magazine Canadian Insurance Broker has put out a guide for brokers that is very comprehensive and is being updated regularly.

If people don’t know who they are insured with, they can be referred to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, whose coordinated name and address searches with their members can identify claimants’ policy information to get the claimants in touch with their company’s claims centres. The process is tedious though and the frustration level high, so be patient with these people if you are trying to help them.

I had an interesting discussion with a broker the other day who was of the opinion that assisting an insured who is not a client with the claims process on behalf of the insurer is somehow an infraction under the Insurance Act. Nothing could be further from the truth, and you’re adding to the frustration these people are experiencing if you tell them that you can’t help them. Pushing them back on their broker is futile as well. I know of one brokerage firm an office of three agents that has 3500 clients in Fort McMurray. The office has been evacuated, and no one can get in to restore operations until the evacuation orders are lifted. The three brokers working there have all lost their homes and will be dealing with their personal priorities for a while. If you get a call from people looking for help with their claim, please provide them with information and advice.

  • Get them in front of the right people to initiate their claim.
  • Tell them to keep good records of their expenses.
  • Advise them as you would your own clients on beginning to prepare the lists of belongings lost.
  • Advise them on the time they have to get their claim started.
  • Most importantly, comfort them with assurances that you would give your own clients.

Of course, you will need to qualify the advice because you haven’t seen their policy, but you can provide general advise. You know what’s covered under a homeowners policy, and the statutes are absolute no matter who the insurer is. These people are desperate for words of comfort, and we can give it to them without creating an estoppel. Do what you can to help!

Replacing Alberta Official Documents

People who have been evacuated from Ft. McMurray and are in need of replacement documents—from auto registrations to driver’s licenses and birth certificates—can obtain these at most registry agents offices free of charge. The government has waived the fees for these people and most registry offices have waived them as well. People who are starting to rebuild their lives can be directed to a registry office to get this task underway.

In Closing

I am busy with a number of things focusing on the Ft. McMurray event and am cutting my essay short for this issue. Much more is to come on this story. After the tragedy of Slave Lake, much dialogue surrounded what could and should have been done to prevent what occurred there from happening again. All of our communities situated in the boreal forests of Canada must take note and begin to implement mitigation and suppression efforts to protect against wildfires. That discussion is for another day. Today, we focus on helping our fellow Albertans get through this.

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

 

Tags:  catastrophic risk  customer service  evacuation  Fort McMurray  IBC  Insurance Bureau of Canada  mitigation  wildfire 

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