The need for crisis management plans and frequent contact among business units, as well as contaminated currency were among lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy.
Outside New York and New Jersey, most insurance claims from last October's tropical storm are still open and range from millions to billions of dollars, panelists at the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.'s annual conference and exhibition said Monday during a session on lessons learned from a storm that lashed the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
Lizabeth Christman, vice president of risk management for Ahold USA Inc., said although the supermarket chain had detailed risk management plans, protocols and procedures in place to deal with catastrophes, there were unexpected surprises.
One big unanticipated risk was $100,000 of cash the Federal Reserve would not accept because of contamination, Ms. Christman said.
“We had currency that we couldn't take to the bank,” she said.
Ahold USA has four regional divisions and operates 773 supermarkets in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Ahold brands include Stop & Shop New England, Giant Landover and Peapod, among others.
The company employs 126,000 employees and generates $26 billion in annual sales. After Sandy last fall, Ahold initially anticipated wrapping up claims by June of this year, but that most likely will not happen, Ms. Christman said.
The company suffered $31 million in product losses across 202 stores as a result of storm damage. The most product spoiled in one location cost Ahold $1.7 million. Four grocery stores in New York and New Jersey flooded, and a roof collapsed at another location.
Among other losses, 32 stores were closed for safety and had to hire extra labor to clean up and dispose of waste and spoiled products, costing Ahold $3.8 million.
Most of the Sandy losses were an “administrative nightmare,” panelist Paul D. McVey, New York-based managing director of national claims at Marsh USA Inc. said during the session.
Marsh saw 1,400 Sandy-related claims, of which 600 were global risk management losses of up to $5 billion, he said.
“What we found out from Sandy was that the size and complexity of the claims were very large,” said panelist Ken Giambagno, New York-based managing director and global practice leader, financial advisory services, at Marsh Risk Consulting.
“Claims are larger than anticipated,” he said. “Five to six months after Sandy hit, the numbers are going up, not down.”
Ahold has a planning and crisis management team that includes a 24-hour call center that records all activity during power outages, property damage and other damages to its locations, Ms. Christman said.
“You need to make sure you have quick and accurate information,” she said, noting that during the storm, the call center's information gathering was able to provide Ahold's executive team with real-time updates on its locations.
As far as the claims process, Ahold held face-to-face meetings with insurance underwriters and quickly engaged the insurer's consultants during the tropical storm to ensure visibility and communications.
Additional lessons learned from Sandy included long-term power outages that prevented stores from follow crisis plans, and fuel shortages that hindered managers' efforts to drive to the company's stores to quickly assess damages.