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Officials of American Bankers Insurance Group of Miami had scheduled an Aug. 27, 1992, meeting for key employees to discuss the comprehensive disaster recovery plan the company had spent 18 months developing.
That meeting never happened.
Hurricane Andrew had blown through southwest Dade County three days earlier, gutting American Bankers' six-story, 350,000-square-foot building. All told, the storm that swept through South Florida Aug. 23-24 before moving on to coastal Mississippi and Louisiana caused about $16.5 billion in insured losses.
Fortunately for American Bankers, while its plan had not even been put in binders yet, it was complete enough to put into action.
American Bankers' plan assigned groups of key personnel to implement various safety precautions involving the credit insurer's building and employees and called for moving the business into a temporary headquarters.
The plan had been completed and approved; the meeting was scheduled to formally announce it. Instead, it took effect.
In the wake of Andrew, American Bankers kept writing business, even closing two major accounts that week, said Jim O'Boyle, director of property/casualty underwriting and part of the committee that worked on the plan.
How did it do it?
Claims were rerouted to its Atlanta office, and workers in another Miami location sent data queries to an International Business Machines Corp. mainframe computer in Denver contracted as part of the disaster recovery plan, Mr. O'Boyle said. Computer printouts generated in response to data requests were picked up at an IBM in Boca Raton, Fla., and then trucked south to Miami. All these and more operational steps had been spelled out in the planning.
The only thing employees forgot to do was clean their desks. That has since been added to the plan.
After Andrew, American Bankers officials met with the builder of the gutted building; fences were put up around the site. The company also contracted with a moving company to box up any useable materials and ship them to the temporary office in Miami. The company reassured everyone that they would keep their jobs and started trying to find workers who didn't show up for work.
The key to the success of American Bankers' plan-as well as any good disaster recovery plan-is communication, Mr. O'Boyle said. "Everybody needs to know what the plan is and what their piece of the plan is."
Corporate risk managers and contingency planners often echo Mr. O'Boyle's thoughts on the lessons learned from Hurricane Andrew.
Jim Dineen, director-risk management for Jacksonville, Fla.-based Barnett Banks Inc., which has close to 100 of its 620 branches in Dade and Broward counties, said the company's insurance program hasn't changed much since Andrew, but the contingency planning has become more formalized. At the time of Hurricane Andrew, Barnett had only contingency plans for storing and protecting its computers and computer files. It lacked such formal planning for other functions, such as informing workers whether the branches were open after a hurricane.
After Andrew, Barnett added a separate department, a seven-member Department of Business Continuity, for contingency planning.
Risk managers also emphasize that quality of planning is irrelevant if the execution fails.
"We found there was a difference in
response by two different managers," said Steven Sachs, corporate risk manager for the Columbia, Md.-based Rouse Co., which owns and manages shopping malls, two of which are in Dade County.
"We told people to get supplies two days before the storm, plywood, nails, generators and generator fuel," he said. One manager followed directions; one didn't.
Mr. Sachs said he thinks an effort to save a few dollars was the motive behind the employee's failure to follow directions. "There was a perception of budget," he said.
The chain of command has since changed in Rouse's plan. Now a person on a quick response team is responsible for stockpiling supplies. "It's no longer a decision," Mr. Sachs said, and a person from senior management is in charge.
Now, at the beginning of each hurricane season, Mr. Sachs has a conference call that includes Rouse's vp of construction, director of maintenance operations and regional managers. The calls act as a reminder for each Rouse property to review its plans and perform a drill, he said.
In addition to disaster planning, some risk managers have changed their insurance policies due to Hurricane Andrew, increasing coverage limits and adding business interruption coverage, said William Bailey, special counsel for the Insurance Information Institute of New York.
"Risk managers are probably looking at changes in windstorm coverage," Mr. Bailey said. He added that major corporations also are looking at new ways to finance retentions.
Dade County, which has felt the bite of premium hikes since Andrew, is assessing its properties to determine whether its insurance program is as effective as possible, said Barbara Dunlop, risk management analyst for Metropolitan Dade County. The county is examining coverage for its six airports and its shipping ports.
Since Andrew, the county's deductible for full coverage on all properties has doubled to $1 million, and its premium shot up to between $9 million and $10 million in 1996 from $2 million in 1992. The county's premium dipped to $8 million this year, she said, because of an improved loss record, helped by less catastrophic hurricane seasons, among other things. Dade County has $5.5 billion in total insured properties, Ms. Dunlop said.
The county lost its flood insurance with Fireman's Fund in 1993 and is trying to put together a new flood insurance package, said Ms. Dunlop. The county applied this year to the National Flood Insurance Program.
Five years after Hurricane Andrew, however, Dade County building and emergency management officials worry that its history of weak enforcement of building codes could result in disastrous losses in the public and private sectors if another storm the size of Andrew hits.
When it ripped the roofs from homes and businesses not built to code, Andrew's winds also blew the lid off poor building code enforcement in Dade County, said Orlando Blanco, code writer in Dade County's Office of Building Code Compliance. When Andrew hit, Mr. Blanco said, it was a few months prior to the findings of a grand jury investigating contractors' non-compliance with Dade's strict building code.
The jury found that builders in Miami routinely failed to anchor beams and roofs with hurricane strapping and anchoring truss systems, Mr. Blanco said. Windows were not attached properly, and connections of the first and second stories of buildings were not secure.
No charges were brought; instead, the grand jury recommended that Mr. Blanco's office separate from the building and zoning department.
That recommendation was implemented, and Dade County has since toughened its codes.
Dade County also now conducts its own tests of products such as doors and windows and stamps them with the Dade County seal of approval, Mr. Blanco said.
"We're the only county that makes companies show them the testing," he said. "A two-by-four is shot out of an air cannon at 34 mph, and the glass or shutter cannot break."
Potentially lower premiums often are the best incentive for code compliance, said Kate Hale, an independent risk management consultant who was director of Dade County Emergency Management in August 1992.
"People do things to lower rates," she said.
Adherence to codes, she said, is essential to the everyone's safety during a storm.
"If you're next to a building that's destroyed," she asked, "guess what's vulnerable?