As Hurricane Matthew starts to batter the southeast coast, insurance companies are reaching out to customers in the path of the storm and preparing for an onslaught of claims.

For The Main Street America Group (MSA), headquartered in Jacksonville, the adoption of social media at CAT time is expected to be higher than ever, according to Mark Friedlander, head of corporate communications. The company posts updates on the storm’s current path, as well as information about MSA’s hours of operation and 24-hour claims services. Reminders are also sent out to inform customers that agents are prohibited from writing new policies while states are on storm watch.

“We are in constant contact with agents through social media, e-mail and agent portals,” he says. “We’ve been posting information for several days now, before we knew the projected path of the hurricane simply due to the size of it.”

The company has used social media as a main communication tool during catastrophes for five years, but it had mostly been ad hoc, including Friedlander’s personal account. MSA launched its corporate Twitter feed on Sept. 1 of this year, right in time for the smaller Hurricane Hermine. Friedlander says the platform serves well to “share all kinds of quick highlights with the public such as, mandatory evacuations where our employees live.”

“Most P&C carriers, whether regional or national, engage in social media to communicate during situations like this, which is vastly different compared to five years ago,” he adds.

Security First Insurance’s mobile app allows customers to track storms and post updates directly on where they are relative to storms on social media, says COO Werner Kruck. Customers with a claim can also use the app for first notice of loss. During Hermine, 6% of new claims originated on mobile.

The last time a major hurricane hit Florida was Wilma in 2005, “and everyone didn’t have a smartphone then,” Kruck says. “We can expect a lot more communications other than just a telephone call.”

[See the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history]

Security First has set up a customer communications environment that allows all incoming communications to be accessible through the same console. That will be important during Matthew, because the company’s headquarters are on an island off Daytona Beach. The building is evacuated and the communication system is redirected to a backup site in Atlanta, and some employees’ homes.

Kruck says this is the first major test of the disaster response plan. Employees are able to access the phone system and the console through virtualization, he explains.

“We're not tied to a physical location. Our people have their phones with them, and they can plug in and go,” he says.

[How the National Weather Service uses big data in hurricane forecasts]

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