Last October, when Allstate Insurance Co. developed a plan to best assess damage and settle claims in the wake of the Southern California wildfires, the Northbrook, Ill.-based company reasoned it would be counterproductive to set up operations in brick-and-mortar offices located in the vicinity of the fire's epicenter.With the fire spreading and local residents scurrying to find shelter, Allstate established a unique operational presence to conduct business amid the blazing inferno, dispatching some of its local claims adjusters and a 270-person national catastrophe team to operate out of six mobile response units (MRU) scattered around the area.

The fact that mobile home-style MRUs could move from place to place was one thing. The fact that they were powered by wireless satellite technology was another. With the satellite lighting the way, Allstate's catastrophe team established remote but real-time access to its various claims and policy databases and used the corporate e-mail server to communicate back and forth with key operatives.

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