WIND held its annual 2022 conference at the Lowes Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando at the end of January. I have to say that I was a little hesitant attending this conference as it is a multi-day event held in a venue which is a closed environment inside of a very large resort. Based on past year’s attendance I would have expected well over 1000 insurance professionals, experts and vendors showing up to network, learn best practices and refresh their knowledge. To my surprise despite the virus threat, over 1000 people did in fact register and that didn’t include late walk ins, who decided they did not want to be behind the learning curve. For me, besides seeing old friends and meeting new people from various disciplines, the highlight of the conference was the keynote speaker presentation.
“Unity of Effort” was Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen’s (Ret.) theme which on the surface sounds simple. But as we have seen, this has not always been the case when Americans have had the misfortune of suffering a big Cat event. Admiral Allen has the credentials to make that point and gave us an example of his service in some of the recent major disasters where he served as the leader and coordinated efforts through partnerships with local officials. Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill were just a few events he highlighted to get the point across that Unity of Effort was needed as a team approach to help local officials who are overwhelmed and in need of emergency help.
So how does the Federal Government get authorization to come in and play a role in state and local jurisdictions? As Admiral Allen pointed out, in 1988 a federal law was passed called the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency law which allows federal assistance designed to bring orderly and systematic federal natural disaster assistance that allows state and local governments to carrying out their responsibilities to aid citizens. Remember when the U.S. Army showed up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina led by General Russel L Honore? This was the Stafford act in action which allowed not only General Honore but also Admiral Allen to partner together to bring the full force of the federal government to bear and get Katrina chaos under control. But as pointed out by Admiral Allen, local governments act first and if requested, the Stafford Act is enacted allowing the federal government to intervene. With the Gulf Oil spill, this was in federal waters and Admiral Allen did not need to have authorization from the Stafford Act. This became a multi-agency effort to first stop the oil flow and then oversee the massive clean-up effort that followed.
During the general session Q&A I did not want to miss the opportunity to ask Admiral Allen to about the west central coast of Florida that has not had a direct hit from a major hurricane in 100 years. As part of my question, I asked him to comment on the diversity of communities all along the west coast and what I feel is a lack of common community interest and pre-planning in the event of a major strike. The timing of this question could not have been better. The Tampa Bay Times had been running a series of articles diving into the flooding peril west central Florida faces, given the growth and geographic coastal landscape. Admiral Allen reiterated the need for various communities to fend for themselves but, if necessary, the Stafford act can be authorized, and the federal government can be brought to bear. The Admiral also pointed out that the patterns he has observed seem to show the storms typically hitting the upper Gulf Coast trending more to the west coast. For example, Hurricane Michael and recent torrential rain activity in our state. Another of his comments spoke to one of the functions of WIND, which was his support of the umpire program WIND offers. His hope was that perhaps the umpire program could help close the gap on the wind versus water conflict that always occurs following major flooding caused by the wind. As any experienced loss professional knows the wind versus water is problematic at best and in worst case situations can result in the public being on the short end of receiving full insurance coverage. He closed with the suggestion to never stop learning and the importance of leadership, both of which I could not agree more. Admiral Allen’s speech was not only educational, but his presentation was an example of his military bearing, training, experience, professionalism, and straight talk with no B/S which is sadly missing in many of our political leaders discourse today.
As to the conference, from my prospective it seemed to go off without a hitch. This was impressive since it was the first year for our new conference program meeting management group. The breakout class sessions seemed to be full which could be expected given the large turnout. My only disappointment was that being on the faculty of a double session, I did not get the opportunity to attend some of the great classes that conflict with my class which was Recertification Of Wind Umpires. My class had a large group of 100 umpires. This double class is divided in two parts with myself and my co-faculty colleagues doing the first session, followed by us and a legal team going over ethics and updates in case law and issues in other states involving appraisal and umpire matters.
One of the hot topics discussed was Surplus Lines, also known as the E&S insurance market. This is going to be a hot topic in Florida given the Florida Legislature is seemingly on the path to allow more surplus lines policies to be sold in Florida. The rationale is to address the so-called crisis with Citizen’s insurance being overpopulated with new policies and other carriers pulling out of Florida or cutting back on writing new policies. Policyholders and agents need to educate themselves on surplus lines policy provisions as well as the unique features of the E&S market. Did you know the E&S market and policies do not have to follow any of the beneficial consumer provisions afforded by the admitted market insurance companies? As an example, in the event of a total loss, E&S forms will not follow the Valued Policy Law which requires insurers to pay the policy limits in the event of an actual total loss of a structure. As pointed out in our class, E&S policies may have an arbitration clause in the event of a dispute on loss and damages instead of the standard appraisal clause. E&S policies can write their own policy forms as they see fit and are not subject to any state oversite on forms, terms and conditions, or pricing. Several years ago I did a presentation at a National Association of Public Insurance Adjuster conference on the E&S scheme. Here’s a related blog post: Surplus Lines Insurance Claims - Your Coverage May be an Illusion (publicadjuster.com)
In closing, the Windstorm Insurance Network conference is still the best place to get up to date news, information about best insurance claims practices, and networking with colleagues from all sides of the very complex and challenging insurance market environment we live in. Till next year!