Insurers are scrambling to find inspectors in Texas and Florida after fierce hurricanes battered the states one after the other, causing tens of billions of dollars' worth of property damage in less than two weeks.
Although insurers maintain some number of inspectors, known as claims adjusters, across the U.S. year-round, they must redeploy staff from other areas or hire contract workers to fill gaps when catastrophes like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma strike. The speed with which they can do so is critical to residents and business owners awaiting insurance payments.
"The one-two punch of Harvey and Irma is no question challenging to the industry," said Kenneth Tolson, who heads the U.S. property and casualty division of Crawford & Co, which provides claims adjusters and staff after disasters.
Adjusters investigate claims on behalf of property insurers like Travelers Cos Inc, Hartford Financial Services Group Inc, Allstate Corp, State Farm and Farmers Insurance. Many other policies are backed by federal or state flood insurance programs.
Texas and Florida together have more than 340,000 licensed adjusters, according to state agencies, but it was unclear precisely how many were on the ground. Insurers and industry groups said thousands were headed to affected areas from other parts of the United States.
On Sunday afternoon, Hartford was prepared to send adjusters into Irma-battered areas "as authorities allow access," spokeswoman Kelly Carter said. Hartford inspectors from Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky were poised to assist, she said.
Zurich Insurance Group AG had Florida-based claims adjusters riding out the storm locally on Sunday, with plans to begin visiting commercial properties as soon as possible, spokesman David Hilgen said.
Once Irma passes, a group of risk engineers at Zurich's Tampa hub plan to fan out across South Florida to assess damage alongside forensic accountants, building consultants and mitigation contractors, he said.
Some are using drones to help.
Brent Hazen, a Farmers adjuster and drone pilot, spoke to Reuters while inspecting a roof in Missouri City, Texas. The drone buzzed above the house for 11 minutes, a process that would have taken an hour otherwise, Hazen said.
"It is ... safer because it means I don't have to get up on the roof," he said.