Collaboration in times of crisis
A year ago, on September 19, 2017, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck central Mexico. Coincidentally, the quake hit on the anniversary of the catastrophic 1985 Mexico City earthquake and occurred just minutes after colleagues in our Mexico office had returned from an annual national evacuation drill that was established after that disaster.
A major natural catastrophe is a big deal for any claims team, but our Mexico claims team members were living through the crisis themselves while also servicing clients in need. We spoke to the team’s manager, Claudio Garcia Aguilera, about how his team handled such a difficult challenge.
How did the Mexico claims team initially respond?
Initially we all were very much concerned about the safety and wellbeing of family, friends and fellow Mexican citizens that we very quickly knew were being affected. The bad news ran very rapidly that day. We all gathered in the designated safe zone and hugged each other as we learned through social media and other sources how many buildings had collapsed, etc. Then the claims team sprang into action.
We quickly got together and rolled out our business continuity plan, which started with securely re-accessing the office (with the assistance and guidance of the building´s administrator) to retrieve at least one laptop. As identified in our office-wide continuity plan, which is designed for these types of situations, we elected a point-person: a team member who was able to quickly confirm that family, friends and housing were secure and that remote internet access was available. This colleague was responsible for taking first-notice-of-loss calls and e-mails and interacting with senior management and the broader XL Catlin community. We worked with our global Communications and IT teams to draft response plan messages, manage the office´s out of office phone system and make sure clients and brokers could reach us even when our office was shut down.
The business continuity plan was instrumental during these initial moments. It enabled us to focus on those crucial steps that need to be taken in order for our operations to be restored as quickly and effectively as possible.
Obviously colleagues were dealing with the event personally as well as professionally. How did they manage to do both?
The team´s priorities started with personal wellbeing. As each of us was able to stabilize our own situations, colleagues connected from home and alternated between office activities and community service. Various colleagues were involved in removing debris, distributing supplies and volunteering in shelters both in Mexico City and beyond. Our Human Resources group provided an advance payment of food vouchers which many colleagues used to buy food and supplies for rescuers, volunteers, family and friends.
What did the team learn that could be useful to other teams in a crisis situation?
Our team´s ability to work remotely was key to responding in this situation. One of the criteria used to elect who would be the first responder was a confirmed capacity to operate from home. This meant not only having a secure space and a working Internet connection but also being prepared to work in that way for extended hours. This includes basic things: Are spare power plugs available? Are VPN tokens operational? Is there a readily available list of external vendors ready to engage? Is the business continuity plan known and understood?
Another key was our understanding of how the Mexican independent adjuster association and Mexican insurers association would respond. We had actively participated in developing the market’s emergency plan with the leadership of the independent adjuster association and the national insurer´s association, so we were able to work in coordination with broader market activities. We also had partnerships with specific vendors and experts (like building consultants), which meant that we were familiar with their workloads and knew whether we could expect a prompt response from them.
The collaboration between all the teams in the local office and the entire XL Catlin community was outstanding. We physically are a small office in Mexico, but this event demonstrated that through collaboration we have the strength of the entire global team behind us."
Any advice for risk managers?
Preparation is key. Prepare to receive losses, prepare to properly mitigate losses, prepare to control losses, prepare to conduct effective meetings with clients and colleagues. We learned that the time invested in preparing has high yields. Prepare, prepare, and when done preparing see if you can prepare a bit more.
This proactive approach can be translated into broader risk management activities, not only on the insurers side but to all players involved. From a risk management perspective the following lines of thought can be a good guide to engage in a proactive manner:
- Do all stake holders involved in the operation understand their role in the event of a major disruption?
- Is there a clear and effective protocol to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all colleagues and employees involved in a major disruption?
- Is there a first response team ready and formally trained to provide first aid assistance?
- Is there a an agreed protocol to request other medical assistance (i.e. ambulance, paramedics, hospital urgent need, etc.)
- Is there an agreed protocol for safe shut-down of major/complex equipment to prevent major damage in case of an emergency evacuation?
- How often the Business Continuity Plan is reviewed and updated? Does it contain all the necessary information to restore key operations in case of a major disruption or shutdown?
Any final thoughts?
Being a small team has made us very conscious of how much of an impact each one of us has in our overall client service and operations. In this case, handling the normal day-to-day business was as important as handling the earthquake-related business. So some colleagues purposely didn’t participate in any of the catastrophe claims activities. Their focus was extremely important in showing the market, our clients and brokers that we were there to continue serving not only clients who had been affected by the earthquake but also clients who had not (which in reality were the majority).