14:04 PM

Iowa Insurance Agents Go the Extra Mile for Customers in Derecho Aftermath

“The storm was unlike anything I've seen before. The wind was so hard for so long and just did so much damage to so much of the state of Iowa, it's hard to fathom.”

That was the experience of Tyler Andersen, and millions of other Iowans on Aug. 10 when a powerful derecho – a large, fast-moving complex of thunderstorms with powerful straight-line winds – barreled through the Hawkeye state, ripping roofs from homes, crushing steel grain bins and flattening an estimated 10 million acres of corn and soybeans.

Andersen, an insurance agent working in the Madrid, Iowa, office of the independent insurance brokerage City State Bank Insurance Services, along with thousands of Iowa insurance professionals, have been moving quickly to help homeowners, businesses and farmers assess damage, arrange repairs and navigate the claims process of an historic weather event.

With its estimated 140 mile per hour winds, the mid-August storm was the equivalent of an EF-3 tornado. But unlike a tornado that typically causes damage over a narrow path, the mid-morning derecho that blasted through Iowa created an east-to-west swath of destruction across the state’s midsection. An estimate from the Iowa governor’s office pegged storm damage at roughly $4 billion, with $3.8 billion of that tied to agricultural losses.

“It’s times like this when you find out what you’re made of and we have to prove our value and earn our keep as agents,” said Lane Danielson, principle risk management specialist at TrueNorth Companies LLC, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based independent insurance brokerage and financial services firm. On the day of the storm, Danielsen said the storm hit western Iowa mid-morning. Soon after, he began fielding calls about the violent storm headed towards central Iowa and Cedar Rapids. He quickly ensured the safety of his family, then spent the rest of the day driving across the state to assist his largest agricultural client, the Mid-Iowa Cooperative. “I wanted to make sure that we could be there for them, to make sure that the claim was handled as expeditiously as possible.”

While making up a small portion of the state’s employment base, Iowa insurance and finance industry professionals like Danielson have an outsized impact on the lives of Iowa homeowners, businesses, auto owners and farmers, especially when natural disasters arise. As of 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available from the Iowa Workforce Development, Employment Statistics Bureau, more than 94,000 Iowans worked in the industry, representing 6.1 percent of the state’s employment.

“This is our time to shine and we need to help people get back to where they were before this storm occurred as quickly as possible,” said Max Smith, executive vice president of TrueNorth Companies. “We’re all-hands-on-deck. We've got over 3,000 customers that we believe are likely to have storm damage, we've got a team of 60 people making calls … (and) we've recruited volunteers from other parts of the company.”

Key to meeting clients’ needs, Smith said, has been the assistance from insurance carriers like Nationwide. On the day of the storm, Smith recalled talking with Nationwide executives who texted and called to check on the needs of TrueNorth and Nationwide member customers.

“The response from Nationwide has been fantastic,” Smith said. “The (Nationwide catastrophe response) team has been here, the (Nationwide Catastrophe Response Unit) vehicle was here quickly after the storm … and that was of a tremendous help to allow folks who didn’t have connectivity, or had spotty connectivity, to come here and file a claim and get that process started.”

Nationwide’s Catastrophe Response Unit (CRU) is a large motorhome outfitted with a claims office, Wi-Fi and humanitarian response items like water and blankets. Nationwide deployed it to TrueNorth’s office two days after the storm. The CRU is just one component of a multi-step process Nationwide initiates when natural disasters strike, from getting tree and tarp crews in place for immediate mitigation, to sending adjuster teams to affected regions, or activating additional claims representatives to handle calls. For agricultural claims, Nationwide partners with demolition, agricultural storage and conveying contractors to quickly assist in the cleanup and evaluation of widespread damage.

In Madrid, Anderson said the response an insurance carrier delivers after a disaster makes a real impact on the lives of families and businesses.

“I’ve really appreciated just the urgency and being able to work with clients the way they have,” Andersen said of Nationwide. “It makes us feel better placing insurance with Nationwide, having this type of experience. It builds that loyalty with the customer and they know that they’re going to be there for you if you experience a loss like this.”