Adjusting To The Incomparable

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Parsippany, N.J.

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Across the river, just miles away, the colossus still smolders,an ever-thinning column of smoke rising from the ruins into abright, clear September sky weeks after the unspeakablehappened.

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This side of the Hudson, I sit in GAB Robins' suburbanheadquarters with the loss adjustment company's president and chiefexecutive officer, Joseph M. Zubretsky, a man whose business life,like so many others', is suddenly and utterly riveted on theaftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.

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I ask if this even remotely compares with anything else in hislong professional experience.

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“This one stands far apart,” he answers, somberly, noting thatno other catastrophe has involved injury and loss of life on thisscale. Then, too, “it's deliberate and heinous in nature,” he says.“It's beyond wind-blown roofs and dented cars. It's personal. It'svisceral. That's what makes this different.”

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With us is Robert K. Meyers, an executive vice president who, asthe firm's head of loss adjusting operations in North America, isthe point man on client losses related to the WTC incident. Alongtime brokerage executive, first with Johnson & Higgins,then with Marsh, Mr. Meyers has been through Northridge and Andrew,the most severe catastrophes in industry history before this andthe ones that most tested the industry's ability to respond.

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“What's completely different here,” he says, “is that withNorthridge and Andrew the industry got on it right away. But here,people are numb and getting them to react is, understandably, achallenge.”

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In the case of GAB, what's supposed to be a front-line,quick-response team is, after all, only human, adds Joe Zubretsky,and they had to get through all the emotional trauma that the restof the industry was going through.

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“We had to be sensitive to our people,” he says, “but, on theother hand, this is when our clients need us most. This is ourtime. It's our calling.”

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To answer that call, GAB Robins took a newly-developedcatastrophe response resource deployment model and “put it intohigh gear,” says Mr. Zubretsky. It also rechristened the model“911″ to memorialize the event and to remind its people of thehumanitarian aspects of the effort, he says.

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GAB Robins has some investigators on the ground at the site ofthe disaster working on high-end commercial claims, but access isunderstandably slow and limited. They won't be surprised if theentire loss adjustment process for their high-end commercialclients stretches well beyond the 12-18-month average.

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As for smaller commercial and personal lines claims, “we'restill trying to scope it,” says Mr. Meyers.

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Ahead, too, there are fundamental yet complex insurance issuesto be faced–issues that stand in stark contrast to those presentedby, say, a weather-related catastrophe, where the event is fairlycontained and coverage is understood.

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There will be the inevitable haggling over policy wordings onterrorism and war, of course, but beyond that, says Mr. Zubretsky,there are derivative effects of this macroeconomic event that willreverberate across the country and around the world for some timeto come.

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The entire American economy, after all, virtually came to a haltafter the terrorist attacks. What that might mean in terms of basicpolicy application issues for business interruption claims staggersthe imagination.

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For those businesses literally blasted away on Sept. 11, thepicture might be clear enough. But assessing the collateral damagetakes you far from Ground Zero through vacant hotel lobbies andempty airplanes and airports to darkened theater marquees andrestaurants without diners.

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“There's just an imponderable number of business interruptionissues,” says Mr. Meyers. “And the echo effect is throughout theworld.”

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Overall, industry response has been phenomenal, according to Mr.Zubretsky, who called it “one of the quickest, most focusedresponses I've ever seen.”

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Mr. Meyers sees a whole new time line in terms of a catastrophicevent.

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“We're breaking new ground in resource deployment for a cat,” hesays. “There's been nothing like it before. It's a new learningexperience, a new environment.”

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Adds Mr. Zubretsky: “This is a test we've never taken before.We're up to it, but there's nothing to compare it to.”

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Few would argue that the task ahead, like the event itself, isincomparable.

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Thomas J. Slattery is NU's Executive Editor At Large. He canbe reached at [email protected].


Reproduced from National Underwriter Property &Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition, October 8, 2001.Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serialpublication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as anindependent work may be held by the author.


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