Keeping our promises
You probably remember the Joplin, Mo., tornado of May 2011. The devastation was widespread and horrific, taking the lives of 158 people and causing $3 billion in damage. News media from around the country came to cover it.
Fast forward to this June and Pilger, Neb. – population 352. You may not have heard about it, but Pilger was hit by a tornado, too. Although smaller in scale, this was Pilger’s Joplin. Two people were killed, 16 injured and many homes and buildings were destroyed.
As a member of our catastrophe team, I responded to both Joplin and Pilger. I am just one of many who contribute to our response in these situations. Local agents, adjusters and others from our catastrophe team work together to be there for our customers.
I had been in Nebraska for a few weeks working on other storms when I got the call to move to Pilger. Once there, I met with Property Claim Manager Jim Ulrich and Agency Sales Manager Joni Schultz. They had walked through the town to try to find as many American Family customers as they could. They had to walk because no vehicles were allowed in town for the first few days after the storm.
That walk marked the start of our work of meeting with customers, making payments and helping them get their lives back on track.
A few weeks later, the Nebraska Department of Insurance arranged a town hall with Pilger residents. Regulators often hold these meetings after a disaster to learn from victims firsthand how they’ve been treated by their insurance companies.
American Family, unlike other insurance companies, regularly attends these meetings. We see it as another opportunity to be accessible and show our presence in the community.
I showed up a little early for this meeting. It was held in a portable building, the kind of temporary office you see at construction sites. We met there because the city buildings normally used for these meetings were also damaged by the tornado.
When I walked in the building, insurance department representatives were already listening to a man clearly upset with his insurance company. He felt he was getting nowhere with his adjuster and he was really frustrated.
Next in line was a family whose home was still standing but severely damaged. Two state senators were with them. There were holes in their home’s roof and sides that served as entry points for water and animals. Their insurance company had not paid them a cent or even provided them with an estimate for the damages.
The insurance regulators thanked me for attending and noted that American Family was the only insurance company represented.
After the session ended, I walked outside and the first two groups were still there talking … and venting. One of the men looked at me and said, “So American Family just came to town and started writing checks?” I smiled and told him that’s what we try to do when we can.
The man then shared that he had friends who were insured with American Family and said they were pleased with our response and service.
We talked a little more about the tornado and I told them I hoped they had resolution soon. We ended our conversation with one of the men shaking my hand and telling me that when he gets his house re-built it will be insured by American Family.
The experience made me think. Those people were really having a hard time getting their insurance companies to do what I think is pretty basic. I have worked for American Family for 24 years. I guess I take it for granted what it takes to be there for our customers.
I’m glad I work for a company that keeps its promises and helps people like those in Pilger and Joplin. They need us, and we’ll be there for them.