What if Katrina happened here? Are we ready?


Hurricane season is June 1 to Nov. 30. Personnel should know the local evacuation routes, including optimal travel times to safer locations and likely traffic conditions, before mother nature strikes.

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Published: Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 02:53 PM.

I started Coastal Insurance Agency in 2000 with a mission of selling quality insurance with a primary focus on helping area real estate agents and their buyers have a smooth insurance process for closings. Having moved here from Jackson, MS I was familiar with hurricanes but never really given them a lot of thought.

In 2000 and the two years to follow our business flourished. We were growing fast and my family and I were having a blast. Hurricanes were certainly on my mind but was clearly not my primary focus. I was selling insurance and having fun. That all changed in 2004.

Hurricane Season 2004 proved to be the most costly hurricane season on record. There were 9 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes. Florida was hit with three major hurricanes; Charley, Francis and Ivan. The real estate market was in chaos. There were so many tropical storm and hurricane alerts that real estate closings were delayed over and over again as insurance companies would close to new business.

In August it all came to a boil. Hurricane Charley hit central Florida on Aug. 14 causing major damage and only weeks later on Sept. 2 Hurricane Frances also hit central Florida. I remember sitting in my office one morning a few days after Frances thinking “it is September and being thankful that hurricane season was nearly over and that our beloved emerald coast had been spared.” Then, an employee entered my office and asked me if I was tracking the new system coming out of Africa. I recall saying “you have got to be kidding me.” 

In the days that followed we all watched as Ivan grew in strength as it entered the Gulf of Mexico. The storm quickly strengthened to a Cat 5 hurricane and was headed dead at us. I knew that I would never take hurricane season lightly again. I prepared myself mentally to deal with the aftermath of a direct hit from a Cat 5 hurricane.  A couple of days before the storm my staff and I readied the office and reviewed our plans and they evacuated. I stayed behind to continue preparations for the claims that would be coming our way.

It was two days before the storm. I entered my office all alone and to my surprise our office phone was ringing off the hook. Clients were calling to make sure they had the correct coverage. Some were calling to tell us that they had forgotten to pay their premiums. Others were asking me to go by their homes and check on them.  I felt terrible because there was little I could do to help them. The storm is 36 hours away and these issues should have already been addressed.

I planned to evacuate but had to get things ready here first. I should have planned better and had my office in order months earlier. I was keeping in touch with my staff and family  that were already on the road getting reports of it taking 8 hours to get to mobile and 16 hours to get to Jackson, MS where I had planned to go. I headed back out to Grayton Beach and chalked up another lesson well learned. Next time I will be better prepared. “I will plan ahead and I will help my customers plan better as well.”

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