Damage Assessment and Emergency Management

Nature can unleash her fury, workmanship can show its faults, and accidents can happen—and all these events can lead to property loss. Some things are just beyond our control.  What we do have power over is how these losses are managed. The damage assessment steps taken by the appraiser and emergency contractor in the first 24 hours can have dramatic effects on the overall claim management process. 

Take for example the case of a fire at a luxury home.  An adjuster and emergency contractor attended the scene immediately after the blaze.  At this stage, the affected portion of the building was contained to a small part of the structure and a second story addition.  A local consultant was retained to assist in damage assessment and to establish the scope of work for the repair. Sounds like a good start? Fast forward to three months later: the building had not been stabilized, and improper emergency work only added to the damage. The structure was in danger of becoming a total loss due to unmitigated conditions in the building and improper scope of work. Obviously, the first response to the situation, although swift, was not properly executed.

It was at this point that SPECS was retained to assist.  Immediate actions included providing some much-needed damage control, such as the installation of temporary heaters to prevent further damage due to freezing.  Also, a survey of the basement slabs was undertaken to ensure the foundation was not damaged due to extreme cold. SPECS obtained structural and architectural drawings to facilitate documentation of the building and finishes before meeting with the insured to review all elements of the building and work plan. Finally, plans were established with a clear scope of work for the emergency contractor.  These allowed for completion of the emergency phase of work and preparation of the building for repair.

While this particular story had a happy ending—all parties, including the insured, were satisfied with the overall direction of the repair and how we controlled the associated costs—it could have all gone much more smoothly if a proper damage assessment had been conducted from the start.

What makes a proper response after a loss?

Of course, at all times, safety has to be the number one priority.  Once the site has been deemed to be safe to enter, the site management shifts focus to steps to mitigate the loss, as well as emergency demolition and cleanup:

  • Conduct a damage assessment and appraisal, determining the scope of work for emergency repairs. This is particularly important when the building is not a total loss.
  • Create an Emergency Scope of Work that clearly defines the work to be conducted in the emergency phase, complete with labour classifications and rates.  Timelines for completion of demolition should be established before the start of any job to ensure the emergency work is completed quickly and at minimal cost.
  • Identify any procedures to mitigate against further damage and make calculations to assist in making the repair versus replace decisions, which helps mitigate expense.
  • Work with the contractor to get people and contents out of the building, and set parameters for damaged/undamaged areas.
  • If demolition is necessary, review the building finishes before demolition. Thorough documentation of the building will allow for the appropriate replacement of damaged components—and limit possible disputes that may arise.

The experience and processes of the company you also choose factor into how efficient the response will be.

  • Building consultants have an immediate impact in the emergency phase of work, so it is essential to select a company experienced with all types and sizes of losses, with local teams of qualified professionals at the ready to complete the project.
  • Communication plays a large role in how an emergency response unfolds, as it is truly a team event. Claims are living, fluid situations, so communication and coordination are important as things come up and change. Look for a company that values teamwork and has a flexible, but consistent communication structure—both verbal and written. Regular comprehensive reports are an invaluable communications tool, so ask if these will be provided and how often during the claims process.
  • Cost and time are of the essence in any response.  A company with an established network of professionals to draw upon for bids will mean you get best rates without sacrificing quality workmanship or project timelines.

While your first order of business is taking the steps to prevent a loss from happening, being ready to manage one follows close behind. Taking control from the start will help you make the best of a bad situation—rather than making a bad situation even worse.

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