“The thing that concerns me the most is simply the magnitude of this storm, [and] the severity of the storm,” Tolson said. “And it’s more than just a wind storm, it’s a very significant flooding event for that region of Naples [and] Fort Myers.”

Tolson oversees the third-party administrator’s catastrophe response, which includes staging thousands of adjusters in impacted regions ahead of storms making landfall, and then getting boots on the ground in the immediate aftermath of a storm to begin adjusting claims.

“You’ve seen just tremendous damage done, both from the wind, but also the amount of storm surge that went into there,” he explained. “So we’re going to have record flood claims in this space that they’ve never seen in that region before.”

Tolson also spoke about the “sheer volume” of automobiles that were not moved out of harm’s way before the storm.

“This is sort of the trifecta between flood and property damage from wind and the auto industry [being impacted] as well,” Tolson said.

“There’s going to be a significant impact across every aspect of the insurance realm in that space. So that’s what we’re gearing up to be ready for.”

Tolson was asked how Hurricane Ian compares to other major storms in the past, and to Hurricane Ida in particular a year ago. 

“This is a much more intense, more impactful storm in terms of simply the number of buildings, vehicles, the infrastructure that has been affected by it, [and] because it hit such a dense coastal area compared to how Ida went in and affected Louisiana last year,” he explained. 

The executive said that despite not making a direct hit on Tampa Bay, the effects of Hurricane Ian have nonetheless been devastating.

“The combination of a tidal surge, slow moving storm, and then tracking all the way across Florida [and] taking a lot of that devastation inward or inland is going to have a long lasting effect.” 

Another source of complexity in resolving claims from the event is the potential for domestic insurers to go bankrupt from the storm and claims submitted to those companies being handled by the state’s guaranty fund.

“You couple [the enormity of the storm] with the economic environment where you’re dealing with what was already a stressed insurance ecosystem in Florida [and] potential insolvencies,” Tolson said. “That’s the big concern that the industry has right now going into this event.”

He added: “I suspect you’ll see some insolvencies as a result of this, which ultimately the guarantee funds will pick up and it will normalize over time, but it’s going to add complexity to this event just with the sheer volume of policyholders affected.”

Higher volume of insured flood claims expected

A growing topic of conversation has been how many flood losses will not be covered, with a substantial part of the region. But Tolson said his company was expecting huge volumes of claims for insured flood losses. 

“Our concern right now is simply supplying adequate, flood certified adjusters into that space and being able to keep up with the pace of the flood exposure because there was just so much tidal surge,” he said. “You saw horrific pictures of water up to the roof lines of properties.”

He continued: “First, with the entire inundation of the first floor properties, there’s going to be a lot of insured flood claims, and unfortunately, probably a lot of uninsured flood claims. But just dealing with that is going to be a real challenge for FEMA and NFIP and the carriers that are covering or administering those claims over the coming days.”

The Crawford executive also made it clear that the devastation from Ian is expected to be greater than that inflicted by the $36bn-industry loss event from Ida.

“It will be much more severe and much more costly than Ida from last year simply because of the population that’s affected by it,” Tolson said. “It’s extremely severe because it came on as a Cat 4 and had such a large eye. So the severity will be extremely high several miles inland.”

“On top of that there’s the flood piece itself, so we will be engaged for an extended period of time compared to less severe storms.”