Surveyors Roundtable: After the Storm

Air Date: December 4, 2012
The photos of Hurricane Sandy’s path are astounding with boats strewn around like tinker toys. Today, Steve Knox and Jonathan Klopman call into talk about their experiences during Hurricane Sandy and previous storms.

Listen in to our conversation now.

(For additional information on this topic, see our previous shows about BoatUS and the Catastrophe Team.)

Klopman says the “sheer density of the boating population” has made a difference in the level of coverage. Knox says going to hurricane duty is like trying to drink from a fire hose. “We’re used to having 10 or 12 cases open at once. In cat duty, you’re looking at 10 boats a day, and it’s a long day, too,” he says.

Klopman reports on doing a lot of salvage, which is not commonly part of the surveyor’s responsibility. In some cases, he is also seeing boats after they are salvaged, another unusual situation.

“I can’t go through the volume of work that I have without people writing damage assessments, but in these case, surveyors are also writing the estimates,” he says.

“Right,” says Knox. “The insurance companies want these cases closed. If the estimate is wrong, they’ll usually pay the difference later.”

In storm work, surveyors are also in a situation where they are working in teams. “And different companies have different systems,” says Klopman. “I don’t think you typically find groups as well established as the BoatUS team has, though.”

In southeastern Virginia, where Knox works, the surveyors have essentially established a mini-catastrophe team. “We’ve been able to go through a large number of claims.”

Klopman notes that storms bring out a lot of stress, and also some bad behavior. “Some of the salvors take the boats hostage, or even loot them after they have been inspected. “

“There are also physical hazards,” says Knox. “There are piers that are barely standing, fuel spills, and bad conditions.”

“This time,” says Klopman, “boats have washed up on private property and then owners have refused to let me go on the property to work and settle the claim.”

Another concern has been boats washing up into nature preserves and other protected areas. “After Andrew, the park service would not let us bring in a crane to remove a boat, we had to build a cradle and move it out of the mangroves on rollers,” says Klopman. “There are a lot of restrictions.”

Another solution, suggests Knox, is a heavy lift helicopter. “But you have to coordinate services or its too expensive to do it.”

Klopman adds that choppers have great weight restrictions. “They can lift maybe 22,000 lbs; some can only lift 10,000. And they are rare in this area. More often they are in urban areas, putting HVAC equipment on top of skyscrapers.”

Knox reports that he’s aware of choppers with even higher capacity.

“Of all the types of salvage, I think the helicopter method is easily the most dangerous. It’s more of a snatch than a life,” says Klopman. “But if the area warrants that work, it can be effective.”

Are the boats totaled or salvageable.

“If they went under, a lot of them are totaled,” says Klopman, “but where I’m working a lot of the boats are small and the labor rate is $125 an hour and that doesn’t buy a lot of repair.”

What’s the time to settle claims?

“With BoatUS, our team was ready to do. In one spot, there were 25 boats on three properties, so we just brought the crane in and got the boats out to sort it all out. There wasn’t a lot of coordination in advance.”

Knox adds that BoatUS provides decals where the surveyors and slap on the names and cell-phone numbers.

Klopman says there is no reason why the companies can’t work together. “In a lot of cases, it’s just ‘your chocolate is in my peanut butter.’,” he says.

“You have to be careful about raising your hand, too,” says Knox. During a recent northeaster in Virginia, Knox told the marina manager that they needed to get things straightened out, and by the end of the day he was getting calls from other surveyors who had heard that he was putting the crane lift together – for everyone! Not so.

“That happened to me, too,” says Klopman. “As we all know, no good deed goes unpunished.”

“Still,” says Knox, “it may be the best way to get your clients’ claims taken care of.”

Does this go back to storms bringing out the worst in people?

“No. It’s bringing out the ‘whine’ in people. But there are some really bad stories.”

Knox says that kind of stress can also bring out the good in people.

What’s the responsibility of the surveyor when he or she knows damage was not caused by the storm?

“On one job, the crane cracked a concrete driveway. We have to take care of that. In other places, we know that boats have been dragged, not properly moved. We do have to deal with that kind of problem, too.”

At this point, the Cat team is pretty much through salvage, and now the work is more grinding through numbers.

“This has been a pretty good area for finding support,” says Klopman. “People are right here ready with cranes and trailers, and that has worked well in this area. [Shout out to Steve’s Marine in Amyityville, New York, and to Hippie Chick Marine Services. That’s the fun part of the job.]”

Now that hurricane season is over, what will surveyors do for fun? Tune in next time for find out.

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