How Florida employee benefit firms prepared for Hurricane Irma

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As it becomes increasingly likely that Hurricane Irma will significantly impact Florida, employee benefit firms across the state are putting their emergency plans in place, hoping for the best — and ready to recover from the worst.

Multiple firms contacted by EBA, Sapoznik Insurance in North Miami Beach, Gravity Benefits in Bonita Springs, Gallagher Benefit Services with various locations across South Florida and Selden Beattie in Coral Gables, all closed their physical offices today. Most also closed on Thursday, mainly to give their employees time to prepare for the storm.

“Being in the office with anxiety is not part of our culture,” says Gravity’s president Matt Moraski of his decision to close both days.

Gallagher Benefit Services has closed some South Florida locations and shifted some of the work to other locations. “Our Gallagher offices are prepared to support our clients no matter Hurricane Irma’s potential impact, even as we temporarily close several physical locations,” says Joshua Rubich, the firm’s area vice president. “In addition to their dedicated teams, our clients can be certain that we have a network of experts in other locations ready to assist them and we will leverage technology, including back-up systems and social media, to ensure we are in frequent contact with our clients.”

Standard operating procedure at Sapoznik Insurance is to have all 78 employees’ personal cell phones and emails in a central database. As part of their emergency preparedness plans, the brokerage’s executive team of six is each responsible for checking in with a small group of employees after a major storm hits, to see if they need assistance and then to report that information back to the entire executive team.

Gravity will use a mobile app, through VoiceStorm, that the company rolled out three months ago to connect with its employees during and after the storm. Moraski plans to issue a push alert through the app on Sunday to check with employees on how they are faring during the storm and also to provide an update on the office’s operational status for the following week.

Sapoznik’s executive team has undertaken briefings with all employees in the last two weeks to remind them of the emergency plan and steps they should take, explains senior vice president of sales Richard Ducharme. As the office is closed, all clients have been given cell phone numbers of the executive team, he adds.

The firm’s emergency plan was last put in place after Hurricane Matthew threatened South Florida in September 2016. Every time a natural disaster occurs, shortcomings are identified and improved upon, Ducharme explains. “You learn from [mistakes] and make the plan better to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he says. One issue identified in the past was an inability to reach certain employees.

Jeff D. Hackmeier & Associates Inc. in North Miami has activated its emergency plan by producing three backups of company data. One of which will stay with President Jeff D. Hackmeier and the others will remain with the firm’s operations manager and managing partner. When Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in August 1992, Hackmeier made the mistake of not backing up his data, he says.

Also see: "6 ways Florida benefit advisers can prep for Hurricane Irma."

Gravity has all its data in the cloud, hosted by Cisco. “We really don’t need an office,” Moraski says. “Everyone can work remotely and access data safely and securely. Having an office for us is more of a cultural experience.”

“We don’t have any major hardware to speak of” in the office, he adds. “We outsourced it all.”

After the storm
After Irma leaves the region, Ducharme says his company is prepared to handle business remotely. The emergency plan contains contingencies such as access to a remote server carrying company data, based on how much damage occurs.

But, just like before the storm, the No. 1 priority, he explains, is Sapoznik’s people. The plan has the executive team maintaining contact with all employees to ensure they are out of harm’s way.

Hackmeier is cautiously optimistic. “We’ve been here for 25 years and all I can do is hope and pray,” he says.

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