Responding to the Windsor floods: an interview with EVP of Claims

With another large flood affecting Canadian business owners and homes in Windsor, Ontario and the surrounding areas, we sat down with our Executive Vice President of Claims George Halkiotis to discuss the situation and how Northbridge Insurance responded to customers.  

Tell me about the impact of the Windsor floods and our customers affected in the area.
The floods that affected Windsor and Essex in late September impacted the whole city. The flooding was large enough for the city to declare a state of emergency.  As I’m sure you saw on the news, there was a lot of damage due to flooded basements and sewer backup for homes and businesses alike. We have a fair number of customers in the area that were affected, with just over 50 claims reported.

How does it compare to other recent large weather events?
From a claims perspective, the Windsor flood was similar to the Toronto floods of 2013 when you look at the severity of the damage per claim. Of course, that was the costliest disaster in Ontario’s history and luckily fewer people were affected by this flood. But to put it in context, it’s nowhere near the level of damage we saw from the Fort McMurray wildfires earlier this year.

Is this officially considered a catastrophe?
We don’t have all the industry numbers just yet, so it may not be labelled a catastrophe by the text book definition, but we did immediately send a CAT team (national catastrophe response team) to the area. From our perspective it made sense to have them on the ground to assess the situation. So yes, for all intents and purposes, we treated this event as though it was a catastrophe.

How did our claims team respond?
We had our field team mobilized once we learned of the severity of the situation. We brought  our team together and discussed our approach. From there they went to Windsor and started meeting our customers to assess the damage. We immediately began settling claims where we could. In some cases, we were able to make advance payments to help customers get their businesses up and running as soon as possible. For others in areas more severely impacted, we had to arrange for temporary alternate locations for their business.

Our field team stayed in the area for a few weeks after the flooding.  As claims were reported, we were dealing with them. I’m proud to say that our field team was in touch with most of our affected customers within a week.

In situations like this do we do anything extra?
We’re hitting all the claims–minor and more severe–in situations where we mobilize a CAT team to handle losses. For most water damage claims, we send out a field person so they can see all the exposures. In some instances, where damage is minor, we may just talk to the customer and get a contractor in to repair the damage. Regardless, our service expectations are the same. When we have a huge volume on a CAT loss it may take up to five days to get to every customer, but we try to address individual claims sooner than that.

There have been articles in the media that claimed some people felt “betrayed” by their insurance companies. There’s no reason to assume they’re talking about our company but if you could deliver a message to our insureds from Northbridge Insurance as an executive, what would you want to tell them?
In these types of situations, our goal is to be first in and first out. We want to get there to service customers and resolve claims as quickly as possible. I think a big issue for customers is response time. Some companies do a good job of responding quickly by having a team prepared and  ready to go. Unfortunately others are slower to respond. One of the keys to our quick response time is having pre-approved contractors so the remediation process can start as soon as possible. We also try to use our own field team and not rely on independent contractors.

How have our response times for these claims been?
We’re already making great progress and it looks like 90% of our claims will have been resolved within the first month. Others take more time because other companies may be involved, which can slow things down. Those claims where we have full control can be resolved quickly because our pre-approved contractors give us estimates within a week or two. Most of our customers appreciate having a settlement in place and getting repairs done quickly so that they can get back to business.

Anything else you’d like to say about businesses that have been affected by flooding?
Flooding can cause serious damage and is often difficult to predict. With this flood in particular, Windsor received two months of rain within 24 hours so there wasn’t much that could be done when things happened that quickly. However, you can take steps to help protect your business. Make sure you have solid risk management practices in place— including a disaster plan, backflow prevention valves and an emergency kit is key.

For more information on keeping your business safe from flooding, read our blog articles:

10 Ways you can prepare your business for a flood

How to reduce the effects of flooding

5 types of water damage and how to prevent them


This blog is provided for information only and is not a substitute for professional advice. We make no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information and will not be responsible for any loss arising out of reliance on the information.