When we think of catastrophic losses like hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, wildfires, and so on, we picture roofs needing to be replaced, windows blown out, and entire houses that are flooded. 

While that is a pretty accurate picture, it is missing one critical element: the lifelong belongings filling those houses. The contents (and people) are what make a house a home.

When I was in Maryland working Hurricane Irene, I was shocked how many companies working the CAT event really had no way of dealing with contents, despite these items often being in the way of starting the mitigation process. It is a unique situation because you really have to have logistics in place to have the resources to store, pack, and move items. These logistics become even more complicated when it’s a commercial loss.

During a CAT event, preparation and planning put winners a step ahead.

Packing: You Need More than “Just a Few” Boxes

Remember, packing supplies might not be available in the CAT-affected area, so bring what you need. That includes, but is certainly not limited to:

  • Boxes (small, medium, large)
  • Packing paper
  • Shrink wrap
  • Bubble wrap
  • Packing tape
  • Photo corner guards

Having the proper supplies readily available on hand makes quick work of the pack-out process.

Normally, when we are packing up contents, we inventory everything by the room with photos. In a CAT event, you may not have that luxury. That being said, it is still important to have some kind of organization and system in place to track and sort for two reasons:

  1. Helps avoid secondary damages.
  2. Prevents a nightmarish logistical situation for yourself and your client.

There is software available we can use to photo inventory items by an entire box instead of by the item as we would in a normal pack-out scenario. This enables us to have a fast, yet detailed inventory at our fingertips.

Moving the Contents

This part of handling the contents can be very labor intensive unless you have the right equipment. Things like an appliance dolly, cart dolly, furniture lifting straps, and tie downs will allow three or four people to do the work of five or six. With a dolly, one person can move three to four boxes by themselves at once.

You might also want foam furniture blocks in your arsenal, as it may be necessary to leave large pieces inside the structure due to lack of storage space. The foam blocks may be just what you need to stop further damage and enable you to leave the item on site.

Storing Contents

This will likely be the biggest challenge when it comes to handling contents in a CAT environment. If the area has been devastated by a storm or CAT event, it is likely that there may not be a safe or adequate storage option readily available.

There are generally three options for storage of contents.

  1. Portable storage onsite
  2. Offsite storage facility
  3. Garage or other unaffected area of the structure

Portable storage onsite more than likely will not be a good option as the area may not be safe or secure, and you may not find a local source to supply containers. There is a possibility, however, that you can have them shipped in.

The option of an offsite facility may work if there is a local facility that has not been affected by the CAT event, or if there is a neighboring town or city that can provide this. This also adds the logistic of needing to have or arrange to have available a moving truck or trailer. Again, remember supply and demand. 

The absolute best option, in my opinion, is to move the contents to another part of the structure that is unaffected if possible. This means less equipment and labor is needed. It also helps the insured feel less stressed and anxious about where the items are going.

Always Be Prepared

Sometimes, you may actually find you are working a CAT event right in your own backyard or hometown, so you aren’t loading up trucks and trailers and traveling across the country needing to bring all of your supplies and equipment with you. But this can be a challenge as well as this might mean you actually suffered damage along with your community you are hoping to help.

Therefore, it is good to have a plan B where you have resources lined up, like supplies and equipment, that can be shipped to you quickly so you can get up and running again as soon as possible.

Personal belongings are what really matter most to people. Especially when they may have literally just had almost everything they own taken away in an instant.

Remember, if you find yourself working a CAT event and need to handle the contents side of the loss, bring your plan A and plan B, along with your A game. Above all, bring compassion, empathy, and grace in your arsenal and you will be the hero for any community that you reach out to help.