Hometown Heartbreak


On June 22, 2015 my hometown of Portland, Michigan was struck by an EF-1 tornado.  The damage was significant but by the grace of God there was no loss of life or major injuries.  The town is still recovering, and the recovery story is told by WZZM here.  Please take a moment to read that link so that the rest of my post will have proper context.

Portland, Michigan is where my wife and I both grew up.  After living elsewhere early in our marriage, we returned to Portland to raise our daughters in 1994 and lived there until moving to Comstock Park, Michigan in 2014.  I personally know many of the people quoted in the WZZM article.  I attended church at and married my wife in the United Methodist Church that was damaged by the tornado and mentioned in the WZZM article.  The Kleins are among the dearest and most humble people I know.  My heart aches for the community and its struggles, but I know the citizens to be a strong, determined, and resilient lot.

The WZZM article describes a mixture of both frustrations and appreciation for the insurance companies and claims processes involved in Portland’s recovery.  I’ve talked with a few of my Portland brethren, and the experiences span the spectrum from delight and gratitude to disgust and despair.  Naturally, there are many different insurance agents and carriers involved given the large number of people and properties affected.  Consequently, there are agents and insurers who are fulfilling their mission of rebuilding lives and there are some who are falling short.

Just last week I wrote about the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  I concluded that post with a charge to my professional colleagues in the insurance business to make sure that we are providing the professional expertise, advice, and assistance that is expected from us both before and after disasters strike.  I didn’t intend to double-down on that charge with consecutive blog posts, but the WZZM story about my hometown raised the specter of insurance service shortfalls once again.  It’s evident in Sue Burns’ quote, “I wish somebody would just honestly write a list: ‘This what you need to  do’ but nobody told us.”  And Terry Frewen: “We’re not contractors, adjusters, or attorneys.  They expect us to interpret the language in their policies as if we were.”

To be fair, there are Portland residents who have had better experiences with their insurance service providers.  Like most emotionally charged situations, there are two sides to every story, and a variety of experiences and perceptions.  Perhaps I am particularly troubled by the negative experiences in this case because this is my hometown, and these people are my friends and former neighbors.  Nevertheless, it is my professional mission as a risk management and insurance educator to prepare the next generation of risk and insurance professionals.  If I succeed at teaching them nothing else, they will understand that we are a professional services industry with the primary purpose of safeguarding and rebuilding lives.  We must do better to prepare and properly insure people, and stand by them when tragedy strikes.  No more ‘order-taking’ insurance sales.  No more ‘technical legalese’ claim adjusting.  We exist as an industry for no other reason.  No customer of my students should ever say “nobody told us.”

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