8 Miles from the Ocean, an Agent Stares Down Sandy
For New York agent Steve Marlin, Superstorm Sandy was a proving ground for agents to demonstrate their value.
Superstorm Sandy reminded Long Island native and independent agent Steve Marlin that he indeed does live on an island.
With his office at M&M Assocs. Insurance Brokers in Deer Park, N.Y. positioned at a major intersection just 8 miles from the ocean, Marlin experienced both personally and professionally the brunt of Sandy’s storm surge and wind damage. “It was terrible,” said Marlin. “We insured many homes on the south shore [of Long Island]. Going down to the Long Beach area toward the ocean, it looked like a war zone. Here it is months and months later and they’re coming out of it just now.
“After the storm, many people had no place to live, no place to go,” Marlin said. “Even where they had placed fire departments and schools for emergency facilities, they were destroyed. The local hospital [in nearby Long Beach along the coastline] was destroyed and it may not even come back. The city itself lost a lot. It’s not just the storm itself, it’s the aftermath.”
Superstorm Sandy’s wind and storm surge impacted the East Coast including widespread damage to homes in the New York City borough of Queens (above) as well as Long Island.
As Hurricane Sandy spun its way up the Atlantic Coast in late October 2012, Marlin’s experience—he co-founded the agency in 1977—told him it would be worse than other previous storms. “Normally they don’t affect us that much. We don’t really get the brunt of the storm. But when I saw we were still going to get the brunt of it, I started warning people: High tide and high winds were going to create an even higher tide.
“It was about a week before the storm hit when I thought: ‘We’re not going to get away from this. We’ve got to be prepared.’ I started putting together materials to hand out to people. I was crying out like Chicken Little. I was telling clients to take any personal possessions off site that they wanted to preserve.”
An avid Corvette collector himself, Marlin and his wife Laura are active at events with the Long Island Corvette Owners Association. Marlin had five collector-vehicle claims from his client base after Superstorm Sandy.
He urged clients in and around Long Beach on the south shore of Long Island—which juts eastward from New York City out into the Atlantic Ocean—to move their collector vehicles to higher ground. “Some of them took my advice. I told them, ‘If you want to keep your cars and not have a problem, you should move them.’” Marlin offered to share the expense of storage space up to $150.
“Some clients with rare cars did take my advice. You’ll find that many of the true hobbyists—not the occasional collector—know they have something they want to preserve. It’s irreplaceable,” he said. “Many of them would say: ‘That’s a great thing and I’m glad the company is backing me on it.’ But they’ll also do what it takes to protect it.”
When the storm reached the coastlines of New Jersey and New York, staying over the course of two high tides, it was by then what meteorologists dubbed a “post-tropical cyclone.” But it brought well-above-flood-stage storm surge along hundreds of miles of ocean, bay and river coastlines in the two states.
Ultimately, in Long Island the floodwaters came to 6 feet above high tide. “That’s whatcaused the flooding, what caused the most of the damage,” he said. “It was the 100-year storm.”
“The landlines and power lines were down for up to three weeks,” he said. “Along the South Shore it was even longer. We had to turn to the cell phones for texting and emails. Modern technology helped us stay in contact with those whose information we had available.”
A downtown Manhattan parking garage flooded during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
Marlin recounted a story of how even the basics of life were disrupted. “There was a first responder in our area. His house was completely wiped out. In his mother’s house, the first floor was flooded. There was no power. One of his tasks in the aftermath was to tell people to stop throwing food out because that was attracting rodents. They didn’t understand that waste-disposal vehicles couldn’t get through the sand-filled streets. So it was one problem compounding after another.”
The widespread flooding and downed trees throughout New York and New Jersey meant that people and companies that normally would be available to help in the claims process also were occupied with getting back up and running. One personal lines insurance carrier and two service bureau offices along the coast or in lower Manhattan were “wiped out,” Marlin said.
The importance of information flow
In the aftermath, a key role for Marlin and his staff was reaching out and supporting their home, flood and auto insurance policyholders—especially with information about emergency and recovery services including from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) about emergency assistance sites. “They were happy to hear from anybody—anybody that was giving them some ray of hope.”
“There were only so many adjusters to go around. Passing on that information helped the situation, and 99 percent of clientele were patient and understanding,” Marlin said. “Having us there to tell them they haven’t been forgotten gave peace of mind” to the agency’s homeowners and flood insurance policyholders.
Two big problems after the storm passed were widespread, lengthy power outages and fuel shortages. These conditions crimped recovery. “It was like back when we had the oil embargo [in the 1970s]. It just took time. It just took time for people to get gasoline.” The state ordered gasoline rationing based on license plate numbers.
Marlin’s foresight prevented a number of claims, but not all. Among his dozens of collector-vehicle insurance customers, M&M Insurance had five customers with claims, most for flood damage. American Collectors Insurance and its carrier partners at Assurant Specialty Group settled those claims, en route to settling nearly all claims within six months.
Superstorm Sandy is an active memory for many on Long Island, Marlin finds, even nearly a year later. It’s just an eight-mile drive down the Deer Park Road from his office to the causeway leading to the Jones Beach barrier island and over the waterway that flooded so badly during the storm.
Large trees were vulnerable to wind damage during Superstorm Sandy. Rain soaking the ground loosened roots, then winds blew trees over. The scene above is near to M&M Insurance in Deer Park, N.Y. on Long Island.
All types of insurance—federal flood insurance, business coverages, homeowners, auto, and collector vehicle—came in to play to help with restoring the lives of individuals and families.
What Sandy proved to Marlin is how central the collector vehicle was to getting back to normal for his collector clients. They took the time and trouble to restore their special vehicle—even as Sandy devastated their homes and businesses.
Settling claims readily was “a beacon of light in a very bad time” and built credibility for his agency, Marlin noted. A local presence and service are vital for agents to compete today, he said.
“The problem comes into play for agents today because the Internet is large and wide. The Y generation and newer [consumers] are very Internet savvy. You can plug in ‘collector car’ and they have 10 to 12 options of where they can go shopping. That removes the professional helping them through the scene. They don’t look for guidance and advice. They’re looking for their own way out. We’re faced with that today,” Marlin said.
Collector auto insurance is a way to illustrate the value that an independent agent delivers—a task that today is “very difficult,” Marlin asserted. “You have to remind them of the value, that it’s not costing them any more [to use an independent agent], and that the agent is compensated by the carriers they represent.”