One of the first questions I asked after being sworn in was where is our catastrophe response playbook? The reason is simple: Oklahoma ranks third in the number of federally declared disasters, behind only Texas and California. Unfortunately, there wasn't a disaster plan at the Oklahoma Insurance Department.
Since that day, the need for a catastrophe response plan has become more apparent. Two snow storms battered the state. The year's first tornadoes were reported the same day a wildfire destroyed two residences and damaged and threatened others.
Oklahomans know it's not a question of whether a catastrophe is going to occur, it's a question of when. And when that disaster strikes, it's important that the Oklahoma Insurance Department is there to assist the insured and their insurers.
This is why I created the Catastrophe Response Task Force to coordinate efforts of the Insurance Department and the industry, marking the first time the department has joined with the industry in this manner.
My department and representatives of the insurance industry are now writing the playbook we will use in a catastrophe. I asked the best and the brightest from the industry, representatives of large companies and small, to participate and they willingly agreed. I appointed Paul Wilkening, deputy commissioner of administration, to represent the department. Wilkening is a master exercise practitioner for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a member of the instructor cadre at FEMA's National Emergency Training Center, Emergency Management Institute. He is the first person at the Insurance Department to hold the certification.
Representatives of my department and task force members communicated regularly in the aftermath of February's snow storms. Based on their advice, I immediately issued an emergency order that enabled licensed out-of-state claims adjustors to assist Oklahomans who suffered damage from the winter storms. Without that assistance, processing the 550 claims that resulted from the storms could have been delayed significantly.
We have also met formally and the response from the insurance industry was overwhelming. They were glad to see the department taking a proactive role and desperately want to help. These people have been the boots on the ground but have lacked the support of the Insurance Department that would have made their jobs easier and would have helped to ensure Oklahomans timely received the coverage for which they had paid.
A member of the task force noted, “It is remarkable that a plan and combined effort like this has not been in place for a long time.”
That is no longer going to be the case. It is critical that the Insurance Department and the insurance companies it regulates work together in times of catastrophe to make individuals and businesses whole. The well-being of individuals and businesses across the state is at stake.
Until now, we were not well prepared. Now, we will be.
Doak was elected Oklahoma's insurance commissioner in November.