How to find policyholders when street names, home addresses and often the homes themselves have been obliterated by the wrath of Mother Nature?
That was the problem facing USF&G claims adjusters last week in South Florida, where Hurricane Andrew leveled some residential areas as far as the eye could see. With whole neighborhoods gone, USF&G faced the painstaking prospect of hunting down policyholders on a catch-as-catch-can basis.
Fortunately, USF&G didn't have to resort to that. The reason: computer software.
Using a computer program that produces detailed, digital geographic maps, USF&G insurance adjusters are making slow but steady progress tracking down victims of Andrew amid the rubble of South Florida, said Jim Weglein, technology planner for USF&G's information systems department.
"They can figure out where they are by counting the number of streets over to the main road and finding homes from there," he said.
USF&G is using a program developed by MapInfo Corp. of Troy, N.Y., which specializes in desktop mapping systems. Those systems are cousins to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which provide detailed mapping information, typically in a grid based on longitudinal and latitudinal data. Desktop mapping takes the GIS concept one step further, integrating data-base information with maps.
Both systems allow grids to be blown up for a bird's-eye view of a wide area, or pared down for a closer look at a block or two.
Which is exactly what USF&G is doing in Dade County, where it has about 1,500 policyholders.
According to Mr. Weglein, grids of affected neighborhoods in Dade County are being produced at USF&G's Baltimore headquarters and distributed to field inspectors. Those paper printouts, dotted with the locations of policyholders, also carry the name and policy numbers of customers.
Mr. Weglein said that when Andrew hit, USF&G had been only toying with the idea of using MapInfo.
Andrew speeded things up. There wasn't time to train field inspectors on the fine points of using the software, which can be loaded into a laptop and taken on site.
So Mr. Weglein said he did the next-best thing -- he used the program to print out maps of the affected areas, along with policyholder data, then shipped them to the company's Fort Lauderdale office for distribution to field inspectors.