USAA will deploy its fleet of drones to aid in assessing damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Courtesy USAA

With Hurricane Harvey nearing the Texas coast, insurance companies are ramping up customer services and deploying agents to the areas likely to receive the most damage.

Bloomberg reported that more than 230,000 homes along the coast are at risk when Harvey hits as a Category 3 storm. Total reconstruction costs are estimated to be nearly $40 billion. The storm will be the first to hit Texas since Hurricane Ike in 2008, which caused $30 billion in damage.

Local insurance giant USAA is mobilizing both its people and technology to assess the damage to insurance policyholders, primarily current and former service members, who make their homes in areas likely to be affected.

“We have a number of adjusters ready and on standby for primarily Corpus Christi and Houston, and we have them positioned in San Antonio to be a little away from the storm, but to be close enough to easily head out,” spokesperson Rebekah Nelson on Friday. “As soon as we have the green light from authorities to head in, we will.

“Additionally, we have gotten a number of adjusters from across the nation here in San Antonio. They are being flown in now so we can have the right numbers of adjusters ready to go. Because we know there’s going to be large number of adjusters needed.”

The company is predicting homeowners will experience wind damage, although it’s too soon to say what kinds of claims will be filed, Nelson said. But adjusters will have “eyes in the sky” to inspect the damage.

“We actually have a fleet of USAA-owned drones, which is pretty exciting, and we plan to use them once the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] regulators allow us to get in,” he said. “Once they lift the restrictions, we will be able to utilize the drones to aid in evaluating and assessing damage, and we’ll do that house by house, claim by claim. We don’t just fly over an area; we only photograph the homes we have a claim on.”

Inspecting the damage via drone allows adjusters to view more properties at a faster pace and more safely. “We’re still testing it out, but it’s exciting to be able to develop it further,” Nelson said. “A storm like this allows us the opportunity to continue that testing.”

USAA has also prepped “Eagle One,” a mobile command center equipped with satellite technology, Wi-Fi, phone systems and laptops, to deploy to the region after the storm passes.

Nelson would not say how many members reside in the affected area. But USAA serves more than 11.9 million members worldwide with banking, insurance and investment products. The company has sent messages to members in the state with guidance on preparing for the hurricane and how to file claims after.

In 2016, the company responded to 43 weather-related catastrophes and serviced 322,000 catastrophe claims amounting to $14 billion in total claims.

USAA is among the top five insurers with the largest share of the market for home coverage in the state, according to Bloomberg. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. has the largest share, followed by Allstate Corp., Farmers Insurance, and USAA.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the business beat reporter at the San Antonio Report.