If you’re a property adjuster, eventually there is a good chance you’ll have to go on “CAT” duty. “CAT” is short for catastrophe. The most common catastrophes people think of are hurricanes as they leave huge amounts of damage often over a wide area. There can be so much damage from a single storm, some of the larger carriers like State Farm, Farmers or Allstate may bring in over 1,000 people to help with the sudden claim load. Often, they will not even have enough people within the company and need to hire “Independent Adjusters” as well to inspect damages and write repair estimates. And companies are getting better and better to respond BEFORE a storm his vs. after. Companies like State Farm and Travelers will have mobile disaster RV’s in the region that can be set up in just hours following a storm. These vehicles are fully self contained with generators, satellite communications, and everything else the company needs to process claims on the spot. In addition, the big carriers use these vehicles for community outreach to some extent. You’ll often see water being given out to policyholders (or often anyone in need), maybe even food for their policyholders and when I was at State Farm they used to even give you little “State Farm Good Neigh-Bears” kids (not sure if they do this any more though). Here is a great photographic listing of State Farm’s mobile CAT vehicles: CLICK HERE
The big carriers all have dedicated CAT Teams. Not sure how many people the big carriers have that are dedicated CAT adjusters these days but be assured a company as big as Farmers for example likely has well over 1,000 full time people. So what do these people do when there aren’t any hurricanes? Plenty. That’s because there is ALWAYS something going on that classifies as a catastrophe (for insurance purposes) that doesn’t make the news. For example, did you know that in Odessa, TX in early June there was a huge hail storm that caused over $400 million in damages? Probably not but it’s storms like this that keep most carrier’s CAT teams busy year round. Hail, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, etc. There is plenty of this stuff to go around even if these events aren’t as heavily reported as something like Super-Storm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina.
If you’re a dedicated CAT adjuster, you basically live on the road. You’re probably working 21 days in a row or more with only a few days off in between. Many adjusters on CAT teams actually are younger adjusters as the lifestyle can be a grind. I knew some CAT adjusters that didn’t even have real homes. They had their few possessions stored at their parents house because they are out and about working 90% or more of their days. They live in hotels, drive rented cars (or have a company car issued to them) and have more airline miles and hotel miles than they know what to do with. I knew a guy on a CAT team that used his Hilton Honors Visa for EVERYTHING and then had the company reimburse him vs. using a company credit card that was paid direct. He had literally millions of Hilton Honors Points saved up. This paid for free air and hotel for awesome vacations in between his days working. And the money is pretty good too. CAT adjusters get their regular salary, plus a set amount per day for their CAT bonus, plus per-diem for food. Get a hotel with a small fridge in your room to keep milk cold and you can save a lot of your food money by eating cereal and milk vs. going out. So yes, the money is great, you can litterally pocket nearly everything if you don’t have a real home you need to pay for and you’ll get to built up a ton of travel miles. But again, it’s a lot of work. You could easily be working 10 to 12 hours a day for multiple weeks at a time. Conditions could be terrible such as working CAT duty in Florida and having to inspect hot roofs during the middle of the day with oppressive humidity. Or you can end up spending months at a time in less than exotic places like Odessa, TX (no offense to anyone in Odessa as I’m sure it’s a lovely place).
On the flip side, if you’re not on the CAT team, you may look forward to going on CAT duty once in a while. It can be fun to see new parts of the country, meet new people with the company and obviously, make some good money. I’ve done it a number of times and although it is a grind it can be very rewarding and not just financially. Following the San Diego fires in 2003, I was driving around for a few days simply confirming if our policyholder’s homes had burned down and if they had, writing $100,000 checks on the spot to help our policyholders get started on rebuilding. Many times I was at someone’s home that had literally burned down the day before and they were still somewhat in shock. It felt good to roll up on the scene and be there to help from Day 1. Most big carriers make more money selling auto insurance but it’s usually property claims that are higher profile. It’s one thing to get your car stolen, it’s another to lose everything in a fire without virtually no warning. Insurance companies and specifically property adjusters are the first people that most policyholders come in contact with. We’re well aware that we will be the “face of the company” when a catastrophic loss arises so it’s our job to make sure that we’re doing our part to keep the promise that we’ll be there when our policyholders need us most.
If you have any questions or comments about any topic I’ve written about in my insurance blog, please don’t hesitate to contact me.