Tag Archives: insurance claims

2 Key Tools for Innovation in P&C

Imagine this: two separate kingdoms, the kingdom of P&C insurers and the kingdom of agencies and brokers. Within each kingdom, each insurer and agency is represented by its own little house, and every little house has a door. Each door can open both ways and represents a way to communicate and share data – and these kingdoms need to share lots of data.

The only way to send data between houses is to build deep trenches. Building a trench is difficult, expensive and time-consuming. And the P&C insurer must dig the trench to each agent or broker, then knock on every agency’s and broker’s door to see if they will open it and allow data to be shared.

In the world I have described, insurers are very busy building these trenches to the agencies and brokers. Insurers spend a great deal of time, money and resources. Yet, when the insurers finally get to knocking on all the doors, they find that some agencies have their doors wide open and are ready; that some will open their doors eventually; but that others have no desire to ever open their doors.

What’s more, many insurers won’t fund the trench digging, so agencies may want a connection but are left without the trench.

For the kingdoms of the insurers and of the agents and brokers, the system is not built for success.

What I just described is reality. Insurers and agencies have to share data for policies, billing and claims. But the cost, risk and payback are deterrents. Even the will to communicate is not always there.

The formalities and costs to share data are what I described as trenches. Missing or incomplete “trenches” result in missed opportunities, inefficiencies, misinformation and misunderstandings. For example, what an insurer might view as a small book of business not worth investment might be a huge book for some agencies. Sometimes, the lack of understanding between the two “kingdoms” can be astounding.

Yet we continue to go down this path, just as we have for many, many years.

We have an opportunity to rethink our situation. Two key tools of innovation can bridge the gap between insurers and agents: ideation and crowd sourcing. These may sound like buzz words, but, by allowing varied groups to have a voice in solving challenges, ideation and crowd sourcing can allow decision makers to see data trends across segments of organizations. More importantly, ideation and crowd sourcing can offer solutions to challenges for little to no investment through the ideas of people who wouldn’t otherwise necessarily have “a seat at the table.”

We know what we hear from agents: that, as we described in the “two kingdoms,” sometimes there are agent houses with no trenches even being built to them. We also know that insurers sometimes find that, even after all the work of establishing trenches, some agents keep their doors closed. Utilizing innovation tools to communicate these pain points and search for a better method of business is a great step forward.

But what can insurers do right now to solve the challenge of the two kingdoms?

In the short term, insurers can demand that all leading vendors of agency management systems and policy administration, billing and claims management systems have adapters built in and ready for plug and play for all lines of business and transactions. This would improve implementation time, reduce investments and essentially remove the “closed doors” problem facing insurers.

In the long term, invest in ideation and crowd sourcing to redesign the connections between insurers and agencies. Listen to the pain points and notice trends. Crowd sourcing will offer powerful data to build a better system. Start posing questions to your own organization like, “How do we leverage the cloud and big data concept to rethink the 40-year-old point-to-point integrations?”

You’ll be surprised at the results and how meaningful making small changes can be. Let’s do it.

A Word With Shefi: Polyakov at Livegenic

This is part of a series of interviews by Shefi Ben Hutta with insurance practitioners who bring an interesting perspective to their work and to the industry as a whole. Here, she speaks with Alex Polyakov, CEO of Livegenic, which delivers real-time video solutions to help organizations reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction and mitigate risks. His advice: “Never settle for the way things are, and always discover and share a better way, especially when it comes to seeing the customer’s point of view. The better we serve the customer, the happier we become.”

To see more of the “A Word With Shefi” series, visit her thought leader profile. To subscribe to her free newsletter, Insurance Entertainment, click here.

Describe what you do in 50 words or less:

I run a fast-paced startup that specializes in real-time video solutions in insurance claims.

Name an emerging technology you are most excited about:

There are many technologies that are hot right now like drones, Internet of Things, analytics, etc. However, live video streaming is the technology that I’m most passionate and excited about. Not just because that’s our specialty, but because this technology is mature, accessible, with low upfront investment costs and drives incredible value in productivity and customer satisfaction.

What are you most excited about with respect to Livegenic?

We were able to foresee innovation in insurance. We envisioned developing a video platform that would deliver a powerful impact to the insurance market, and we’ve been recognized for producing the type of innovative solutions this industry needs.

Name a challenge you have faced working in insurance:

While the insurance industry is ripe for innovation in many areas, it adopts innovations slowly. This is one reason why there aren’t that many start-ups in insurance compared with other industries. However, this challenge is also an opportunity because the industry is fueled by competition and the need to differentiate.

Your best piece of career advice for the insurance professional:

Never settle for the way things are, and always discover and share a better way, especially when it comes to seeing the customer’s point of view. The better we serve the customer, the happier we become.

Your favorite news source:

I follow several sites, such as Insurance Thought Leadership, Insurance Networking News, PropertyCasualty360 and of course Insurance Entertainment. They all share great content, but I must admit that Insurance Entertainment makes me laugh — always a great way to start the morning.

When you are not working for Livegenic, you are most likely…

I enjoy competitive table tennis, which is like playing chess at 100 miles an hour. It is a great way for me to take my mind off of things and exercise at the same time.

If you weren’t working in insurance, what profession would you be in?

I am a product and technology guy at heart, so I guess if I wasn’t in insurance, I’d be working in technology in another industry.

Your favorite quote:

“Luck favors the prepared.”

Which term best describes you?

  • Driverless or in control? In control
  • Elon Musk (dreamer) or Warren Buffett (doer)? Doer
  • Risk-averse or risk-taker? Risk-taker

To be honest, I wish I could select a term immediately, but I’m very analytical. The best words I would use when I see these questions are “adaptive intelligence.” Meaning, the answer depends on a situation because I resemble a little bit of both during different times.

New Regulation After a Disaster: More Harm Than Good?

This business of insurance requires a certain level of clairvoyance, and no one owns a crystal-clear crystal ball. What we do own is historical data on the impact and aftermath of large-scale disasters – and like most of what’s in the rearview mirror, that image is sharp yet fleeting. Some may forget the lessons of the last disaster too soon, while others cast past events into stone as the basis for managing future catastrophes. What’s worse, however, is when a disaster prompts knee-jerk reactions that do more harm to the market than good.

Just like anyone else, insurers need certainty that the rules put in place to manage risk, pay claims and protect policyholders won’t change unexpectedly and immediately after Mother Nature plays her game.

After a natural disaster, “Monday morning quarterbacks” both proliferate and pontificate. Some of this can be positive. In fact, staring down disaster and deciding not to be a victim twice often triggers community conversations that lead to infrastructure improvements to help prevent such a scenario from ever getting a replay. However, not all hindsight is helpful, particularly when the rules going into the “game of risk” are not the same rules in the immediate aftermath. Think about it this way: You’ve got a team that runs drills, budgets for expenses and asks players to follow a certain game plan in preparation for the big football game. But on game day, the team arrived on the field to discover it’s not football they are playing, but lacrosse.

Of course, most rules have elasticity. Yet when the rules of insurance are changed after a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or flood, what sounds like a consumer-driven move often has unintended short- and long-range consequences that are truly not consumer friendly.

States make the rules

Contrary to public perception, insurance companies don’t set the rules. State legislators and regulators make the rules, which are codified within state statutes and the insurance contract. While the magnitude of recent disasters has made them game-changers, more often post-disaster moves result in actions that make it hard to figure out if anyone wins.

The most recent example is Superstorm Sandy. In New York, there were nearly 500,000 claims resulting from the October 2012 storm. Yet regulators mandated that claims adjusters needed to inspect properties within six days, rather than the 15 days that was in the rulebook before the storm. That may not sound like a big deal, but insurers weren’t handling Sandy claims in New York alone. There were almost as many claims in New Jersey and more than 60,000 claims in Connecticut. Getting to New York claimants faster made sense to New Yorkers, yet it sapped resources from deserving claimants in other states who also needed prompt attention.

Each state understandably, and admirably, wants to take care of its own. But in the immediate aftermath of a multi-state disaster, a stampede of mandates may be as disruptive as the disaster itself.

Policyholders pay the price

Unexpected requirements to hurry up the claims process puts speed at odds with thoroughness. That does not just mean the process is sloppy; rushing to close out a claim also raises costs. After Sandy, there were instances when insurers felt forced to pay out more in claims than what was warranted under the terms of the insurance contract. Insurers want to pay what they owe. No more, no less. Paying more than what is owed raises costs for everyone who was fortunate enough not to sustain damage. While getting more claims money sounds great from an individual claimant’s perspective, these additional, sometimes unwarranted, claims payouts are factored into determining surplus requirements for the next disaster. That makes all policyholders pay the price.

Insurance companies want to settle claims quickly. It’s in our DNA. There is little upside to drawing out the process when cause and effect are clear. But pushing speed over practicality is expensive for consumers and insurers alike.

Another program promulgated post-Sandy by both the New York Dept. of Financial Services and the New Jersey Dept. of Banking and Insurance was an emergency measure requiring mandatory participation by insurers in the mediation of non-flood claims if there was a claims dispute. Policyholders had to request mediation; insurers had to pay for it. It was a well-intentioned idea to keep litigation costs in check. The process was voluntary for policyholders, mandatory for insurance companies, and confusing for everyone. Because it was rolled out after the storm, there were a wide variety of interpretations of the process. Some people who were satisfied with their claim thought they had to attend a mediation. Storm survivors without flood insurance thought they had a chance of compensation with mediation. Don’t get me wrong: Mediation is a great option, and many other states have similar programs. However, quickly making a new program mandatory, without proper vetting and understanding by all parties involved, can make things more confusing than they need to be – particularly post-disaster when less confusion is what is needed.

Catastrophic events bring large losses, which causes insurers to review their underwriting performance. The only natural disaster that we can reasonably predict is a hurricane, and even before anyone knows exactly where a storm will make landfall, insurers review their portfolio of risk and determine how they’ll respond when the sky calms. Often, insurers will reevaluate their market position, which can lead to requests for rate increases, changes in coverage options, adjustments to terms and conditions and even making decisions to adjust their exposure in the market. These seemingly prudent moves aren’t easy to do and are made more complex after large-scale disaster.

After Sandy, New York regulators toyed with the idea (and rejected it) of restricting insurers from non-renewing no more than 2% of their book of business per territory. The current non-renewal limit is 4% on a statewide average. That’s not unlike forcing someone to put a purchase on their credit card that they know they can’t afford. Insurers decide to enter a market – or expand there – based on the rules and regulations currently in place. Where there is a pattern of restrictive, sudden rule changes post-disaster, few companies would choose to invest more capital there.

If an insurer decides to retreat from or exit a market, it’s not personal – it’s prudent. Restricting the ability to adapt to changes in risk exposure makes the market constrict. Florida’s experience is the test lab, if anyone is in need of proof.

The whole market suffers

The severity of losses following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 caught everyone by surprise. And, the resulting market crisis got worse when the insurance industry got bushwhacked. During a special session in 1993, the Florida Legislature imposed a six-month moratorium on cancellations and nonrenewal of personal property insurance policies. Then, things got worse. The moratorium was followed by a three-year phase-out plan that allowed an insurer to non-renew only up to 5% of its property policies within a 12-month period. That meant insurers were required to continue providing coverage at rates below what they needed. Yes, it was more than two decades ago, and we have long, painful memories and existing residual damage to show how those actions forced companies to remain strict on underwriting, even today. States that have imposed exit restrictions in the past may find that insurers do not want to enter or grow their business in the future.

It’s not only insurers that suffer financially from unanticipated actions. State resources suffer, too. In another special legislative session, the Florida Legislature changed the rules governing hurricane deductibles. Some people had the unfortunate experience of being hit by more than one storm during August and September 2004. To alleviate the financial hardship those storm victims were experiencing, the Legislature nixed the per event hurricane deductible and passed a law requiring only one annual hurricane season. The change cost the State of Florida money because reimbursements for multiple deductibles came from the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund – the fund providing reinsurance for all insurers doing business in the state – reducing its assets by millions of dollars.** It cost all taxpayers dearly, including those who had no storm damage.

Unlike most other states, Florida’s largest insurance carrier is the state itself. Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was designed to be a state-run insurer of last resort; however, the company experienced tremendous growth following the 2004/2005 hurricane seasons when multiple storms hit and private insurers once again reevaluated their portfolios. The retreat was compounded by the fact that, in many areas of the state, Citizens was charging below market rates. The gap has been narrowed significantly in recent years, but it still exists.  The politicization of insurance in Florida is what made Citizens grow into the ninth largest insurer in the U.S. in 2012. Among the top 10 writers of insurers nationally, Citizens is the only insurer with all its business – and all its risk – in a single state.

Typically, insurers are expected to raise rates following a natural disaster if what happened seems to show that there is a greater chance for such an event to occur again. Florida’s hurricane history demonstrates it’s either boom or bust for insurers, and many carriers have posted losses even in the years that are hurricane-free.

Making sense out of chaos

Natural catastrophes are called disasters for a reason. It’s organized chaos – and sometimes, it’s unorganized chaos. To try to get their arms around the enormity of an event, regulators ask for claims data from carriers – and the thinking seems to be that more data is always better. The truth is that more data is expensive and time consuming to collect, especially when the requests entail delving into files that may not be catalogued in a format that insurance departments demand. Providing information for data reports is often not optional, and what regulators ask for after a major event is as changeable as the weather. Following Sandy, New York regulators made one-time data requests and gave insurers only a few hours to respond. Requests such as these could mean that the important work of handling claims gets delayed while employees have to divert their attention from taking care of people to taking care of paperwork.

Property insurance markets do benefit from regulation, but rules that change like the wind don’t help.

Natural disasters trigger emotional responses, and those responses are helpful in that they drive volunteers to show up to give both financially and physically to start the recovery process. But it’s the rational responses that bring the economic resources necessary to rebuild after disaster. The very rational action of paying claims that are owed is a responsible way to fulfill the parameters of the insurance contract in place at the time the disaster occurred.

What lawmakers and regulators should know is that working according to predictable outcomes is the key to balancing the needs of policyholders and businesses focused on recovery, and insurance is one of those businesses. There will always be multiple points of view, as well as numerous options. But disaster response and recovery should not be viewed as opposing forces protecting self-interest. Our collective focus should be on agreements in advance that serve everyone in the best way possible, knowing that the real risk and true costs of natural disasters remain unknown.

As we enter yet another hurricane season, it’s worthwhile to take a look at both market reaction and regulatory mandates that have proven to be, in effect, another disaster in the making.

Workers Comp Ensnares the Undocumented

We may look back to this time as a period when one out of every 10 injured workers faced the risk of criminal prosecution and deportation for the act of submitting a legitimate workers compensation claim.

Michael Whiteley of WorkCompCentral reports that law enforcement agencies in at least two states recently adopted strategies to arrest undocumented workers on the grounds that using an invalid Social Security number in their claims submission defrauded the insurer.

First report of injury forms include a field for a Social Security number. The number links the claimant to personnel and payroll data on the employers books. Normal payroll deductions are taken for the number to hold for future Social Security and Medicare benefits, to which the claimant may never be able to enjoy. By definition, the Social Security number on an undocumented workers claims record is invalid.

The eight million undocumented workers comprise about 6% of the total civilian workforce. By studying estimates of undocumented worker penetration by occupations ranked by injury risk, one can reasonably project that undocumented workers sustain one out of every 10 work injuries. This high volume is invisible to almost everyone except for adjusters, case managers, lawyers and others who work directly with injured workers and have learned their work and life patterns. The rate varies greatly, from maybe 2% in West Virginia, a low foreign-born population state, to over half within the fruit- and vegetable-producing counties of southern California.

At my request, the Workers Injury Law Advocacy Group asked if its members were aware of intimidation, claim denials or arrests that arose from the use of other persons Social Security numbers. Within a few hours my email inbox lit up like a Christmas tree.

A Florida attorney with whom I had spoken earlier sent adjuster notes obtained through discovery for a June 2012 injury at a dairy. The adjuster wrote on June 27, 2012, “claimant, three children, obtained SSN from his brother when his brother returned to Mexico. Married, 9th grade educ in Mexico.” In March 2013, the adjuster wrote: “SIU check found that SSN was issued in Puerto Rico sometime between 1936 and 1950.”

In March 2013, the adjuster wrote that the case had been referred to a West Palm Beach, Florida, investigator. On April 4 the notes state that the claimant was arrested for using a false number to gain employment and false filing of a workers compensation claim. The legal basis for the arrest was not given but was most likely insurance fraud statute, 440.105 (4)(b), currently being challenged in superior courts (Florida v Brock).

This workers guileless comments about the passed down number shows how accustomed undocumented workers, their employers and workers compensation claims payers are to tacitly accommodating illegal work status while processing workers compensation benefits. In all but a few jurisdictions, undocumented workers can legally obtain benefits, a right assured by state law and state superior courts.

Whats changed, it appears, is the climate. Perhaps tacitly going along is viewed by some as a form of amnesty. Maybe workers compensation fraud teams are hungrier for results and see identity theft as easier to document than traditional fraud such as faking disability.

Step back to consider the implications on the industrys commitment, as phrased by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, to “help foster a healthy workers compensation system.”

Some applicant attorneys allege that defense lawyers sometimes ensnare their undocumented clients by teasing out during depositions information they then package over to law enforcement. Sometimes, they tell me, there is a threat. “Retaliation and threats of retaliation have created a culture of fear,” The National Employment Law Project asserts, citing its recent survey that illegal immigrant workers are hesitant to file workers compensation claims or assert other rights out of fear of retaliation.

Workers compensation benefits and work safety join in a circular flow of cause and correction. Len Welch, Chief of Workplace Safety for Californias largest workers compensation insurer, the State Compensation Insurance Fund, says that immigration reform could be the most important work safety advance in the next five to 10 years. “When you have undocumented workers, the odds of accidents go way up. Its the tip of the iceberg of the massive underground economy in the state,” he said.

James Baldwin, debating William Buckley at Cambridge University in 1965, described the legacy of slavery as the tragedy “when one has absolute power over another person.” To the undocumented worker, her or his employer holds nearly absolute power over safety. A work injury could result in jail time and deportation. Neither the workers compensation system or worksite safety are healthy when one tenth of injured workers are in a constant state of vulnerability.

Surviving the Loss of Your Home

I lost my home in the 1991 firestorm in Oakland, CA. With wildfires now destroying others’ homes in California, my heart goes out to the homeowners whose homes are damaged or destroyed by fire or other disasters, to the firefighters and to others who have risked and are risking their lives. I also feel for the communities that will experience the devastating aftermath.

While I am an attorney who specializes in handling insurance claims for policyholders, the loss of my home showed me the stresses and challenges of handling my claim with my insurer, as well as those facing many other Oakland firestorm survivors whom I assisted with their claims.

Those whose homes are damaged or destroyed will face many challenges in the coming days and months — temporary shelter, replacement of necessary items, disruption of their lives caused by having to relocate, and the repair and rebuilding of their lives and homes.  I would like to offer some professional as well as personal advice in the hope I can be of some assistance.

Likely, none of you have read your homeowners insurance policies previously.  I am embarrassed to say that I had not read mine prior to the Oakland firestorm, and I am, as they say, in the business.  Do not be surprised when you attempt to read your policies if you have difficulty understanding them, despite their claims of being written in “plain English” or “easy to read” format.  Even professionals do not agree on every policy interpretation, and no one is born with an innate understanding of insurance or how to pursue their personal insurance claim.

Your homeowners policies provide a few basic coverages for your home, other structures, additional living expenses, and personal property.  Initially, you will want to focus on obtaining an advance from your insurer to cover immediate necessities, including food and lodging.  Most insurers involved in a catastrophic loss will readily issue advances from your contents and additional living expense coverages, usually in the $5,000-$15,000 range.  In fact, many insurers will set up local catastrophic loss command centers to handle requests in your community.  The easiest way to communicate or locate your insurer is to contact your insurance agent or broker.

Additional living expense coverage covers your expenses when you are dislocated from your residence as a result of its being destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.  This coverage is usually limited by a dollar limit or a maximum time. Such coverage typically covers either your actual out-of-pocket expenses, such as increased meal costs, increased cost of commuting from a different location, cost of temporary residence, etc., or the reasonable rental value of your former residence.  Most insureds opt for the latter method of determining their additional expense coverage as it is simpler, less time consuming to document and usually yields a greater dollar recovery.

You will need to immediately replace certain essential items, such as toiletries and clothes.  Most insurers will give you an advance on your contents claim with no specific proof of loss other than proof that your home was damaged or destroyed.  As time progresses, you will be required to document your loss on an itemized basis.  Most of you will have replacement cost coverage, which means you will, upon proof of replacement, be entitled to the cost of replacing lost items up to the limits shown in your policy.  For items that you do not immediately replace, the insurer usually will pay you “actual cash” value for those items.

This means that the insurer will determine the replacement cost of the item and then depreciate it for use, age or obsolescence.  If you subsequently replace the item, you can then send the insurer a copy of the receipt and receive the difference between what you were paid by the insurer shortly after the loss and what you spent to replace it.

A frequently asked question is:  What is the replacement cost of an item that is no longer made?  You are entitled to replace such items, subject to your contents limits, with items of like kind and quality.

Eventually, you will be dealing with the cost of repairing or replacing your home.  The first item you will likely have to deal with is removal of debris.  Almost all policies provide coverage for debris removal as either a percentage of the limits for the house or in addition to the limits for replacement of your house.

Next, the insurer and you will be working on determining the cost of rebuilding your former home.  Many of you will have a form of replacement cost coverage that will give you the replacement cost of your home up to some percentage in excess of your stated policy limits.  Such an increase in coverage is typically 125% of stated limits.  Additionally, most of you will have coverage for other structures, such as detached garages, decks and fences, with an additional coverage limit, usually referred to as “other structures” coverage.  Many of you will also have coverage for code upgrades, although such coverages will also have limits.  You will likely have coverage for landscaping.  Even if you had native or natural landscaping, you are entitled to have it replaced subject to the terms of your policy.

An issue that many of us dealt with in the Oakland firestorm is that policies that provide replacement cost coverage usually require you to replace the structure before you are fully compensated, although you are provided some monies on an actual cash value basis in the interim. This posed a significant challenge for those who were less affluent, because they were financially incapable of fronting the monies necessary to complete their homes.  After some negotiations and with considerable help from the then Insurance Commissioner, now U.S. Congressman, John Garamendi, the insurers agreed to either finance reconstruction costs as building progressed or advanced funds.  Most insurers will reach similar agreements in response to the current situation.

Some of you may not wish to rebuild, but may wish to relocate.  There are many considerations that go into such a decision, and it can only be made by you in the best interests of you and your family.  At the time of the Oakland firestorm, most insurance policies required that you rebuild your homes at their current sites.  However, most insurers waived this requirement, and now most policies no longer have these requirements.  If you wish to relocate, let your insurer know as soon as possible.  Even if the policy requires building on your lot, most insurers will waive that requirement as you will be in temporary quarters for a shorter time, which decreases the amount they have to pay in additional living expenses.  Most insurers are ecstatic if the insured wishes to relocate, as it decreases the amount they ultimately have to pay.  If you choose such an option, the insurer still pays you the cost of rebuilding/replacing your former home.  You will also retain title to your lot and can sell it later.

I was asked by many homeowners in the Oakland firestorm and in subsequent disasters whether they need to hire an attorney.  This is my response:  1) most homeowners insurance claims are resolved over a period of time through negotiation and with assistance from claims adjusters and contractors; and 2) most insurers are helpful and sympathetic to their insureds and will make every effort to guide insureds through the process.  However, for most homeowners, their home and its contents are their largest and most important investments.  Consequently, it is advisable to consult with an attorney who specializes in handling insurance matters to make sure that you avail yourself of all benefits you are entitled to under your policy.  Additionally, if you feel at any time you are not being fairly treated by your insurer you should either consult with an insurance coverage attorney or seek assistance from your state's Department of Insurance.

When the Oakland firestorm destroyed my home, I had two daughters: Katy, then 6, and Noelle, who was just shy of her 3rd birthday.  My now-former husband and I were lawyers, and, heck, we were insurance coverage lawyers.  We knew we could handle our claim and the situation.  We relocated our family within a week into temporary housing and shortly thereafter went into contract to purchase a new home.  We had no idea what lay ahead.

Replacing even the bare necessities was a huge project.  We were shopping both days of every weekend and almost every evening.  I wanted to keep my oldest in her school and my youngest in her preschool, so I drove a long commute from our temporary housing every morning and evening.  When I wasn’t driving, I was working on the claim or shopping to replace basic necessities.  My youngest cried every night and begged to go home.  Even though we knew how to handle an insurance claim, it was physically and emotionally exhausting.

About a month after the fire, my older daughter came home with a flyer inviting all firestorm survivors to a special day at Marine World hosted by the Oakland, Berkeley and Piedmont fire departments.  I indicated that we probably wouldn’t be able to go because we needed to go shopping for “stuff” for our soon-to-be new home.  Within an hour, Katy had organized Noelle into a joint protest.  They let their father and me have it.  They told us we had become the “no fun” family.  They were tired of not doing anything.  They missed their friends, who now lived away from them, and they missed us.

They were right!  From that day forward, we made sure that we had family day every weekend.  We went to the event at Marine World and reconnected with other relocated friends.  Katy and Noelle got to play with their friends.  We learned to be nicer to each other.  We also learned that not everything had to get done on a certain schedule, and sometimes it was better if it didn’t get done at all.  We learned that we had gotten the most important things out of the fire: ourselves.  We also learned that only those things that had memories attached were truly important, for anything else could be replaced.  None of us has ever placed the same importance on possessions.  For a long time, I resisted replacing many items, as I simply did not want as many things, and frankly still don’t.  Most importantly, we learned the importance of family and community and that we could survive a major loss in our lives and be the better for it.