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ITS HEADQUARTERS DEMOLISHED, ITS EMPLOYEES HOMELESS, AMERICAN BANKERS CONDUCTS DISASTER RELIEF

 ITS HEADQUARTERS DEMOLISHED, ITS EMPLOYEES HOMELESS,
 AMERICAN BANKERS CONDUCTS DISASTER RELIEF
 CUTLER RIDGE, Fla., Sept. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- From the rear, it looks like business as usual at American Bankers Insurance Company in South Dade County, Fla. But as you follow the drive past the company daycare center and the on-site school, you begin to see the devastation caused by Hurricane Andrew's 160-mile-per-hour winds.
 Virtually every window in the multi-story building is gone. The number of trees uprooted and dying indicates there once was landscaping. Looters have stripped the daycare center van. Office paperwork -- claims for death benefits, notices of premiums due -- litters the grounds. Half of the large parking lot is being used by Florida Power and Light, so utility trucks are everywhere. Construction crews are already at work, and the 82nd Airborne is bivouacked here, sleeping in what used to be the company cafeteria and now is one of the few safe areas of the building.
 However, amid construction, demolition and commotion, American Bankers is paying claims and helping people put their lives back together after the country's worst natural disaster.
 Most of the action takes place under a blue-and-white-striped tent that was erected within hours after the storm. There claims adjusters issue checks to victims of Andrew's wrath.
 "We've only received about 1,000 claims," said Thomas Shuler, director of claims. "We don't have a lot of policyholders in the area hit by the storm. But, sadly, almost all of our employees were affected by Andrew."
 American Bankers is among the largest employers in South Dade County. Eleven hundred people work at its corporate headquarters, and most of them live in the surrounding communities of Kendall, Cutler Ridge, Florida City and Homestead, areas hardest hit by Andrew.
 So at the other end of the tent is a first-aid station offering free medical supplies and attention and free tetanus shots. Inside the company auditorium, employees apply for cash advances and low-interest loans. Tables are lined with clothing, water, food and baby supplies donated by employees who weren't affected by Andrew.
 The company estimates that up to 25 percent of its workforce is homeless and another 25 percent have sustained serious damage to their homes. Although it didn't plan to, the company has stepped in to play a disaster relief role for its own employees.
 "We asked if employees whose homes wee undamaged could take in those without a home and we got three offers for every one needed," said Jason Israel, Bankers' senior vice president. "We also found what rental housing still exists in the area, so many of our people do have at least temporary living quarters."
 The company also has assured every employee that their job is secure and that they will be paid. All employees that don't have a personal emergency are asked to report to work and about one-third of the workforce is packing boxes, emptying desks and doing other preparation work for a move into different offices. Other employees are voluntarily going to work in claims offices in Atlanta or Dallas.
 American Bankers was the only insurance company headquarters hit by Andrew, and they were about to mobilize quickly and keep business going because they had a disaster plan in place and had been training employees to implement the plan for 18 months.
 "We knew immediately what had to be done. We prioritized critical functions and focused on getting data processing, telephones, claims handling and premium processing back up," Israel said.
 First on the list? Bankers called its own insurer, Factory Mutual, which sent a team of adjusters in the day after the storm. Bankers has business interruption and additional expense insurance and is confident that it is fully insured, although they don't have an estimate of damage yet.
 IBM was called in and flew the company's data tapes and its computer disk drive innards to its Disaster Recovery Center in Boulder, Colo. The computer system was restored in Boulder and Bankers believes all critical information was retained.
 The claims paying process was immediately started. Adjusters went out in the field to pay claims and a tent was erected on company grounds to handle those who came in personally.
 The contractor who originally built the Bankers building in 1984 was called in and began the task of rebuilding. Since it was evident most of the building could not be occupied, 14 floors in a Miami office building were rented and plans were made for the move.
 Aid to employees was not a part of Banker's original disaster plan. However, when company managers saw Andrew's devastation, they went to emergency shelters to locate employees and offer help.
 "We just tried to reach out and account for everyone," Israel reported.
 The decision was made to keep the payroll going, even though not all employees are able to show up for work. "We don't want to lose people," Israel said. "And we'll get back what we give them now for a long time to come. We have our employees' loyalty. Right now employees who have been devastated by this storm are packing company boxes and helping us move."
 American Bankers estimates it will take nine months to repair its headquarters. Early reports indicate that the interior may have to be gutted and rebuilt. However, the company is optimistic that the computer functions will be back on the second floor within 90 days, and that, gradually, life will get back to normal for the company and its employees.
 -0- 9/9/92
 /CONTACT: Joanne Orfanos of American Bankers, 708-297-7800/ CO: American Bankers Insurance Company ST: Florida IN: INS SU:


PS -- NY091 -- 7714 09/09/92 17:24 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Sep 9, 1992
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