Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready is focusing on floods and fires as he travels the state after reinstating his Coffee with the Commissioner talks.
Mulready was in Lawton Thursday to do just that, explaining his goal is to talk to insurance company representatives and fire chiefs across Oklahoma, after having to suspend most external operations in 2020 for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mulready, who rose to the executive level of the two largest health insurance companies in Oklahoma and served in the Oklahoma House before being elected state insurance commissioner in 2018, said he was hoping for a quieter year after spending his first two years in office dealing with historic events. In 2019, it was flooding along the Arkansas River and its tributaries, causing historic flooding in northeastern Oklahoma and other areas along the river and an estimated $3 billion in damage. In 2020, it was the pandemic, which limited most activities for a good part of the year.
But, after a year of disconnect, Mulready said 2021 is “a year of reconnect” as he strives to meet with representatives of the 77 insurance companies that are domiciled in Oklahoma and fall under the Insurance Commission’s oversight.
“It’s gone very well,” he said, of meetings with insurance representatives and fire chiefs, including those in Lawton.
Mulready said his first year in office gave him a feel for flooding, explaining that as an Oklahoman, his experience was with tornadoes, not floods. He said in 90 percent of the cases, a tornado is there and gone, with cleanup being “quick and clean.” The opposite is true of flooding, he said, explaining cleanup is not quick and many of those suffering damage aren’t insured.
Once the event has occurred, “it’s too late for flood insurance,” he said, explaining the need for insurance is one of the messages he and his staff are trying to convey when talking to residents. He cited some of the issues influencing flood insurance, noting, for example, that many residents who sustained damage from the May/June 2019 flooding had insurance until their bank notified them it was no longer a requirement. Without that requirement, many dropped their policies, Mulready said, adding that as a result, they had no coverage for flood damage.
Those flood areas are especially telling: a year later, many structures still had not been repaired, he said, explaining while many assume FEMA will cover flood loses, the average check there is $8,000. He also wants to address misinformation: you can’t buy flood insurance unless you are in a flood plain, or if you are in a flood plain (neither is true); and if you have a homeowners policy, you are covered (no; flood insurance is a separate policy).
“If it rains where you live, it can flood,” Mulready said.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Mulready is talking about fire and fire protection.
Part of his Coffee with the Commissioner tour is talking to fire chiefs about ISO (Insurance Services Office) fire protection classifications. An ISO rating is an assessment of a community’s ability to protect against fires; the lower the number, the better the rating and the greater discount a homeowner can receive on his insurance policy. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 is the best rating you can achieve and it is held by only a handful of cities.
Lawton moved from Class 3 to Class 1 in 2018, one of eight cities in the state to hold that ranking (there were only three when Mulready took office in 2019).
The goal of insurance officials is to “connect the dots” for people, making sure they understand the advantages of having a lower ISO rating.
“Moving up the tier saves money,” he said.