To All Authorized Members,

It’s hard to believe that I’m writing about the completion of another year.  It sure doesn’t seem like a year ago when I was celebrating the wrap on another successful year for HMI and our Network…yet here I am.  If you read my third quarter letter you already know HMI posted a record year for tree removal claims in 2023…we accomplished that through just three quarters.  This year is starting off with a bang as well, we just closed out the second busiest January in the Company’s history.  For those of you who were on the receiving end of all that activity, we truly value your support and commitment to the HMI program.

So, what are HMI’s plans to continue increasing the value of membership in our network in 2024?  There is a lot happening at HMI that you will benefit directly from.

First, I am pleased to announce that HMI is launching two new programs that will significantly increase the volume of tree removal referrals we’ll be sending your way.  The first is a relaunch of a program with Liberty Mutual. We had to suspend that program a couple of years ago due to now-resolved administrative issues.  Before the program was suspended, Liberty Mutual (the 5th largest insurer in the U.S.) was a top 10 client for HMI.  The second program we’re adding is with Hancock Claims Consultants.  Hancock provides claim support services for over 10 large carriers, including Farmers (the 10th largest insurer in the U.S.).  Farmers is eager to work with HMI as they are familiar with the high standards and professionalism of our network.  Both programs should add significantly to HMI’s referral volume this year.

HMI’s back-office support for all of our members is also being expanded this year.  First off, I’m thrilled to announce that HMI’s Customer Service Representatives (CSR) are going to be assigned to support specific companies/offices in our Network.  The objective of this change is to allow for a CSR to become more familiar with arborists, pricing policies, crew configurations and documentation of each office.  And to offer a wide range of support such as assistance in closing open files, clarifying coverage questions, issues resolution and training as needed.  They will even coordinate with HMI’s collections team as needed to review outstanding payments with you.  Speaking of HMI’s collections team, we have added additional resources enabling us to also assist our members when payments may have been sent to the homeowner.  Both of these developments will improve HMI’s understanding of your business (pricing policies, crew/equipment configurations, and outstanding balances) which will help reduce file review/approval and payment cycles.  You should expect to hear from your CSR soon, if you haven’t already.

These changes are coming at a very good time.  While we are only in February, forecasters are already expecting the 2024 hurricane season to be particularly active.  Ocean temperatures are at historic highs.  In the portion of the Atlantic that feeds hurricanes, surface temperatures are already near what they would be in early summer.  Also, they are predicting that the current El Nino climate pattern (which prohibits hurricane development) will shift to a La Nina pattern in the second half of the year…just in time for hurricane season.  A La Nina weather pattern typically suppresses wind shear in the Atlantic, making it easier for hurricanes to form and strengthen.  Some forecasters are already warning of a potentially “hyperactive” hurricane season this year.

Regardless of what happens, HMI will be there to support your success with high quality referrals and the back-office support you need to make the most of each one.

Thank you all.  Stay safe!

Regards,

 

 

 

Doug Cowles

President, Horticultural Asset Management, Inc.

 

 

 

To All Authorized Members,

As I am writing this letter, HMI has just closed out the third quarter of 2023 having completed more emergency tree removal assignments in nine months than in any full year prior.  To accomplish this in a year without a single major hurricane event (so far) is really extraordinary and the result of increasing utilization of HMI’s services by our clients.  This trend is, again, a testament to the high-quality product that HMI, together with the tree care professionals in our network, provide to homeowners every day.  This year will likely be remembered as the year that HMI’s network truly separated itself from all other first responder programs by offering our clients the best service available in the industry, and at the right price.

Not surprisingly, HMI is also receiving more requests from tree care companies to join our network than ever before.  We have increased the number of Authorized Members (AMs) in our network by almost 25% this year.  This growth has enabled us to expand the geographic area that we service, and we have also added capacity in several key markets around the country.  The growth in our network couldn’t have come at a better time given the volume of work we’ve been processing and the growth we expect in 2024.  HMI is currently in advanced discussions with four potential new clients for our emergency tree removal service.  Three of them are top 10 residential insurance carriers.  If you were pleased with the value you received from your membership in HMI’s network this year, I believe you will be even more so next year.

I hope everyone reading my letter has taken the opportunity to download HMI Connects, our newly improved mobile app.  HMI's developers recently released a final version of the app that has been getting high marks from the field.  Our AMs are reporting much faster download and upload speeds when compared with the previous app.  As you know, we are always asking for more/better photos and quicker updates on open files in the RMS.  The mobile app is the only way to efficiently collect the necessary data on an HMI assignment and quickly upload it to the RMS.  We will continue investing in mobile technology to ensure you have the most efficient way to process all HMI referrals.

If you haven’t already downloaded HMI Connects, please do so.  While the 2023 hurricane season has yet to generate a major storm event for us, we are now heading into another typically active time of year.  In late fall, HMI starts watching for weather patterns that may generate early snow or ice storms, or nor’easters, all of which have in the past generated a high volume of work for our network.  Based on how 2023 has played out so far, everyone at HMI is expecting Mother Nature to deliver at least one more blow before year end.

Lastly, I hope to see everyone at the TCIA Expo in St. Louis this week.  If you are attending, please stop by our booth (#1817) and pick up a special gift for all Authorized Members commemorating HMI’s 20th Anniversary. Also, be sure to block off Friday night from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., and join the HMI team at our happy hour being held at the Budweiser Brew House in the Ballpark Village, a short 10-minute walk from the convention center.  We all have a lot to celebrate this year!

Thank you all.  Stay safe!

Regards,

 

 

 

Doug Cowles

President, Horticultural Asset Management, Inc.

 

 

 

To All Authorized Members,

I hope everyone is doing well and surviving whatever Mother Nature is throwing in your direction - excessive heat and humidity, epic floods, smoke-filled skies, or all of the above. In what is becoming a broken record, HMI is coming off another record quarter. So, I know you have all been busy! This year is shaping up to be an important year for HMI’s Authorized Member Network. Not only are we collectively expanding the use of professional tree care companies by the insurance industry, but we are also setting the standard for what property owners and insurance carriers should expect from the industry. Our member network offers a high level of customer service, subject matter expertise, high-quality workmanship, personal and business ethics, and empathy. It’s a formula that’s creating a lot of opportunities for all of us.

I won’t spend much time reflecting on the volume of referrals HMI distributed in the first half of the year. But it is worth mentioning that our emergency tree removal claim volume was up 30% over the first half of last year. For some context, the first half of last year was 180% above the first half of 2021. Which means last year was going to be hard to beat, and we all did, by 30%.

To help you all handle the added volume, I’m pleased to announce that the much-anticipated upgrade to our mobile app is in the final stage of testing. The new app, HMI Connects, uses technology that is faster and more reliable than the HMI-RMS app. Testing so far has shown a significant improvement in connectivity with the RMS, many users reported uploading 50-100 photos in seconds. Use of HMI’s mobile app is becoming increasingly important as insurance adjusters and homeowners are expecting immediate responses, and we’re all asked to handle more assignments in less time.

If you have been waiting for HMI to ramp up our commercial property referrals, then I have some good news for you on that front as well. Doug Malawsky’s team just closed a contract with a large property management firm with properties in Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia. The contract provides the company with access to HMI’s Network of professional tree crews to clear trees and debris from their properties after major storm events. Like HMI’s other clients, they were tired of being exposed to unscrupulous companies like the ones they felt had taken advantage of them following Hurricane Ian last year. HMI expects to sign additional contracts like this one before the end of the year.

As stated above, the first half of 2023 set a record for HMI and our Network. The second half of the year is starting off just as strong with July shattering our prior record for the month by over 50%. This, without a hurricane! We fully expect the trend to continue this year as we are planning to add two more significant programs to our residential emergency tree removal business, and the additional commercial clients noted above. Plus, we are now heading into the teeth of a 2023 hurricane season that is one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. Current forecasters expect the record-warm ocean temperatures to drive more and stronger hurricanes than you would typically see in an El Niño year. Regardless of what happens, the HMI team is ready to assist you to make sure your participation in HMI’s program is a rewarding one for you and your team.

Thank you all.  Stay safe!

Regards,

 

 

 

Doug Cowles

President, Horticultural Asset Management, Inc.

 

 

 

To All Authorized Members,

The first quarter (Q1) of 2023 certainly started off with a bang for HMI and the members of our network.  As you may recall from my year-end 2022 recap, HMI’s Authorized Members (AMs) sold 50% more work last year than they did the year before.  Well, in Q1 2023, HMI received 40% more emergency tree removal claim assignments from our clients than we did in Q1 last year, and the network was able to generate almost 50% more sales from the assignments we received…so, the trend continues.  Truly extraordinary!  Aside from the continuing growth of our tree removal service, there has been a lot going on at HMI as you will find in my summary below.

During Q1, HMI supported five separate deployments in Florida, Texas, and California to provide our clients with professional tree care services on both residential and commercial properties.  Wintertime deployments are especially valuable to members of our network that are located in areas of the country where work typically slows.  And, while wintertime deployment opportunities used to be a rarity for HMI, I am happy to report that demand for our services required winter deployments in each of the last six seasons.  As HMI’s customer service team (and many of you) can attest, there really is no “off-season” for us anymore.

To help drive even more work to our members, HMI has been working to on-board three new programs. Two of the programs are designed to expand and optimize HMI’s relationship with carriers that are each ranked inside the top 10 in the country.  HMI has worked with both carriers in the past, but in a limited way.  The third program is with one of the country’s leading restoration companies.  Their offices are in need of professional tree care services when assigned claims that involve tree damage.  This program reflects HMI’s most aggressive pursuit of tree removal claim assignments that bypass our traditional channels and end up with a general contractor.  If successful, this may represent one of the most valuable programs that HMI has established.  These programs should come on-line in late Q2 or Q3.

As you all know, HMI developed its Tree Removal Cost Guide to inform our clients about the range of costs they should expect to pay for storm work completed by professional tree care companies in our network.  HMI surveys our network members regularly to make certain that the guide is reflective of accurate costs.  Recently, Gretchen Piechottka sent a survey to each company in our network asking about current labor and equipment costs, and if any adjustments to the Guide are warranted.  I want to thank everyone who responded to the survey or spoke with us directly about pricing pressures being felt around the country.  We hope to have our guidelines updated by the end of this month and a new Guide will be distributed to everyone.  Please contact Gretchen Piechottka if you don’t receive an updated Guide by mid-June.

HMI has continued investing heavily to promote our commercial contract services business which has resulted in multiple jobs for members of our network on golf courses, resort properties, municipalities, campgrounds, school campuses and even ski resorts. While many opportunities come to HMI through an insurance claim, increasingly we are generating leads for non-claim work as well, such as landscape enhancements, plant healthcare, and hazard assessments.  This month, HMI exhibited at a large community managers show in Dallas to promote the use of our network to support a broad range of services, including tree care, landscaping, storm preparedness and response, and more.

On behalf of everyone at HMI, I want to thank all of our network members for the outstanding responsiveness and professionalism demonstrated during a record-setting start to 2023.  Together we have established HMI as a high quality, consistent and reliable partner for insurance carriers and their clients.  It is clear that the standards we have collectively set for the services we provide are what our clients need and deserve.  There is no doubt in my mind that 2023 will be another year of strong growth as more and more carriers realize that there is a way to protect their clients from poor workmanship and questionable ethics, which are unfortunate realities faced by too many homeowners in the aftermath of a storm.  I am proud to be associated with the best in the business.

Finally, please join me in congratulating Doug Malawsky on becoming a Certified Risk Manager (CRM).  HMI is often asked for guidance on strategies to mitigate risks through services or proper insurance coverage. As a CRM, Doug is now able to formalize the role he, and HMI, are able to play in risk mitigation services, many of which will require assistance from our network… together we grow!

Thank you all.  Stay safe!

Regards,

 

 

 

Doug Cowles

President, Horticultural Asset Management, Inc.

 

 

 

By Kevin Myers, CTSP

When it comes to cleaning up after a big storm, arborist crews generally must be ready for anything. Any given service territory comes with its own unique weather patterns and predictions, but dealing with the unexpected should always be a part of the game plan.

Tree failure on houseIf your tree crews are working with utility companies, storm preparedness is especially important. Aside from worker and public safety, restoring power to customers is a top priority, and sending restoration workers – including arborists – to deal with fallen trees and large debris is part of that process. Outages cost utilities somewhere between $18 billion to $33 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, so getting systems back up and running as soon as possible is an essential part of a utility’s immediate response to weather-related outages.

With that in mind, a preparedness plan is critical. Safety and utility tree work have always gone hand in hand, but the stakes are that much higher when it comes to storm preparedness and recovery. So what does a good storm response and preparedness plan look like? And what kind of knowledge should arborists be equipped with when it comes to navigating severe weather in the field? Let’s take a look at some of the essentials of a storm preparedness program, as well as some of the types of extreme weather that field crews may have to deal with under extraordinary circumstances.

The Golden Rule of storm readiness

One of the most effective tips when responding to storm damage is a simple one, but it might not always be the first one you think of. It’s not training. It’s not technique. And it’s not having the right tools for the job. Those things are all critically important, of course, but the Golden Rule of storm readiness is this: Rest.

Think about it. When dealing with storm response and cleanup, hazards are far more plentiful than when performing other work under ordinary weather circumstances. The last thing any tree company wants is an exhausted crew out in the field, under-rested and over-stressed.

One common practice among Southern U.S. utility providers when dealing with the effects of hurricanes or tropical storms is to send responding crews home for a certain period of time before deploying them. The effect here is twofold: allowing workers to check in on their homes and families in the wake of a storm, and letting them get enough rest before going into the field so they can then focus on the work that must be completed. Some companies practice the “eight-hours-on, eight-hours-off” rule during protracted periods of storm restoration work, in order to ensure that all crews are rested throughout.

That particular method might not be feasible for every company under all circumstances. But it’s important nevertheless to remember that a well-rested tree crew is far more likely to work safe and stay safe when working under more dangerous, storm-related circumstances.

Storm clean up

Safety by storm type
The most obvious cause of power outages and needed tree-cleanup work tends to be large thunder-and-lightning storms. But the truth is there are many more dangerous weather patterns occurring throughout the United States that all tree crews should be familiar with.It’s also true that when working in the wake of foul weather, more may be on the way – and tree crews must be prepared.

With that in mind, let’s look at some essential field safety tips if you happen to find yourself contending with Mother Nature unexpectedly.

Lightning
Lightning strikes are one of the most dangerous aspects of a major thunderstorm and can occur up to 10 miles away from a storm itself. That means if you can hear thunder, there’s a lightning risk, regardless of whether skies appear clear and the sun is shining. This is one of the most important things to remember when working during a storm’s aftermath.

Warning signs include thunder claps, visible storm clouds and, of course, the telltale bright fl ashes of light in the sky. The most obvious way to stay safe if lightning abounds is to stay sheltered, but if you happen to find yourself in the field absent of any other form of shelter, returning to your vehicle is the safest bet.

Blizzards
During the winter months, thunderstorms turn to snowstorms and can lead to dangerous conditions in the field for tree crews.

Some overhanging branches that may not appear to pose a threat under ordinary circumstances may transform into hazards due to excess weight from heavy snowfall. Tree crews must take this excess weight into account when working around trees, which may also cause otherwise benign branches to fall onto power lines.

And while the snow itself won’t hurt you, blizzard conditions can pose serious hazards when driving your vehicle in the field. Ensure an emergency kit is always stocked in work vehicles, along with blankets, extra clothing, flashlights, tow ropes, booster cables and distress flares.

Tornadoes
Tornadoes can appear faster than we might think. Their season is generally accepted as March through June, though tornadoes have been documented in all months. Know the warning signs: dark or green-colored skies; large, dark, low-lying clouds; and a persistently rotating cloud base.

Seeking underground shelter should be your first priority, but if you find yourself in a situation where this is impossible, seek low ground away from large objects or debris. This includes your vehicle, as well as other reasonably safe infrastructure. These objects can be obliterated by tornado-force winds, and the further your body is from them, the safer you are.

 

Hurricanes
The biggest hazard in a hurricane isn’t necessarily the storm itself but the flying debris that these violent storms can kick up. While weather monitoring in states where hurricanes are frequent tends to be comprehensive – and no one is sending out tree crews as a hurricane approaches – it’s still worthwhile to be able to identify the signs and know the safety measures.

Indicators of a hurricane include increases in wind speed, heavy escalating rains and raised ocean levels. Finding indoor shelter is the best way to stay safe, ideally with power to the structure turned off. And while the weather may appear to calm during the middle of the storm, it can get far worse very quickly.

Additional weather hazards
Storms themselves aren’t the only natural hazard to watch out for in the field. Below are some additional things to stay prepared to encounter.

Flooding
Flooding is, in fact, one of the extreme weather events with the most fatalities, and can result as an aftereffect of major storms or prolonged heavy rains. An average of 81 people die each year as a result of flooding, according to statistics compiled by the National Weather Service.

Why such a high rate? It’s easy to underestimate the threat of even light flooding. Consider that it takes just six inches of fl owing water to sweep someone off their feet. A flood fl owing at two feet deep can sweep away most vehicles.

When in the field, heavy rainfall is your first sign of a flood, but also keep an eye out for flowing water on normally dry land and rapidly rising water levels. If a flood is oncoming, avoid dips and valleys and get to higher ground as quickly as possible. Don’t attempt to cross fl owing streams. And perhaps most important, don’t attempt to drive through a flooded road, which can easily lead to a stalled vehicle and a dangerous situation for the driver.

Earthquakes
It’s estimated that about half-a-million earthquakes occur around the world each year. While severity varies, Hazards abound when clearing storm-damaged trees.  Overhanging branches that may not appear to pose a threat under ordinary circumstances may transform into hazards due to excess weight from heavy snowfalls.  they can certainly pose a significant threat to outdoor crews. Earthquakes are not indicated by obvious visual signs such as dark clouds, but one tell tale sign is unusual changes in animal behavior. Wildlife can pick up on tremors and changes in electrical fields more so than humans.

If you find yourself caught in an earthquake, seek shelter under a stable object and grab onto something while the worst of the quake passes.

Landslides
Take notice when driving along embankments, which are particularly susceptible to landslides. Road signs will often be posted, but it’s important for you to know what to look for, as well.

Take note of cracking tree sounds, boulders knocking together and other sounds that can indicate a rush of moving debris. Vacate the area immediately if you believe a landslide is oncoming. Flowing water changing from clear to muddy can be another indicator – landslides occur more commonly in river valleys and low-lying areas.

Conclusion

There is much more to comprehensive storm-preparedness planning – communicating cleanup plans to customers, equipment preparation, proactive vegetation management for utilities, monitoring and reporting and more – but one of the most important for everyday arborists is being able to identify some of the most threatening natural conditions that we face in the field.

Storms and hazardous conditions are simply part of the business for tree care workers. And it’s our responsibility to be able to work smart and work safe.

 

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