I write this a day or so before Gustav is going to strike a terrible blow somewhere from east Texas to the far west of Florida. Hurricanes, unlike tornadoes, have a large area, potentially more than a hundred miles worth of impact. The center of it is not as important as simply being close to it. "Close" is a long way when talking about a Category 4 hurricane.
Major insurers are setting up "staging" areas and logistically preparing to send in adjusters. The catastrophe adjusters are being called and told where to go or whom to call. Equipment and mobile adjusting offices are being positioned just outside areas where losses are expected. In short, State Farm, Allstate, Nationwide, and others are doing a lot of behind the scenes work to get ready for the losses Gustav will cause. Their planning is much better than it was 20 years ago. I think the experiences from the 2004 and 2005 storm seasons have carried over, and the industry will be much better prepared to get out and adjust the loss.
Will payments come faster? They should, if the policyholders are going to get paid. What I have said in the past is that the court rulings will probably generate more disputes about what and how much is owed. The "good faith" duties that were traditionally recognized and taught by insurers are not followed by the courts. Whether the insurance customers will be treated "fairly" is going to largely be determined by the claims paying culture which is dictated by the claims management and extended to the field adjusters and their supervisors. "Sharp" claims decisions and outcome oriented "expert" reports, designed to result in underpayment of claims, would not surprise me. Sorry for the bad news.