NU Online News Service, Sept. 14, 2:05 p.m. – The New York City operations of the New York Insurance Department, which were blocks from the World Trade Center, will operate out of Albany, N.Y., headquarters until further notice, according to department spokeswoman Joanna Rose.

As far as the department is aware, there are no casualties or injuries at the department, Rose said today.

The New York City office is without electricity. It was been off-limits to employees, because city authorities have been shutting off the southern section of Manhattan, where the trade center is located, to give rescue and repair teams room to work.

The department has set up a hotline, at 800-339-1759, to answer consumer questions. Rose says that currently volume has been light but that it could increase in the coming weeks. A call to the hotline indicated that all circuits were busy, suggesting a possible increase in volume. Rose says the department would consider adding additional numbers if needed.

When Manhattan World Trade Center Building 1, also known as the North Tower, was hit by a hijacked plane from Boston, some of the department was off-site at a hearing on auto insurance with New York State Sen. James L. Seward, R-Oswego County, chair of the Senate Insurance Committee, and New York State Assemblyman Alexander ‘Pete’ Grannis, D-New York City, the Assembly Insurance Committee chair. The off-site hearing was on Water Street, a few blocks from the WTC site.

Everyone, including Sen. Seward, left the Water Street building and returned to the department offices. Staff members were evacuated from department headquarters. Staff members walked east, away from the World Trade Center, then north along the East River.

Rose says regulators, representatives of the Life Insurance Council of New York, and representatives of insurance companies and other insurance organizations are meeting with the State Emergency Management Office and the Governor’s office.

She says the industry has reached out and offered space and donations.

Discussions are also under way about the possibility of establishing an office to help process claims at 110 Williams Street in lower Manhattan once the area below 14th Street is reopened to the public.

Rose says the department still has many issues to sort out, including how insurers should handle claims when no body can be found, and whether publicly listing the names of deceased policyholders in the hope of locating beneficiaries would raise privacy issues.

In a separate but related matter, former Insurance Superintendent Neil Levin is reported to be among the missing in the trade center disaster. Levin left the New York department to accept a post as head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that owns the trade center complex.