One thing that’s starting to be clear about Sandy is that the storm hit coastal areas between Cape May, N.J. and Bayonne, N.J., particularly hard.

Another thing that seems to be emerging from the fog of cell phone silence caused by the effects of widespread power outages on cell phone towers is that Sandy probably caused especially severe problems for the kinds of high-income, high-asset elderly and near elderly consumers who are in the prime target market for private long-term care insurance (LTCI).

Hoboken, N.J. — the city where one of LifeHealthPro.com’s main offices is located — has been flooded, and the 4-feet-high waters around many lovely condos and townhouses has stranded hundreds, perhaps thousands, of LTCI policyholders and obvious LTCI prospects.

The situation seems to be much, much worse in seaside towns like Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., and Brielle, N.J., where near retirees might like to buy beachside vacation homes. Those are kinds of places where affluent professionals and business owners go to retire early.

The most ghastly U.S. Sandy images I’ve seen so far are shots of the ashes of wealthy, once-gorgeous communities that were incinerated when Sandy mangled natural gas systems.

An area north of Seaside, N.J.

When insurance companies run TV ads featuring videos of what a perfect retirement should be like, they often use photos of homes that look like the homes on the Jersey shore.

LTCI carriers and LTCI producers clearly have their own problems right now, but it seems to me, now that I’ve had a small taste of the problems that a natural disaster can cause, that carriers and producers can be part of the effort to reduce the pain that might be caused by future disasters.

Ideas, for some wonderful time when members of the LTCI community have the luxury to think about something other than self-preservation:

  • LTCI carriers should consider emulating medical insurers and offering telephone- and Web-based disaster counseling and assistance services, either as a built-in benefit or an optional extra. The package might offer emotional counseling and advice about elder support services in good times and help with getting a flooded basement pumped out in bad times. My guess is that some LTCI carriers already offer these benefits. If so: Promote them more. Send me press releases about them.
  • LTCI carriers and producers could work with others in the business community, such as package delivery and newspaper delivery services, to offer elder disaster contact services, either for a fee or as a public service. One huge problem in a disaster is that telephones may no longer work. If LTCI carriers could get the names of their clients to organizations that could send live human beings to knock on the doors of the clients who can’t be reached by phone or Internet, then simply notifying loved ones whether those older people are fine or tell the authorities that those people need help, that could make a huge difference.
  • LTCI carriers and producers also could add the equipment to offer wind-powered or solar-powered cell phone and battery charging stations to their special event marketing budgets. When the power goes out for an extended period and a business can help consumers charge their phones, that business has won many lifelong friends. And, if people with cell phones and at least some cell-based Internet access get use of their phones back, they will have a much easier time getting help from friends and relatives, rather than having to rely on charities or government agencies. 
  • LTCI producers who are picking novelties to help keep themselves in consumers’ minds could try to at least occasionally use items that would be helpful in an emergency. Calendars are fun and pencils are useful, but a small flashlight could save a prospect’s life in a crisis, and a small, cheap radio could mean the difference between a prospect being disabled by panic and the prospect knowing what to do to make a bad situation better.
The photo above shows homes destroyed by Sandy smoldering in an area north of Seaside, N.J. (Photo courtesy of the New Jersey governor’s office/Tim Larsen)

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