USAA’s Digital MilEx: Hurricane Readiness and Augmented Reality Vehicle Shopping

[We’re trying something new with this post. Please scroll down to the bottom for my short podcast interview with two USAA managers about these topics!]


Image of a USAA Digital MilEx box for conference attendees with emergency gear for disaster readiness |

The theme was: “Are You Ready?”

Oooh, I almost forgot my traditional FTC disclosure:
The Federal Trade Commission fears that I’ve lost my objectivity and become a USAA fanboi.
My family and I have been USAA customers for decades. We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on their products.
I joined 30 other digital influencers in a resort conference room with free food, extra bandwidth, and unlimited coffee.
This website earns income from USAA advertising, and I donate all of my writing revenue to military-friendly charities.


Slow travel…

We just returned to Oahu after 60 days on the Mainland. (My spouse and I enjoy the slow-travel lifestyle.) We started with my 40th high-school reunion, which was a very interesting time-warp memory-lane experience. (Seriously, my high-school French teacher looks exactly the same today.)  I was initially reluctant to go, but I had a lot of fun and I’m glad I made the effort to spend time with old friends (and new ones). If you’re coming up on a milestone reunion, I’d recommend pushing past your comfort zone to attend it.

After the reunion we spent a few weeks in Norfolk with our daughter and son-in-law, including a combined local ChooseFI and Mustachian meetup. The following month we went to CampFI South. This was my fifth camp meetup, and every one of them has changed people’s lives. We still learned a few new tips too, and we even picked up our next book idea. I’ll have more to say about that as we work on it.


… and financial conferences…

Image of Doug Nordman and other bloggers sitting in a pink flamingo pool floatie at FinCon18 in Orlando, Florida. |

“Real bloggers are confident in pink floaties.”

We spent another family week in Norfolk, and the Dam Neck surf was very good. Hey, we all surfed together on the weekends and an occasional weekday afternoon– but while they’re at work we earn our guest privileges by cleaning, running errands, and doing home-improvement projects.

Then we visited Orlando (land of the pink flamingos) for a week of financial conferences. I’ve already written about FinCon and the Military Influencer Conference, and they were even better than I expected. I’ll be back for 2019 in Washington DC.  Tickets go on sale in January, and the hotel gave up a very good offer. This is the lowest FinCon pricing you’re likely to see for years, and it’s right after Labor Day.


… and hurricanes.

One day of that conference week was set aside for USAA’s Digital MilEx. The theme was disaster prep: “Are You Ready?”

My spouse and I are pretty good at our Hawaii catastrophe-preparation checklists. (She used to have a Reserve billet as a Navy Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer.) We’ve lived in a hurricane zone for nearly 30 years, most notably with Hurricane Iniki in 1992. (Back then I was on shore duty, and I helped sortie the Pearl Harbor submarine fleet.) Ironically, 26 years later we traveled 5000 miles to visit Norfolk family– and we got more hurricane experience than we expected.

While we were with our daughter and son-in-law in Norfolk in August, we watched Hawaii’s Hurricane Lane dump over 50 inches of rain on the Big Island and cause yet another flood on Kauai. Our home was fine, thanks to a little lanai-clearing help from our neighbors.

Less than a month later the four of us evacuated Norfolk’s riverside area for Hurricane Florence. (There was both a governor’s mandatory evacuation order and a military evacuation order.) Their apartment is on an upper floor (safe from flooding) but we still secured the place for high winds and then took photos & videos for the personal-property insurance. My spouse and I packed our travel bags as though we weren’t coming back. Our evacuation went well but the damage to the south of Norfolk was far worse than many homeowners expected.

Our experience framed the setting of our USAA conference.


Digital MilEx

I’ve attended USAA’s annual Digital MilEx since 2016. It’s logged over a thousand mentions in the press and more than five million impressions on social media. (I’ve helped with a little of that.) When I showed up this year I was already proficient at disaster prep, yet their latest programs and services taught me a few things.

The morning began with the three-minute drill. During the 2018 wildfire season, too many USAA customers were awakened in the middle of the night by emergency evacuations and only had a few minutes to leave.

Image of USAA Digital MilEx gear box with solar battery charger, first-aid kit, emergency light and radio, and backpack. |

“We’re ready now!”

What would you grab if you had three minutes to leave your house, perhaps before it was destroyed by fire?

The answers were great: “Clothing and a first aid kit.” “My birth certificate.” “Our passports.” At Hale Nords on Oahu, our three-minute drill is already organized by storage locations: “Our backpacks, our desktop PC case, our tablets, our smartphone, and our file drawer.”

But what if new technology gave you several days of warning instead of several minutes?

USAA is an industry leader at processing claims and handling member premiums so now they’re working on the root causes: avoiding the danger and damage in the first place.

In the quarter-century since we went through Iniki, hurricane forecasting has tremendously evolved. Tracks are predicted for days instead of hours, and intensity is determined much more accurately. Local governments understand storm surges and flooding, and evacuations are handled far better. Insurance companies are also improving their education and advice, even with free home inspection programs for fire and hurricane safety.

The next step in leveraging the tech is spreading the warning even earlier. USAA is trying to give families more time to protect themselves (and their property) and to avoid the dangers. (That’s not only better for us members, but it’s a lot cheaper than processing a claim.) Once a tornado or a hailstorm is detected, severe weather alerts can go out over smartphone texts and apps.

Along with earlier detection and warning, members need to know what’s happening after the incident. USAA now routinely provides satellite and aircraft imagery before and after a catastrophe. Families can use the website to check their residence address afterward, even before they can return home from the evacuation. Moving the website’s slider back & forth across the image lets them see what’s different. We used it to check our daughter’s Norfolk apartment after evacuating for Hurricane Florence, and the most recent example of this is USAA’s imagery from Hurricane Michael.

[For more details on USAA’s catastrophe-prep programs and services, please scroll down to the bottom of this post to play the short podcast that I recorded with USAA’s Mike Kyne after Digital MilEx.]


USAA’s Augmented Reality car-buying app

Image of USAA augmented reality app for vehicle pricing, maintenance estimates, gas expenses, and insurance quotes. |

Click here to get this app at USAA Labs.

After covering disasters and catastrophes, USAA took us out to the parking lot for a test drive of their augmented reality car-pricing app.
Augmented reality apps have been around for a few years, although perhaps the most notorious one is Pokémon Go. As more people use AR for gaming, USAA is developing the tech for saving money.

It’s as easy as walking around a parking lot with your smartphone or tablet. Use the app to image a vehicle (21st century only!) and you’ll see more info pop up on the screen. In addition to its value and its sales price you’ll be able to estimate its fuel cost, its maintenance expenses, and its insurance quote. Instead of contacting a handful of dealers or having 30 tabs open on your browser, you’ll figure out the total cost of ownership of your favorites in just a few minutes.

I’m comparing our Priuses (vintage ‘05 and ‘06) to a Nissan Leaf and… a Tesla Model 3. Not a new one (of course not!), but when I find a good used EV then I’ll recharge its battery from our house’s photovoltaic array and never pay for gasoline again. The EV just has to store a longboard inside or on a roof rack.

The AR pilot is running at USAA Labs through mid-November, so register quickly if you want to test it in your neighborhood. USAA wants your feedback on the app’s usability and accuracy! While you’re pricing vehicles, USAA’s Innovation Labs servers will learn how you use the app and how to make it more intuitive.

[For more details on USAA’s augmented reality car-buying services, please scroll down to the bottom of this post to play the short podcast that I recorded with USAA’s Claudia Luna after Digital MilEx.]

While you’re on USAA Labs, browse around to their other projects & pilots. Some of them are only available in limited areas but you’ll get an idea of new products & services to help you keep your family safe and to alert you to impending damage. You can make your home smarter and have it work with you.


There’s no place like home.

Image of the ocean surf at dawn at White Plains Beach, Kalaeloa, Oahu, Hawaii with Doug Nordman's nine-foot longboard |

Dawn patrol was 4-7 feet– and smooth!

We had a great time during our 60 days on the Mainland, but there’s nothing quite like surfing with the sunrise at my home break.  We’ll be on Oahu for a while, and our next Mainland travel plans will be scheduled around CampFI Mid-Atlantic over Memorial Day. (If that link has already sold out then contact CampFI to add your name to the wait list, or check their other dates & locations.) We’ll be there for the whole weekend to share tips & tricks on financial independence, and especially to help with military questions.  If you’re there then you’ll have plenty of one-on-one time to ask me anything.

I’d also like to send a mahalo nui loa to the Sunseekers of VR-58 for a smooth C-40 Space A ride. They hauled a dozen of us military retirees (and 40+ active-duty Marines) all the way from NAS Oceana (Virginia Beach) through NAS North Island (San Diego) to Joint Base Hickam Pearl Harbor. 5000 miles in less than 13 hours, and those seats are a lot more comfortable than commercial airlines! The price was right, too.

If you’d like to learn more about military Space A flights then I highly recommend reading the PoppinSmoke quickstart guide. It’s an essential asset of the military retiree slow-travel lifestyle.


USAA podcast

Here’s the podcast link about USAA’s disaster planning initiatives and their new augmented reality car-buying app:

Podcast interview with USAA’s Claudia Luna (AR vehicle pricing) and Mike Kyne (disaster readiness)




The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement Price: By Doug Nordman: This book provides servicemembers, veterans, and their families with a critical roadmap for becoming financially independent. The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement All Author royalties donated to military charities. Last Updated: 10/10/2018



Related articles:
CampFI And Camp Mustache Are Worth Your Time (And Money)
USAA Answers Your Insurance And Financial Questions



WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

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