With business owners facing the ‘new normal’ of a seven-month wildfire season, compounded by rising temperatures, public safety power shutoffs, COVID-19 and civil unrest – wildfire preparation will be more critical than ever this year.
As outlined in a new Allianz report “Future Fires: Weathering the Fire Storm”, 2019 was a catastrophic year with 46,786 wildfires burning more than 4.6 million acres, leading to the evacuation of over 200,000 people, sustained blackouts, and the declaration of a state of emergency in California. And this year wildfires are already blazing across drought-ridden Western states while the risk of coronavirus has reduced the number of firefighters available in California and is likely to remain well into the fall.
To meet the myriad of challenges, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) has teamed up with the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) to provide businesses with some of the most stringent risk mitigation practices for safeguarding their establishments.
According to Allianz and the Triple-I, business owners should take the following steps to safeguard employees and property from wildfire:
1. Create defensible space around your building or structures
2. Create a Vegetation Maintenance Plan (VMP) to reduce sources of ignition
3. Use noncombustible materials for building signage, avoiding wood, plastic, and vinyl
4. Select exterior wall cladding made of noncombustible siding materials such as concrete and brick
5. Select dual-paned windows with tempered glass, kept closed when wildfire threatens
6. Use noncombustible material when replacing roofs. Homes with wood or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed during a wildfire
7. Inspect vents and clear debris from roofs. Roofs and gutters are particularly vulnerable surfaces, as embers can lodge here and start a fire. Regularly clearing your roof and gutters of debris, installing gutter guards or screens, and blocking off any points of entry on your roof will all help safeguard your home
Finally, don’t forget to update your inventory, business continuity, evacuation, and safety plans.
Business owners should further discuss with their insurance professionals the risks their business’s face as it pertains to wildfire and the need for:
- Property Insurance (including the differences between replacement vs. cash value)
- Business Interruption (also known as business income) and extra expense insurance
- Mitigation solutions and fire protection services available
- Precautionary measures that can be taken today to prevent loss tomorrow
“Preparedness is as vital to an organization as business resilience planning,” said Janet Ruiz, Director of Strategic Communications for the Insurance Information Institute. “We recommend business owners review their insurance coverage to ensure they can adequately rebuild their properties as well as protect their business against major disruptions such as wildfire.”
“Future Fires” highlights how a number of innovative technologies are stepping up to meet the challenge of the prevalence of wildfires and the prolonged duration of the wildfire season. One application of fire protection that is currently in use is an environmentally safe biodegradable fire-fighting foam used for pretreatment and suppression around property and building perimeters. When fire is imminent, foam is applied from private fire trucks appointed with state-of-the-art equipment.
The report also cites a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence company that has developed a system that analyzes satellite images every 10 minutes to identify where new wildfires may have broken out. This technology is trained to spot the likely signs of wildfires, and then alert firefighting agencies, who can verify if indeed a fire has broken out. The company hopes to have the system in place by next year’s wildfire season.
“Allianz is committed to helping businesses mitigate extreme catastrophes like wildfires with the most advanced techniques and solutions available,” says Scott H. Steinmetz, P.E., Regional Head of MidCorp at Allianz Risk Consulting. “The 2020 fire season presents unique challenges and complexities that will inherently put our skills to their utmost test. I feel confident, however, that businesses can greatly minimize their losses with advance planning and close communication with their insurance carrier before, and in the unfortunate event that it occurs, during and after a wildfire.”