Wildfire Warning as Businesses Feel the Heat

Fears that the COVID pandemic and the economic impact it has caused will impact the preparations for the annual US wildfire season and prompted a new warning to house and business owners to be prepared.

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.

It comes as Allianz issued a new report “Future Fires: Weathering the Fire Storm” against the backdrop of 2019 being yet another catastrophic year for commerce with 46,786 wildfires burning more than 4.6 million acres, leading to the evacuation of over 200,000 people.

Last year saw sustained blackouts, and the declaration of a state of emergency. This year is shaping up to be yet another difficult year with wildfires already blazing across drought-ridden Western states coupled with the risk of coronavirus, which has already reduced the number of overall firefighters available in California and is likely to remain well into the fall.

“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.”

While several factors can be attributed to the increasing proliferation of wildfires each year, humans (accidentally or purposefully), equipment failure (power lines), weather volatility and extreme conditions, including high temperatures, low humidity, strong winds and high fuel loads (vegetation and structures),  improved risk mitigation techniques can help reduce the frequency and severity of wildfires and their subsequent effect on businesses, large and small.

According to Allianz and the Triple-I, there are a range of steps 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 non-combustible materials for building signage, avoiding wood, plastic, and vinyl
  4. Select exterior wall cladding made of non-combustible siding materials such as concrete and brick
  5. Select dual-paned windows with tempered glass, kept closed when wildfire threatens
  6. Use non-combustible 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

“Despite the prevalence of wildfires and the prolonged duration of wildfire season, “Future Fires” highlights how a number of innovative technologies are stepping up to meet the challenge,” said the insurer. “One application of fire protection that is currently in use is an environmentally safe biodegradable fire-fighting foam used for pre-treatment 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.”

One Silicon Valley artificial intelligence company has developed a system that analyses 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.

“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.”

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