By: Scott Steinmetz, Global Head of MidCorp – Allianz Risk Consulting
As with any extreme weather event, wildfires have the potential to devastate businesses caught in the turmoil. But, like any other event, proper planning can mean the difference between business-as-usual and bust.
The 2017 California wildfire season was the costliest on record, with over $16 billion in damages, over 260,000 acres of land burned and more than 5,400 structures destroyed. As business owners begin to recover from a tumultuous 2017 season, forecasts suggest they might not get a break in 2018, either; The National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Outlook for 2018 is forecast to be above-average, as well.
Due to a variety of factors including the changing climate, wildfire season has grown from just four to five months to over seven in the last 30 years. In a world where volatility is the new norm, many business owners are left asking, what can I do?
Here are five tips businesses can implement to limit the damage to their property in advance of a wildfire…
1. Prepare a Written Wildfire Response Plan
Educate your employees. Don’t let the first wildfire of the season be the first time employees are seeing and experiencing the plan. Hold preparedness discussions to ensure everyone knows the important steps to take to prepare for wildfire conditions and to become acquainted with the organization’s communication plan in the event of a wildfire. Take the time to hold exercises in order to practice the plan. It may be cliché, but practice makes perfect. It goes without saying that there should be multiple copies of the Response Plan available for employees, in the event that it becomes necessary to implement.
2. Maintain Your Property
Be cognizant of debris and other materials around your property to ensure nothing will exacerbate the potential of a fire breaking out, or impeding it at your property line. Ensure you keep debris and other combustible materials from accumulating on roofs, in gutters and around the structure.
3. Enclose the Bottom of Elevated Decks
Do not store combustible materials below the deck or under low roof/eave structures. By enclosing the bottom of elevated decks it reduces the risk of damage from the fire – especially if you store materials that may aid a fire breaking out under the structure.
4. Cover Attic and Crawl Space Vents
Protecting your property and structure from physical fire can be daunting, but an overlooked but as important an aspect is ensuring nothing else catches fire. Blocking these vents with metal mesh screens reduces the amount of entry points for wind-driven embers which often have a major impact on spreading fires. As per the California Building Code (Chapter 7A), you should use a minimum of 1/16” mesh for these coverings.
5. Create Defensible Space
Make a defensible space of up to 100 feet from the structure, in order to serve as protection between the structure and the wildfire. Defensible space allows for business owners to take extra steps/time to ensure their structure and property are fully prepared to withstand a fire. In a dire situation, the space can help to provide valuable time to use defense measures such as foam on the physical structure, as well.
In 2017, alone, the US experienced 16 separate billion-dollar disasters, including wildfire. Extreme weather is something – though unfortunate – that business owners have to deal with, and the only way is to prepare, prepare, prepare – and to do it now.