Wildfires: Preparation, Response, and Recovery
Wildfires can threaten lives and property, be difficult to control, and leave destruction in their wake. Given the right conditions, they can be relatively easy to start and spread; all that is required is an extended period of hot and dry weather that dries up trees, brush, and grass, making them more prone to catching fire from either natural or man-made causes.
Wildfires can even create weather conditions of their own; hot flames and gases can rise rapidly from a wildfire, displacing relatively cooler surrounding air. This can lead to surface wind patterns blowing at hurricane-force speeds.
As you start assessing the potential or actual effect of wildfires on your business and establishing or implementing a preparation and recovery plan, you should focus on the following while keeping in mind how COVID-19 might affect your response efforts.
Protecting Your Employees
Due to COVID-19, it’s important to consider your business properties and the properties of those employees working from home in your response and recovery plans. If your or your employees’ properties are in the potential path of a wildfire and evacuation orders are in place, make sure you have plans to account for all employees as soon as possible. Encourage all employees to monitor local news media and government alerts and provide them with methods for reporting their status until the crisis passes. You should also provide employees with useful information outlining possible safety measures they can take near the workplace and/or at home, including exercising caution around trees, utility poles, and other objects that may become unstable. Ensure your employees are fully aware of remote working policies and time-off provisions, in addition to return-to-work timetables. You should also reiterate COVID-19 safety and social distancing protocols as employees may need to evacuate to shelters or receive help from first responders, caregivers, or volunteers.
Even if your properties are not directly impacted, your employees’ homes or families may be. Consider providing affected employees with time off to tend to their families and protect their personal property and assets. If employees are evacuated from their homes and/or suffer losses, make they are provided with additional time off and support to take care of their families and themselves.
Finally, be ready to provide humanitarian assistance and claims guidance to any affected employees. Consider setting up a dedicated employee claims assistance process to complement your existing aid programs. Wildfire assistance could include providing guidance on homeowners, renters, and personal auto insurance policies and claims; helping employees manage insurance and FEMA claims; and providing financial and emotional support as needed.
Preparing and Protecting Your Physical Assets
There are steps you can take to reduce the potential for wildfires to start or spread. Pre-event mitigation measures should include preventing dry brush and fuels from getting too close to structures in wildfire-prone areas and alerting employees to exercise caution when using lighters and other flame-producing devices and equipment. Consider creating a “defensible space” — an area around your property that is clear of any combustible objects, including dry brush, grass, and fuels — especially when there is imminent danger.
Keep in mind, however, that even the most careful plans might not be enough to eliminate your wildfire risk. Businesses in known wildfire-prone areas should be prepared to take quick and careful action to safeguard their properties through robust emergency response, evacuation, and business continuity plans and strategies.
In the event of a wildfire, your emergency response and business continuity plan should be immediately activated. Monitor news media and government alerts closely, share them with employees, and adjust your response strategies across the organization until local authorities say it is safe to return.
Once your properties are considered safe and accessible, shift your focus to continuing or restarting business operations. As you do this, keep in mind that depending on how destructive the wildfire is, rebuilding and resuming operations in damaged areas may take some time, and essential services may be in high demand, especially given COVID-19 pressures and cautions.
In order to improve your business’s resilience and ability to recover from the effects of a wildfire, make sure to establish any management and logistical processes required to continue or resume operations, including restoring critical business functions, identifying back up personnel, and replacing employees’ remote working equipment and services if damaged or destroyed by fire. Keep open lines of communication between your corporate headquarters, other affected business locations, and employees working from home. Your business continuity plan should also include recovery strategies in the event of interruptions to networks, applications, and data.
Even if your properties are safe, your business could still be disrupted if suppliers are affected or access to your properties is impeded. Check with suppliers to determine the extent of interruption to their operations, establish how this could disrupt your own, and find alternate solutions as needed.
Prepare and Manage Your Wildfire Claims
As you begin the recovery process, it’s vital to start gathering information about any physical damage or business interruption that your organization has suffered. Early reporting is crucial and can help establish the potential for advance payments, which can be used to cover operational costs, payroll, and rebuilding expenses.
Keep in mind that some policies require specific documentation of loss. Safety, especially during the pandemic, should always remain your priority. While properties are inaccessible, consider using visual intelligence sources like drones, aerial vehicles, and satellites, to capture and record losses and expedite claims.
Because your business could be affected even if your properties do not sustain any physical damage, it’s important to track all revenue losses and extra expenses associated with wildfires. For contingent time element claims, you should immediately gather documentation of any supplier or customer contingent issues, including any supply chain impacts.
If you are filing a business interruption claim, provide your insurer with specific information regarding:
- Civil authority orders mandating evacuation of your premises.
- Road closures preventing or prohibiting access to your premises.
- Service interruptions, including specific reasons for loss of service.
Support your claim with media reports, copies of relevant records, maps, and photos and video captured by drone or satellite given access and safety issues.
For more information or help with a wildfire claim, contact your Marsh representative.