The Fort McMurray wildfire devastated the entire city and for many, life will never be the same again. Homes were destroyed, businesses decimated and communities separated. It was the largest wildfire evacuation in Albertan history and will live long in the memory of all Canadians. The country’s insurance companies had a huge role to play in helping the city begin the first phase of its recovery, but how should we assess the industry’s performance in the aftermath of one of Canada’s most devastating natural disasters?
“I would say the insurance industry has done a very good job of responding to the events,” explains Paul MacDonald, SVP & Chief Claims Officer at RSA Canada. “The insurance industry has worked hard collectively to address the needs of the locally impacted individuals and the community.”
In order to figure out how to most effectively respond on the ground, insurance companies operating in the region have worked closely with the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the local municipality. “Given the magnitude of the event, it is good to be in a position to say the insurance industry is doing a good job,” MacDonald says. “Notwithstanding, there will always be some clients who are concerned, but given how many people are impacted the overall response has been positive.”
MacDonald sees two key areas from which the insurance industry can learn for future catastrophes. The first is the criticality of understanding the community in which the event is occurring. “Geographically, Fort McMurray is quite remote but in terms of community it is very strong and proud of its local capabilities,” MacDonald says. “That knowledge has played significantly into selecting vendors to help clean up debris and rebuild the community. We’ve had to respond to the strong local feeling and pride.”
The second key finding is the importance of forming close ties with local government after such events. “These events are unique and governments don’t have a great deal of experience in dealing with the insurance aspect,” MacDonald says. “The faster the insurance industry can liaise with local government and provide assistance and education, the better the outcomes overall.”
MacDonald believes that the events in Fort McMurray, and the lessons learned, will lead to changes in the industry. “Every single catastrophe provides the industry with an opportunity to learn and refine its responses,” he says. “In this particular case, it teaches us how to effectively liaise with local municipalities and industry associations.”
MacDonald is incredibly proud of how the RSA team responded to the wildfire. Although the company has an office Edmonton, which is a long drive from Fort McMurray, RSA would never have been able to support impacted clients through that office alone. “What allowed us to respond as we did was our ability as a Canada-wide enterprise to spread the calls and volumes amongst all of our offices,” he says. “It was an incredible response at a time when we were most needed. This was the moment of truth – the point at which we had to be there to help customers and brokers in their time of need.”