Catastrophic wildfires in British Columbia have dominated the thoughts of Canadians in recent days. The country has been forced to watch wildfires rip through the western province, leading to mass evacuations and considerable damage, the extent of which is yet unknown.
Help has been on hand from the likes of government bodies, the Canadian Red Cross, the insurance industry – and of course the emergency services and countless unsung heroes. A catastrophe event requires an all-hands-on-deck approach and seamless collaboration between assisting bodies.
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Anthony Black, national catastrophe manager at RSA, told Insurance Business how the insurance industry should play its part:
How should brokers/insurance companies respond to a catastrophe event like this?
As an industry, we have been witnessing the increased frequency and severity of disasters such as the wildfires in Fort McMurray and BC. With each event, the industry’s response gets more and more robust. It’s essential that brokers and insurance companies have a flexible and scalable plan to address disasters, and collaborate and work with all levels of government and industry associations to ensure people are safe, and that their needs are met. Insurers and brokers continuously coordinate efforts to educate and inform the public on emergency preparedness, pre-planning and implementing preventative measures. Technology and lean processes are key to enhancing the delivery of service; making it readily accessible and convenient for the customer. And finally, insurers are building better products and coverages to address catastrophic events.
What steps should brokers take during the live situation, the immediate aftermath and longer term?
As the wildfires continue to spread in BC, brokers are reaching out to their customers, ensuring they are safe and confirming their customer’s immediate needs. It is essential that brokers have reviewed the policy with their customers to gain a clear understanding of the coverages available, prior to any event such as the BC wildfires. During these events, brokers, insurance carriers, vendors, industry advocates and associations come together and work alongside the provincial and local governments in a collaborative manner, to ensure customers are safe and their immediate needs are being met.
In the immediate aftermath, or when safe to do so, brokers and insurance carriers will begin the claims process to assess the damages and continue to address customers’ needs during the recovery period. Ensuring resources are allocated to be available via various media – phone, email, social media – will help maximize accessibility to customers in this crucial period following the incidence of a catastrophe.
In the longer-term, brokers should try to prepare their customers for a future wildfire, by following some of these tips:
What’s the best way to communicate with customers at a time of catastrophe / when people have been displaced?
- Re-assess customers’ policy with them to make sure they understand the insurance coverages available to them, to best fit their needs and lifestyle.
- Encourage customers to have a plan and practice the plan with family members several times a year (evacuation plan, agreed meeting spots, contact numbers). It is also important to impress the need of being prepared for the next event by having an emergency kit ready for any occasion.
- Educate on risk assessment – illustrating to customers how to best protect their homes by ensuring proper maintenance and landscaping practices and proper storage of potentially ignitable materials.
- Share preventive measures such as internal and external sprinkler systems, and FireSmart protocols which can prevent or diminish resulting damages .
The best way to communicate with customers at a time of catastrophe is proactively, consistently and transparently. We use all forms of communication, which is most convenient for the customer. Frequent touch points with our customers is key in keeping communications flowing and ensuring everyone is progressing in the same direction. At RSA, we always offer our customers counselling during these times when people are feeling vulnerable, emotional, and stressed. We are here to help.
How important is social media in an event like this?
Social media continues to play a major role in any catastrophe situation. It is a valuable tool for gathering and delivering information which helps customers, communities, responders, insurance professionals and officials to work collaboratively and remain safe.
RSA’s social channels are used to communicate with displaced residents who need assistance on evacuation information, how to access emergency funds and how to prepare for the return home, once deemed safe to do so by local authorities. The power of social media cannot not be underestimated. We’re now seeing residents who were affected by the Fort McMurray wildfires last year forming Facebook groups to help BC residents – they’re showing support and sharing helpful tips and advice.
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