With wildfire season well and truly underway, businesses and homeowners in large parts of western US and Canada are bracing for another above-average season. The destruction of 2017 is fresh in everyone’s minds. Last year, nearly 10 million acres burned in California alone, and more than three million acres burned in areas of British Columbia in Canada.
There can be no rest when it comes to preparing, mitigating and recovering from wildfire. Businesses and homeowners can adopt traditional safety practices as well as new technologies and communication tools to protect themselves and reduce risk.
“The lessons learned from the 2017 fires are nothing new. It’s about providing awareness to business owners and homeowners about the importance of maintaining defensible space around a property, evacuation plans, business continuity plans, and other traditional safety measures like hardening structures and installing fire resistant materials,” said Mark McCormick, QBE North America’s vice president in Global Risk Solutions.
“One thing people can do is start paying more attention to red flag warnings from the US National Weather Service [and comparable Canadian service] about the potential of wildfire. If a red flag warning is issued, that means all the conditions are right for a wildfire, and so business owners and homeowners need to pay attention to those warnings and act accordingly.”
For business owners, communication, evacuation and business contingency plans are paramount when it comes to wildfire risk mitigation and response. If a business is interrupted, it needs to have a way to communicate with vendors or suppliers to let them know the status of the business. Furthermore, if a business structure is threatened and staff have to be evacuated, all employees should have a wildfire emergency kit and instructions about what to do and where to go. All of this should be practiced in ‘less-risky’ times of year, according to McCormick.
“Businesses also need to think about document storage,” McCormick added. “It was really sad visiting areas of California and witnessing the complete and utter devastation caused by the wildfires. Many structures were burned right down to the ground. It’s essential for businesses to have some sort of fire-proof vault or safe, or to have an off-site back-up IT system to store important files. They can also take pictures of buildings and assets and keep up-to-date inventory in order to make the recovery process go much smoother.”
QBE North America is also encouraging business and homeowners to think about deploying new technologies to reduce wildfire risk, such as specialized vents that can prevent windborne embers from entering a property, or mounted foam sprayers that can sense wildfire approaching and will then blanket a structure in fire-resistant foam. High-tech cameras are also helping with early notification of wildfires, as well as fast-emerging drone technology.
“The biggest weapon for fighting a wildfire is early notification,” said McCormick. “If we can use new technologies to assess risk earlier, then fire services’ response is going to become better and better.”