Prepare for Disaster: Wildfires
By Scott Rhymes | Published June 23, 2022
The summer now brings a new season of potential wildfires that can disrupt our lives and businesses. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more than 10,000 homes and 20,000 other structures and facilities are lost due to wildfire and U.S. Fire departments respond to an average of 356,000 wildfires annually. By preparing for potential wildfire business interruptions, companies can reduce exposure, mitigate losses and recover quicker. A comprehensive approach to reducing exposure and loss includes awareness of the hazards and pre-planning. Please review our advice below:
Develop a wildland fire emergency response plan
Your plan should include multiple methods for monitoring local weather, fire conditions, and red flag warnings. You should also stay connected to your local EMS. Several resources include:
Create a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP). A formal EAP is a key document to guide your organization through planning for a successful evacuation. OSHA has a simple to use E-tool that can help get you started.
Establish criteria for when you will require the evacuation of your facility. It is recommended that you have drills before fire season begins. Pre-planned routes and rally points should be documented, and employees should participate in live exercises yearly, so everyone knows how to evacuate and where to meet. Make sure to include plans for evacuating people with disabilities and special needs. During an event, ensure coordination with your local Emergency Management System for evacuation orders and routes.
Make a plan for transporting injured employees and guests to local hospitals.
Maintain a primary and secondary communication system and an employee phone tree system. These secondary communication systems should be exercised annually.
Develop and implement an off-site phone answer service or 3rd party employee notification system.
Stock emergency kits, including food, water, and other emergency supplies. These emergency kits should be inspected yearly.
Develop a list of critical third-party resources and emergency vendors for essential operations and clean up.
Develop a pre-season property wildfire plan
Develop and implement a hot work program requiring seasonal restrictions or additional permitting. Postpone any non-essential hot work activities
Consider working with fire management consultants, contractors, and insurance carrier engineering staff to assist in auditing your properties and developing mitigation plans
Research ways to improve your properties fire resilience. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has numerous resources and white papers on topics such as exterior sprinkler design to roofing materials and attic vents.
Develop a facility, roof, and gutter inspection and maintenance plan
Check accessibility of your site by emergency services. For remote locations, consider inviting your local emergency service teams to the site for accessibility inspections and advice.
Conduct regular removal inspections of your facility for combustibles. Make sure to remove all combustibles within 20 feet of any buildings
Clearly mark all facility entrances with the name of the company and your address
Inspect all buildings for openings, including HVAC systems, and cover with 2mm mesh to prevent embers from entering the building.
Develop or evaluate equipment shutdown procedures and train staff on proper shutdown.
Consider installation of interior and exterior sprinkler systems if warranted.
Develop a pre-evacuation building preparation plan.
If you are going to evacuate, a plan should be in place to prepare your facility as much as possible and is safe before leaving. Key actions include:
Removing any remaining combustible materials from around buildings.
Shut down HVAC systems.
Conduct any equipment shutdown procedures.
Close all doors and windows to buildings.
Apply covers to all air intakes on buildings.
Check that all automatic fire systems are in service and fuel tanks are full.
Shut off all utilities not needed, including gas and propane tanks.
Turn on all exterior lighting.
Disconnect all automatic door openers.
If possible, leave information at your facility entrance for local and non-local emergency services on facility access and the facility's status.
Create between any facility vehicles to lower the chance of fire spread between your fleet.
Develop a defensible space brush and tree management plan
Create natural or planned fire breaks at least 200 feet from your buildings.
Remove all trees within 30 feet of buildings and, at a minimum, remove all branches that overhang buildings' roofs.
Remove fuel build up for surrounding tree and brush areas.
Develop a tree and brush maintenance schedule with an arborist.
Keep trees limbed up to 15 feet from the ground.
Work with your community to develop a community response plan
Work with neighboring property owners to coordinate fire response and brush and tree maintenance programs.
Work with local emergency services to evaluate your location and provide recommendations.
Work with the local power company to clear branches from power lines.
Coordinate with local and regional non-profit fire resources such as NFPA's Firewise program.
Provide training for your employees on emergency preparedness and evacuation safety.
Evaluate your insurance program and coordinate with your carrier risk control engineering staff
Request on-site risk control engineering site visits to evaluate fire risk and develop recommendations.
Maintain inventory of all equipment and comprehensive details of physical assets.
Review replacement cost values for property and assess possible financial needs for business continuity and recovery.
Work with your insurance broker to check your insurance coverages.
Recovery and long-term considerations
Develop a business continuity and resumption plan.
Consider the possibility of access restrictions for days to weeks and develop contingency plans for prolonged site isolation and utility interruption.
Develop and maintain relationships with vital subcontractors and vendors for site clean-up and restoration.
Upon re-entry, inspect buildings and property for hazards and secure areas to control access.
Check on all fire protection systems.
There are several tools on the internet available that can allow homeowners to check their vulnerability to wildfire. Riskfactor.com is one such tool based on research completed by First Street Foundation, which generated a wildfire model assessing the risks of wildfire today and 30 years in the future based on climate change. The Riskfactor.com site provides a risk factor score for flooding and wildfire along with maps, historical fires in the area, community risk, and steps a homeowner can take. Similar tools exist for commercial locations but are behind paywalls. If you want to know your risk score and ways to prepare for wildfire, please contact a Newfront insurance advisor.
Director of Risk Control Services, Newfront (Moderator)
As Newfront's Senior Risk Control Consultant, Scott provides risk control and safety consulting services, crafting and designing programs to lower the total cost of risk for Newfront's clients. Focusing on the overall safety systems and culture, Scott partners with clients to increase safety awareness and reduce occupational exposures. Scott is a regular guest speaker at local industry group meetings and university certificate programs.Connect with Scott on LinkedIn