Protecting Your Business from Wildfires

There are currently about 60 large wildfires burning in the United States, mostly in western states. But a combination of high temperatures and dry and windy conditions can make wildfires a threat almost anywhere. Adding to the situation is the fact that more and more businesses are expanding into the wildland-urban interface (WUI)—wildfire-prone areas where homes and businesses are located. This creates a growing wildfire risk to businesses, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IIBHS).

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America lists the most expensive U.S. wildfires to date, all in western states:

To protect buildings from wildfires, IIBHS recommends that businesses survey the materials and design features of their structures; as well as the types of plants used, their location and maintenance.

Organizations also should determine their fire hazard severity zone (FHSZ) by evaluating the landscape, fire history in the area and terrain features such as slope of the land. Organizations can request the FHSZ rating from local building or fire officials in their area.

IIBHS notes three sources of wildfire ignition:

  1. Burning embers, or firebrands, generated by a wildfire and made worse in windy conditions.
    • Embers can ignite in several ways: By igniting combustible construction materials directly when accumulating on or immediately adjacent to them. Combustible construction materials are those that ignite and burn such as wood, plastic, and wood-plastic products used in decking and siding. By igniting nearby plants and accumulated debris such as pine needles or other combustible materials such as a wood pile. By entering a building through openings, such as an open window or attic vent, and ignite combustible items inside the building.
  1. Direct flame contact from the wildfire
  2. Radiant heat emanating from the fire

It is critical to assess a building’s construction, including roofs, windows, vents and exterior walls, also important is the area surrounding a structure, including trees and plants, IIBHS said.

A defensible space zone around the building will reduce the risk of fire. This includes consideration of specific types of plants and how they are grouped and maintained.

Plant characteristics associated with higher combustibility include:

  • Narrow leaves or needles (often evergreen)
  • Volatile resins and oils, as indicated by leaves that have an aromatic odor when crushed
  • Accumulation of fine, twiggy, dry, or dead material on the plant or on the ground under the plant
  • Loose or papery bark that often falls off and accumulates on the ground (such as palms and eucalyptus).

Marsh Tracks Top Captive Trends

The number of captive insurers continues to increase globally, from 5,000 in 2006 to more than 7,000 in 2016. Once formed primarily by large companies, the captive market has opened up to mid-size and small businesses. The industry is also seeing a trend in companies forming more than one captive, using them for cyber, political risk and other exposures, according to a recent Marsh report, Captives at the Core: The Foundation of a Risk Financing Strategy.

Organizations are seeing disruptions in a number of areas and are relying more on their existing captives, Marsh said. Because of their flexibility, captives are also being used to respond to market cycles and organizational changes such as mergers and acquisitions.

While North America and Europe still dominate in numbers of captives, other regions have shown more interest in the past three years. In Latin America, captive formation increased 11% in 2016, the study found.

Within the United States, there is more competition among domiciles and some of the newer domiciles are experiencing growth. The top-growing U.S. domiciles in 2016 were Texas, Connecticut, Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee, and New York. Domiciles outside the U.S. seeing the most growth include Sweden, Guernsey, Singapore, Malta, and the Cayman Islands.
As organizations’ exposures increase in number, complexity and severity, shareholder funds generated by captives are becoming more important. According to Marsh:

For many clients, captives are at the core of their risk management strategy, going beyond the financing of traditional property/casualty risks.

Specifically, we are seeing an increase in parent companies using captive shareholder funds to underwrite an influx of new and non-traditional risks, including cyber, supply chain, employee benefits, and terrorism, as well as to develop analytics associated with these risks and fund other risk management initiatives.

Risk management projects funded by captive shareholder funds in 2016 included initiatives to determine capital efficiency and optimal risk retention levels in the form of risk-finance optimization; quantify cyber business-interruption exposures; accelerate the closure of legacy claims; and improve workforce and fleet safety/loss control policies.

For example, Marsh-managed captives used to address cyber liability increased by 19% from 2015 to 2016. Since 2012, in fact, cyber liability programs in captives have skyrocketed 210%.
“We expect to see a continued increase, driven in part by companies that are already strong captive users and by those that may have difficulty insuring their professional liability risks,” Marsh said.

Record Snowpack Brings Mixed Blessings to California

This year’s Sierra Nevada snowpack, one of the largest on record, has brought relief to California, which is still reeling from a five-year drought followed by record flooding. The snowpack is twice its average size, with some areas as deep as 80 feet, according to NASA. But with some rivers and dams still at higher than average levels, the fear is that warm temperatures or heavy rainfall will cause the snows to melt faster and bring more flooding.

Colorado and other mountain states, which also experienced heavy snowfall this winter are also concerned with runoff issues. Canada has faced severe runoff problems, after a heat wave earlier this spring resulted in major flooding in Quebec and British Columbia, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“The real wild card is if we get hit with a big rain event,” Frank Gehrke, chief snow surveyor for the California Department of Water Resources, told the Wall Street Journal as he monitored a rushing stream in late May. “That could throw the whole system into tilt.”

The Los Angeles Times reported last month that the rapid snowmelt has kept public agencies busy managing water levels across the state’s network of reservoirs. Water district managers must conduct daily conference calls to coordinate releases of water in order to monitor the amounts released into California’s rivers, creeks, bypasses and canals. This coordination is critical, as reservoir releases impact water levels downstream for days. Since one reservoir’s release may meet with another, managers must determine how much water the rivers and levees can support before overflowing.

A number of dams levees and weirs in the state are at least 60 years old, and in some areas more than 100 years old, according to a state Legislative Analyst’s Office report. It noted that flood-management responsibilities in California are spread across more than 1,300 agencies managing an infrastructure of more than 20,000 miles of levees and channels and more than 1,500 dams and reservoirs.

One reservoir in Los Angeles, the Silver Lake Reservoir, is benefiting from the snowpack and ample water supply. No longer used to store drinking water, the reservoir was drained in 2015. It sat empty and was seen as an eyesore, until recently when it was able to be refilled ahead of schedule.

According to the L.A. Times, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council expressed its pleasure that the reservoir was refilled. The council’s co-chair, Anne-Marie Johnson, a second-generation Silver Lake resident, said she is “more than excited” that the landmark will no longer be an eyesore. “I am grateful to Mother Nature for providing us an abundance of snow. I don’t take that for granted,” she said.

Large Venues Reviewing Security Measures

Venues that attract crowds, such as large sports events and concerts are reviewing their security measures, both inside and out, to prevent an attack such as the suicide bombing after an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, that killed at least 22 people.

Most venues have strict rules about bags, backpacks and coolers. Some check items thoroughly before allowing them inside an arena and others do not permit them at all. Venues also employ security detail to check those attending events as well as plainclothes detail to monitor the crowd. In the Unites States, the Department of Homeland Security warned that the U.S. public may experience increased security at public events.

Hong Kong’s AsiaWorld Expo, where Ariana Grande is scheduled to hold a concert in September, said it plans to improve security at all concerts and events. Besides baggage inspection, there will also be metal detectors and search dogs, it said in a statement.

According to the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong venue said it will begin using metal detectors to screen for potential threats, in addition to its usual backpack and baggage inspections. It also said it would consider using search dogs for any suspicious items or requiring visitors to wear security straps to track them while in the venue.

One mega event, the annual Indianapolis 500 over Memorial Day weekend, took to heart the task of keeping attendees safe. Adding to security planning measures for more than 300,000 attendees was the safety of Vice President Mike Pence, who was expected to attend—and arrived on Sunday morning.

Indy 500 crowd, May 26, 2017. Photo by Dana Garrett

Reuters reported that the Indy 500 has a Homeland Security SEAR 2 (Special Event Assessment Rating) designation, which means federal assets can be brought in to enhance security efforts during the event.

The Indy 500 is regarded as the world’s largest single day sporting event. Only venues on par with the Super Bowl and the Democratic and Republican conventions are given higher security ratings. Local, state and federal agencies contributed to security efforts at the Indy 500, including sniffer dogs, license plate recognition equipment and multiple security checkpoints to enforce restrictions.

There are those who believe, however, that even with enhanced measures, terrorist acts cannot be completely anticipated or stopped.

“Whatever is done—and in this case it’s British intelligence which is considered among the best in the world—it won’t prevent such incidents happening,” Jean-Charles Brisard, president of the Centre for the Analysis of Terrorism told Reuters. “You can bring back the perimeter, add security gates and as many controls as you want, but that will not change the fact that a determined individual will carry out his act if he is not caught before.”