Casualties Mount as Calif. Fire Continues to Burn

The massive Thomas Fire in Ventura County has claimed another victim. CalFire Engineer Cory Iverson was killed while battling the blaze, which has so far burned 252,500 acres and destroyed about 1,000 homes and businesses, according to the federal InciWeb fire information website. One other death connected to the fire was a woman killed in a car crash while evacuating.

Iverson had been with the agency since 2009 and was assigned to the Thomas Fire as part of a fire-engine strike team from CalFire’s San Diego unit.

“I know I speak for us all in saying our hearts go out to our CalFire colleagues during this difficult time. This is a tragic reminder of the dangerous work that our firefighters do every day,” Teresa Benson forest supervisor, Los Padres National Forest said in a statement. “The Thomas Fire has many unprecedented conditions and complexities that challenge the already demanding job of fire suppression.”

The Thomas fire broke out Dec. 4 in Ojai, northwest of Los Angeles. Strong Santa Ana winds helped it to quickly spread to the city of Ventura, according to InciWeb.

Up to 85,000 people were impacted by power outages and surges in the Santa Barbara area, according to the Southern California Edison utility company. Santa Ana winds are expected to continue on Friday and through the weekend, and could reach up to 30 miles per hour in some areas. Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, has ordered mandatory evacuation of a portion of the county.

The Thomas fire has also taken a toll on agriculture, which is a $45 billion industry in California employing more than 400,000 people in the state. The wildfire struck the largest avocado- and lemon-producing region in the United States. A 200-acre farm lost 80% of its avocado crop, according to the New York Times. Avocado orchards are more vulnerable because of their location near hillsides in the path of the fire.

Consumers are unlikely to see a surge in the price of avocados from the fire because most avocados bought in the United States are grown in Mexico. A spike in lemon prices is unlikely to occur even though Ventura County produces more than 40% of the national output, because any lost crop can be made up by increasing imports, John Krist, chief executive of the Ventura County Farm Bureau told the Times.

Deer Collision Costs on the Rise

Drivers beware: Whether operating a company or personal vehicle, it’s that time of the year again—mating season for deer, causing them to be more active and more than doubling the likelihood of a collision through December. What’s more, State Farm reports that the national per claim average—from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017—rose to $4,179 from $3,995 during 2015-16.

State Farm warns that, “Whether you hit a large animal, or it jumps into the side of your vehicle, such collisions can cause significant injuries and property damage.” Although more prevalent in some states than others, drivers everywhere need to be alert and focused on the road.

In its 15th annual deer claim study, State Farm ranks states by a driver’s likelihood to hit a large animal such as deer, elk, moose or caribou. According to the study, while West Virginia continues to lead the nation, the state saw a 4.7% decrease from 2016, with one out of every 43 drivers likely to hit a deer or other large animal.

There were also some increases among the top 10 states over last year’s study. Montana drivers have a one in 57 chance of a collision—a 1.8% increase; and Pennsylvania drivers have a one in 63 chance of a crash, a 6.3% increase.

The top 10 states where a driver was most likely to have a large animal insurance claim remain fairly consistent, State Farm said. Wisconsin moved into the top five, swapping positions with South Dakota. Wyoming moved into the top 10 at number eight. North Dakota moved up to number 10 and South Carolina is no longer in the top 10. Thirteen states had no change in ranking.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) offers these tips for drivers:

• Buckle up. Seat belts save lives and help prevent injuries.

• Time of day is critical. Deer are generally more active during dawn and dusk hours, so pay attention to your surroundings and stay alert.

• Avoid distracted driving. Put the phone down, and never text while driving.

• Have a plan for roadside assistance. If an accident occurs, have the phone number for your insurer or roadside assistance ready. Some towing companies take advantage of drivers after an accident and you could find yourself facing excessive fees or complications recovering your car from the tow yard.

• Update your proof of insurance. Replace any expired insurance identification cards in the event you need to prove you have insurance after an accident. Although having a hard copy is best, don’t panic if you have misplaced yours—37 states have enacted laws that allow you to show proof of coverage on your smartphone. Find out if your insurer offers this feature.

• Watch for road signs that alert you to areas that are populated with more deer.

• Stay in your lane. If you see a deer, brake firmly but do not cross the center lane into potentially on-coming traffic.

If you do have a collision, State Farm recommends that you:

• Move your vehicle to the side of the road, if possible, and turn on your hazard lights. If you must leave your vehicle, stay off the road and out of the way of oncoming traffic. Deer are most active at dusk and dawn—times when you or your vehicle may be less visible to other motorists.

• Call the police. Alert authorities if the deer is blocking traffic and creating a threat for other drivers. If the collision results in injury or property damage, you may need to fill out an official report—this report also can prove useful when filing your insurance claim.

• Document the incident. If it’s safe to do so, photograph the roadway, your surroundings, damage to your vehicle, and any injuries you or your passengers sustained. If witnesses stop, take down their account of what occurred, and ask for their contact information.

• Stay away from the animal. A frightened, wounded deer could cause harm with its powerful legs and sharp hooves.

Critical Infrastructure, Security and Resilience Highlighted in November

National Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month (CISRM) kicked off on Nov. 1. The month’s initiatives address risks such as extreme weather, aging infrastructure, cyber threats and acts of terrorism. Its timing is certainly appropriate, as the effects of recent hurricanes on infrastructures in southern states and Puerto Rico continue to be assessed, as well as Northern California’s devastating wildfires and the deadliest shooting massacre in modern U.S. history.

The month was created by the Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hosts CISRM in an effort to promote education and awareness of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors that are vital to public safety and national security. Its page reads:

The evolving nature of the threat to critical infrastructure—as well as the maturation of our work and partnership with the private sector—has necessitated a shift from a focus on asset protection to an overarching system that builds resilience from all threats and hazards.

A CISRM toolkit provides companies with templates and drafts of newsletter articles, blogs, and other collateral material for use in outreach efforts. Activities geared toward business owners, public entities and private citizens focus on several key themes to enhance security and resilience, including:

  • Highlighting interdependencies between cyber and physical infrastructure
  • Pointing small and medium-sized businesses to the free tools and resources available to them to increase their security and resilience through Hometown Security and the four steps of “Connect, Plan, Train, and Report”
  • Promoting public-private partnerships
  • Fostering innovation and investments in infrastructure resilience

In his proclamation of CISRM earlier this week, President Trump further committed to helping businesses invest in “needed capital and research and development by reducing burdensome regulations and enacting comprehensive tax reform.” The proclamation states:

We will also renew our Nation’s focus on ensuring that the next generation has the education and training, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math, required to meet the known and unknown threats of the future.

Overall the United States’ infrastructure is among the top 18 in the world, according to the 2017 FM Global Resilience Index, which aggregates data to help companies identify their key supply chain risks. The U.S. continued to hold high rankings among 130 countries based on drivers in three categories: economic, risk quality and supply chain factors. The U.S. is segmented into three regions to reflect disparate natural hazards exposure:

  • Region 1, encompasses much of the East Coast, is ranked #10 in the index (a one-spot upgrade from last year)
  • Region 2, primarily the Western U.S., is ranked #18 (a three-spot upgrade)
  • Region 3, which includes most of the central portion of the country, is ranked #9 (down three places)

Although the federal government is less focused on asset protection, business owners can still get involved by safeguarding workplaces. In its October 2017 edition, CLM magazine noted that another path toward resilience involves reducing property damage caused by extreme weather and natural disasters. Literally looking to the sky is one suggestion; business and property owners should pay particular attention to their roofs in order to prevent degradation and enable them to withstand high winds.

“Property owners need to have maintenance personnel adopt and implement preventative maintenance and roof inspection programs that alert them to potential and active degradation,” wrote the authors of the article, “Time For Resilience.” “Weak links such as roof detachment, corrosion, or other damage could tear off roofing during an enhanced wind event. Such risks need to be mitigated before an event occurs.”

Ready.gov provides resources on disaster planning and management, and also has this section on Business Continuity.

How Small Businesses Can Prepare for the Next Natural Disaster

As we have witnessed these past two months, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated many parts of the south coast and the economies of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. The damage from the storms is expected to halt U.S. GDP by an entire percent. Recent estimates put the costs of recovery at around $85 billion and $59 billion for Harvey and Irma respectively.

While larger businesses have the resources to rebuild and recover, many smaller businesses do not. They will likely struggle to account for the cost of repairs, and even lose their companies in the process. According to FEMA, nearly four in 10 small businesses struck by a natural disaster are forced to permanently shut down. With more storms expected in the coming weeks as hurricane season persists through November, it is vital that small business owners prepare in the meantime.

The first step for any small business is to prepare internally. Here are three best practices that small-business owners can adopt to prepare for a future hurricane or any other natural disaster.

  1. Establish a recovery plan: Often, disaster recovery plans fall to the bottom of small-business owners’ to-do lists, especially if their business is located in an area that doesn’t typically experience high-risk weather. However, no business is immune from a harmful storm’s impact. So disaster preparedness starts with a formal plan that’s comprehensive and allows the company to quickly restore its normal operations following an emergency.
  2. Discuss your plan with all employees: It is crucial for your entire staff to be on the same page when it comes to what your disaster plan involves in order for it to be effective. So once small-business owners have a plan in place, they need to ensure that their employees know what’s included and what their responsibilities are should a natural disaster strike. Owners can share this information by emailing a copy to all employees and discussing the plan in detail at the next all-hands meeting.
  3. Back up your business’s data: Small-business owners should ensure their data is backed up both virtually and physically in a secure location. Doing so can prevent a natural disaster from turning into an even worse data loss debacle.

While following these steps can get small businesses on the right track toward hurricane preparedness, no company can be fully protected without insurance. With a plan in place, the next step is finding the right hurricane insurance plan. But there is often confusion over what proper hurricane coverage looks like.

Small businesses should take into account the specific rules and regulations of their industry when choosing an insurance plan to protect against hurricanes and other natural disasters. That said, there are two policies that are essential to businesses that need a defense against hurricanes.

Commercial Property Insurance is a policy that helps cover some of the cost to repair damages or restore your business property should a natural disaster cause harm. It is important to note, however, that many commercial property insurance policies only protect damages caused by hurricane winds, not flood damage resulting from rising water. If your business is located in an area prone to hurricanes, ask your insurance provider about “riders” (also known as endorsements), which can be added to your policy for more complete coverage.

Business Interruption Insurance is a policy that helps companies deal with the extended time (and business) they may lose as a result of hurricane damage. Often, this forced, lengthy pause in operations is what causes small businesses to permanently close, due to the high costs they incur and their inability to generate the revenue required to cover those costs. Business interruption insurance helps small businesses through by providing the funds for necessities such as taxes, loan payments, rent and salaries. Again, it is key to ask your provider exactly what a policy covers before purchasing it. Typically, business interruption insurance only protects your business if the circumstance that forced you to shut down is already covered by your commercial property policy.

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has already been deemed the third worst on record. With more than a month to go, small businesses can ensure that they’re protected from damages through internal company policies and a thorough insurance plan. As far as hurricane insurance coverage goes, it’s crucial for businesses to do their research and find the policies that will provide the best protection. Although developing these plans will take time and effort, the risks mitigated and money saved as a result will be well worth it in the long run.