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.

2017 Storms Break Records

The 2017 hurricane season is finally behind us, but it left its mark with two Category 5 hurricanes and one Category 4 striking within weeks of each other, causing an estimated $300 billion in damage. In fact, 2017 broke records, including the strongest storm—Irma—and the longest-lasting storm, which was Hurricane Harvey. Other natural disasters in 2017 also did their share of damage, including hailstorms and 1,496 tornadoes compared to an average of 1,202.

Then there were the wildfires, which burned more than 9 million acres of land.

Highlights of 2017 are summarized below by Interstate:

Insurance Industry Responds to House Approval of NFIP Renewal

Insurance industry trade groups lauded the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote on Nov. 14, reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The 21st Century Flood Reform Act (H.R. 2874) would reauthorize the program for five years and enact operational changes. Advocates from RIMS, the risk management society, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, and SmarterSafer.org also asked that the Senate waste no time in passing its version of the measure before its expiration on Dec. 8.

On Sept. 8, President Trump signed legislation passed by both houses to extend NFIP authorization until Dec. 8, which previously had been set to expire Sept. 30.

Dow Jones reports that the act’s reforms include:

  • Authorizing $1 billion to elevate, buy out or mitigate high-risk properties
  • Capping flood insurance premiums at $10,000 per year for homeowners
  • Removing hurdles to the private flood insurance market, which often offers better coverage at lower cost than the NFIP
  • Providing for community flood maps and a homeowner’s ability to appeal their flood designation
  • Better aligning NFIP rates to match a property’s true risk, particularly for in-land and lower-value properties
  • Improving the claims process for flood victims
  • Addressing repeatedly flooded properties, which account for 2% of NFIP policies but 25% of claim payments

While it applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for deciding to reauthorize the NFIP, RIMS, the risk management society, also urged the Senate to quickly follow-up before the program’s Dec. 8 expiration. Allowing the NFIP to expire would have “significant repercussions, impacting both corporate and residential property owners,” said RIMS Vice President Robert Cartwright Jr.

“Nearly five million American consumers rely on the NFIP to protect their homes, properties, and businesses,” said Nat Wienecke, senior vice president of federal government relations at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). “A long-term reauthorization is needed to provide consumers and markets with reliability and stability when it comes to flood insurance coverage.”

SmarterSafer.org, a coalition of taxpayer advocates, environmental groups, insurance interests, housing organizations and mitigation advocates, said in a statement that this year’s “historic hurricane season has pushed the nation’s debt-ridden flood insurance program past the point of bankruptcy once again, so we applaud the House for passing a legislative package that reforms the NFIP to ensure the program is financially sustainable for the future.” The organization also lauded the House for investing in recommended measures including “mapping and mitigation, addressing affordability and providing consumer choice in the flood insurance marketplace.”

The NFIP was created more than 50 years ago to provide affordable flood insurance as private insurers pulled out of the market. The program’s large debt led Congress to cancel $16 billion of its debt last month. NFIP now has about $6 billion to pay claims and $10 billion left that it can borrow from the Treasury Department, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the program.

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.