Falling Trees Can Cause Property Damage, Injury or Death

During and after large storms, especially those with high winds, there are always reports of fallen trees and tree limbs, which can cause injury or death to those who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the past few months in California alone, a woman was killed by a falling tree in the San Francisco Bay area on Jan. 9; another woman was struck and killed by a falling tree while walking on a golf course in the Bay area on Jan. 8; and the mother of a bride was killed when a tree fell on a wedding party in Southern California on Dec. 19. In New York City’s Bryant Park, a woman was killed and five people were injured when a massive tree snapped in half on Sept. 4, 2015.

Falling trees are also a major cause of property damage. If winds are strong enough, even healthy trees can be uprooted or broken, according to the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).

It might not take a storm or high winds to cause a cracked or rotted tree to fail under its own weight, however. Cracks are hazardous because they compromise the structure of the tree and can eventually split the stem in two. Cracks are particularly dangerous when combined with internal decay, according to the TCIA, thus the presence of multiple cracks and decay indicates a potentially hazardous tree.

Property owners should be concerned about trees falling, especially if cracks are evident. “While trees are genetically designed to withstand storms, all trees can fail – and defective trees fail sooner than healthy trees,” Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist at TCIA, said in a statement. “To a professional arborist, certain defects are indicators that a tree has an increased potential to fail.”

Cracks in tree trunks can be one of the major indicators of an unstable tree. Most cracks are caused by improper closure of wounds or by the splitting of weak branch unions. Cracks can be found in branches, stems or roots, and vary in type and severity:

  • Horizontal and vertical cracks run across the grain of the wood and develop just before the tree fails, making them very difficult to detect. Vertical cracks run with the wood grain along the length of the tree and may appear as shear or ribbed cracks.
  • Shear cracks can run completely through the stem and separate it into two halves. As the tree bends and sways in the wind, one half of the stem slides over the other, elongating the crack. Eventually the enlarging crack causes the two halves of the stem to shear apart.
  • Ribbed cracks are created as the tree attempts to seal over a wound. Margins of the crack meet and mesh but are reopened due to tree movement or extremely cold temperatures.
  • Thicker annual rings are created in order to stabilize the developing crack at the location of the wound. This forms the ribbed appearance over a period of many years.

To prevent damage, TCIA recommends having trees examined by a qualified arborist to determine the potential for failure. An expert will measure the shell thickness in a few locations around a tree’s circumference, determine the width of the crack opening and check for any other defects.

Authorities Examine Hotel Owner’s Request for Help Before Italian Avalanche

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As the search for survivors at an Italian hotel buried during an avalanche continues, an investigation has been launched into a distress call and emails for help by the hotel’s owner. Triggered by a series of earthquakes, the avalanche claimed the lives of at least 14 people, with 15 still missing, according to reports. A staff of eight and 20 guests were reported to have been at the hotel at the time.

Bruno Di Tommaso, owner of hotel Rigopiano, a popular ski resort, reportedly sent an email asking for help from authorities in the nearby town of Pescara. “The phones are out of service. Customers are terrified by the earthquakes and have decided to stay outdoors. We tried to do everything possible to calm them but, unable to leave because of blocked roads, they are willing to spend the night in the car,” his email read. “With our shovels we were able to clean the driveway, from the gate to the SS42 (state road). Aware of the general difficulties, we ask you to intervene.”

The UK’s Telegraph reported that prosecutors in Pescara have opened an investigation into the situation, questioning why there was no attempt to evacuate the hotel. Investigators looking into possible manslaughter charges are examining Di Tommaso’s email.

According to the Telegraph:

Authorities had reportedly promised to send a snow plow to clear the road to the hotel on Wednesday afternoon, but its arrival was constantly postponed and in the end it did not turn up at all, amid reports that some snow plow in the region were out of service while others had been dispatched to other emergencies.

There have already been claims that when the alarm was first raised, by a man who survived the avalanche by luck because he was collecting medicine from his car, his pleas for help were initially rebuffed by emergency services.

The quakes struck near Amatrice, one of the towns destroyed in August by an earthquake that left almost 300 people dead and thousands homeless.

Earthquake Spike in Oklahoma Linked to Fracking

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A magnitude 5.0 earthquake that rocked Cushing, Oklahoma, on Nov. 6 damaged part of the city’s downtown district, but left no major damage to bridges or highways.

Early reports indicate the damage is not insignificant. A 16-block area in the hard-hit downtown has been sectioned off because of the danger posed by unstable structures and broken glass. No serious injuries or fatalities have been reported, however. Power in Cushing was out for less than an hour following the quake, and several gas leaks were taken care of.

The city, which has a population of 7,900, is noted as the world’s largest oil storage terminal and has experienced 19 earthquakes in just the past week, raising safety concerns. As of last week, the town’s tank farms held 58.5 million barrels of crude oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The number of earthquakes in the area has also risen exponentially. During the first half of this year, 618 temblors of M2.8 or greater have shaken Oklahoma.

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Swiss Re noted in its September 2016 report The Link Between Hydrofracking, Wastewater Injection and Earthquakes: Key Issues for Re/insurers:

Since 2008 the number of magnitude 3.0 earthquakes per year has grown from roughly 2 per year to an average of nearly 3 per day. This now makes Oklahoma the most seismically active of the lower forty-eight states. It’s highly likely that this dramatic rise in earthquake occurrence is largely a consequence of human actions. Along with the increase in seismicity, Oklahoma has seen a growth in its oil and natural gas operations since 2008, specifically hydraulic fracturing (often referred to as “hydrofracking” or “fracking”) and the disposal of wastewater via deep well injection.

A number of states that have increased wastewater injection activity have seen increases in the number of induced earthquakes, the study said, but the reason for such a large increase in Oklahoma is still unclear. Because of the large amount of crude oil storage in the Cushing area, strong shaking is worrisome and has led some to proclaim that induced earthquakes are a national security threat.

According to AIR-Worldwide, it is not clear whether the occurrences of the small and intermediate size earthquakes being seen, and the stress changes from wastewater disposal could trigger larger and more damaging earthquakes. As a precaution, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered four new Arbuckle disposal wells to be shut and 10 to reduce their volume by 25%. In Osage County, 32 wells will have reduced volume.

Experts believe limiting injection volumes is helpful because of the link between high-volume injection and earthquakes, but Swiss Re’s report concluded that while, most companies participate in the suggested reductions following a detected earthquake, economic pressure to continue wastewater injection often prevails. “Changing regulations, and how the oil and gas industry respond, remain the biggest contributor to uncertainty of how the risk will change in the future,” Swiss Re said.

Making the Most out of a Crisis

CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA—Suppose your company experiences a major hurricane, tornado or fire: Property is destroyed and your business is stalled, meaning customers are left waiting. But there are buildings to be rebuilt and equipment to be replaced, and the claims process hasn’t even started. This is when the risk manager’s skills at placing the company’s insurance coverage and negotiating for the best payout can not only demonstrate their true value, but can put the company back on course, according to experts here at RIMS Canada’s annual conference.

“When there’s a serious property loss, this is the time for the risk manager to shine, because up until then it’s about premium, premium, premium,” Tom Parsons, manager of risk management at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International in Toronto said during a RIMS Canada Conference session. “Up until a serious loss occurs, I don’t think you feel the impact that you can give back to the company. Because what we do is buy insurance, so it has to work. It is what you helped craft and build into your policy through the years. You have created a policy that is robust, and that is going to cover everything—you hope.”

Among the examples cited was a soft drink bottling plant flooded with eight feet of water following a hurricane. While the company’s high-speed bottling equipment was damaged and would need to be replaced, explained Jeffrey Phillips, managing director in PwC’s U.S. forensic advisory practice, the issue was that floodwaters were highly contaminated due to a number of chicken and hog farms in the area. As a result, the company determined that the building could not be used for any type of food processing and would need to be demolished. The insurer, however, argued that the walls could be sealed, containing any contaminants. The company had found a competitor to do some of the bottling, but it wasn’t enough to fill their orders, Phillips said.

Because delivery of the new bottling equipment was slated to take months, there was also a large business interruption period being covered, he said. This is when innovation came into play. The bottling company was able to show the insurer that buying another plant rather than rebuilding would put them back in business sooner, cutting back on their losses. The insurer agreed and sent them a check. As a result, the company purchased a larger facility in a better location.

“They were up and running in six months—the business interruption had stopped,” he said. The better location also meant reduced shipping costs and the company gained market share. Because the company was able to make the case to its insurer, both came out ahead in the long run.

Phillips recommended that companies negotiating after a crisis “communicate, communicate, communicate” with their insurers.

They should also get their insurers to sign off on major contracts such as scope of work, rates and overhead and discuss changes to operations or facilities with the adjustment team and agree on scope of property damage repair or replacement whenever possible.

Insurers will typically push to return the facility to pre-loss condition, “unless you can prove the changes will save them money,” he added. “Insurers will not be creative for you, they don’t know your business or your goals.”