Wildfires are unplanned events that burn in forest, grassland, prairie, or other natural areas. Lightning can trigger burns, but they are frequently initiated by humans through intentional or unintentional means. Wildfire is a serious concern for self-storage businesses across the country and one of the costliest causes of loss for property owners and insurance carriers. In California alone, insured property losses from wildfire were estimated at $85 billion in 2017, $400 billion in 2018 (the year of the devastating Camp Fire), and over $25 billion in 2019.
In addition to the cost of repairs and loss of business income while spaces are unavailable to rent, the toll a fire can take on a self-storage operation can be devastating. The sight of a damaged, burned-out building can make it difficult to rent units to prospective customers, and customer retention could be impacted negatively.
It is critical for self-storage property owners to adopt a mindset of pre-wildfire mitigation. In other words, take steps now to reduce potential property damage and other insurance claims in the event of a wildfire. The Department of Homeland Security’s website http://www.Ready.gov, recommends the following steps to prepare for wildfires.
Up-to-the minute information is vital in situations where conditions may change rapidly. Wildfires are dynamic events that may change direction and speed without warning. Community warning systems and outlets such as the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio provide current information. It is also important know the local community’s evacuation plan.
Make a Plan
In the event of a fast-moving wildfire, employees and customers at a facility may need to evacuate the premises. Plan ahead by creating a detailed plan that identifies multiple evacuation routes and gather emergency supplies including N95 respirator masks. Take the time to drive the planned evacuation routes and make notes of landmarks since visibility may be limited during a wildfire event. Once the plan is established, provide training for facility staff to familiarize them with the routes, supplies, and safety protocols.
Create and Maintain a Defensible Space
Doing everything possible to keep fire from spreading to a property is one of the most important steps in pre-wildfire mitigation. Fire-resistant materials are a wise choice for construction, renovation, repairs, and outdoor furnishings such as benches, tables, and signs or decorations. A water defense can be set up using sprinklers and hoses that can reach all areas of the property. In terms of landscaping, establish vertical and horizontal defensible zones by thinning shrubs and trees to create space, ensuring that the crowns do not overlap, and removing low tree branches to separate branches overhead from grass and shrubs. The goal is to create a primary defensible zone by eliminating all leaves, debris, and flammable material within 30 feet of buildings and removing combustible debris from roofs and gutters. Keep in mind that this space must be inspected regularly with ongoing maintenance performed to maintain this defensible zone. Pre-wildfire mitigation steps as described above can also make a difference in an insurance carrier’s underwriting decision to offer a new business quote or a renewal quote.
Property owners and their insurance agents should meet to review insurance policies and discuss coverages, limits, deductibles, and exposures as well as business interruption and umbrella coverage to ensure that exposures from fire have been properly addressed.
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