Photo Credit: A helicopter works a hot spot on the Deep Fire at Florida Panther NWR in 2009. Photo by Josh O’Connor – USFWS via Flickr Creative Commons: http://ow.ly/e2gA305cypu
Carole Walker is the Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association (RMIIA), a non-profit trade association representing auto, home and business insurance companies in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. RMIIA’s primary mission is helping consumers better understand insurance and is a key community wildfire partner. For nearly two decades Walker has assisted with insurance recovery and rebuilding after devastating wildfires.
FAC Net: Can you talk a little bit about insurance for the other risks associated with wildfire (mudslides, post-fire flooding)?
CW: The secondary disasters that commonly occur in the aftermath of a wildfire are flooding and mudslides since the trees that once provided protection from floodwaters or mudslides are now gone and homes are surrounded by a barren landscape. Properties that may have previously not been a risk for flooding are at heightened risk and homeowners, renters and business owners should be aware that all policies exclude flooding and consider purchasing separate flood insurance. Flood insurance is provided through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and anyone who lives in a NFIP participating community can buy it regardless of their risk. In fact, homeowners who are at heightened risk due to a wildfire, but don’t live in a high risk flood zone may qualify for a less expensive “Preferred Risk” policy.
Landslides, mudslides and mudflow are considered different perils and require different insurance—separate from a homeowners or business policy. Landslides and mudslides are primarily earth movement, while a mudflow is caused by water picking up soil and turning into mud. With a mudflow, the primary ingredient is water, so flood insurance will typically cover parts of this loss.
Does the insurance community know about fire adapted communities and Firewise communities?
Insurance companies strongly support community mitigation initiatives, such as Firewise and fire adapted communities, that help reduce the threat of wildfire and educate residents on why they need to take steps to be better prepared and protect their property and personal finances. When you, your neighbors and the entire community are engaged in mitigation and awareness efforts that will help you improve the overall insurability of your homes.
Understand that insurance companies are still basing their determinations to insure your home and the costs to insure it, based on your individual property risk. This includes such factors as location, construction, square footage, claims history and other covered perils such as hail, wind, etc. While most companies require wildfire mitigation to get and keep insurance in high risk areas, they are also weighing other risks such as slope, access roads and proximity/quality of fire protection.
What sort of information can you give your insurance company to show that you’re reducing risk (I.e. home assessments, etc)?
It’s important to coordinate and communicate with your insurance company on what mitigation steps they require and what work you have done on your property to reduce the risk. While there are different resources available to homeowners to help assess their property and complete mitigation, be aware that your insurance company is weighing a variety of risk factors when determining the insurability of your home that may not be considered by fire officials or hired contractors.
Your insurance company may not automatically accept an inspection by another party or vendor, but you should inform them of the work you’ve done and find out what other mitigation steps you may need to take. Make sure you are working with a reputable assessment professional and understand that depending on your individual risk it may require more than thinning of trees. It may require an investment in making the structure of your home more ignition resistant or other activity. Know that mitigation is an ongoing commitment.
Where can people go for help if they are struggling to keep or find insurance?
Some states, such as California, have a FAIR plan in place that provides insurance for very high risk properties—it really is a last resort and requires you to meet certain criteria. States like Colorado have not needed to establish a FAIR plan, as insurance in the private, competitive market remains widely available; also check with your state insurance department. The majority of WUI homeowners willing to do necessary fire mitigation should be able to obtain insurance. However, they may need to do their homework and shop around as they may represent too high of a risk for their previous insurer as the threat of wildfire escalates.
What’s your number one takeaway for homeowners who live in the WUI and are at risk for wildfire?
Living with wildfire requires homeowners to understand their risk, protect their property and be financially prepared BEFORE they are in the path of a wildfire. All too often people don’t think about insurance until they go to file a claim, but when you receive a reverse 911 evacuation call, it’s too late to understand how your insurance works and how much coverage you have to rebuild your home and replace your belongings. The investment you make in mitigation, purchasing additional insurance and having an evacuation plan that includes a home inventory can be the difference in recovering from a wildfire.
Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association website: www.rmiia.org
Wildfire & Insurance Guide: http://www.rmiia.org/catastrophes_and_statistics/Wildfire_and_insurance.asp
One example of a home inventory app: www.knowyourstuff.org
Carole’s Firewise Virtual Workshop Presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iE-TRBaJbwo
Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety: www.disastersafety.org
Editor’s Note: This post is intended to give basic information about insurance and wildfire. It is not meant to be comprehensive or replace the information given to you by your personal insurance company. Please talk to your insurance company to get the full information about your coverage.
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