Wildfires can cause a lot of disruption to your business and in extreme cases can result in the destruction of your property. Any company in any industry is vulnerable to the effects of a fire.
Wildfire season has become more intense and longer in some parts of the west, due to buildings encroaching on wildland areas and the impact of climate change. So far in 2021, 50 large fires have burned 628,590 acres across the country. More than 8K wildland firefighters and 16 incident management teams have been assigned to these incidents.
There are a number of steps that companies should take to minimize risk to employees, property, and equipment, and to recover quickly should a fire occur and impact the business.
Assess Your Risk
Your first task is to assess the risk of wildfire in your area. If your property is located in fire country, then you will need to make sure that your insurance company will cover you in the event of a wildfire. Double-check your insurance policy limits for both the structure and personal property. You may elect to pay higher insurance premiums to ensure that you have the protection you need, but it is worth it to ensure adequate coverage.
Your specific location can also affect your risk of being impacted by a wildfire. A wildfire risk assessment can be complicated, but one thing to look at is past fire patterns. Most wildfires start in more remote areas where they may not be noticed right away and spread through the landscape in ways that are influenced or encouraged by conditions and terrain.
In other words, a remote business location can increase your risk of being impacted by a wildfire in some cases. You should also look at the construction of your building and the materials used. The level of fire resistance of your property may impact how you deal with wildfire risk.
Mitigate Your Risk
After assessing your risk and ensuring that your insurance policy will cover you adequately in the event of a fire, the next thing to do is to consider risk mitigation steps. There are things you can do to support business continuity and reduce damage in the event of a fire, including:
- Securing offsite media backups of all data and documentation.
- Training personnel on correct procedures during fire season.
- Clear leaves and debris from the roof, gutters, and around the building. These can create a path for embers to get to your building.
- Remove all dead vegetation from around your building. You need at least a ten-foot buffer zone around all structures, in which there is no dead vegetation that can spread a fire. If there are areas where debris tends to accumulate, use mesh to keep debris from blowing into them. In some circumstances, a paved buffer zone may be your best option.
- Irrigate your landscape so that any lawns and the like are well watered. Alternatively, mow the lawn to reduce fire intensity. Fire seasons sometimes come with water shortages. Dispose of the lawn clippings immediately.
- Prune all trees so the lowest branches are six to ten feet from the ground and cut back any branches that are touching or close to structures.
- Ensure that your roof is kept in good condition and well maintained. Cover exterior vents with 1/8 inch metal wire mesh.
Develop A Disaster Recovery Plan
A proper disaster recovery plan or contingency plan is essential for any natural disaster or another risk that may impact a business. If you are in an area where wildfire is a risk, then you need to make sure this is included in your plan. Your plan should involve all of your stakeholders and be designed to ensure the safety of employees, protection of equipment, and continuity of operations.
Some specific things to consider during your contingency planning include:
- Develop an evacuation plan and make sure employees know whether and when to evacuate and where to go. Ideally, they should have multiple evacuation routes, as wildfires can sometimes render roads unsafe or a specific route might cause issues for firefighters. Employees should not stay on-site unless there is no safe way to evacuate.
- Training employees on the emergency procedures to properly shut down the site when fire risk is imminent. Again, employees should not stay on-site, but should promptly evacuate. Ensure that the power of all equipment can safely be de-energized and turn off electricity at the main breaker panel. Employees should also know what, if anything, they should take with them if they evacuate.
- Make sure that you have plans to continue operations at an alternate location if necessary and possible.
- Line up a company that can perform decontamination and reconditions of your equipment.
6 Step Plan for Recovery and Cleanup
If you practice proper fire mitigation and have a buffer, you significantly reduce the risk of your facility being destroyed. But when it comes to wildfires, the risk can never fully be mitigated. In some cases, you will need a plan for rapid recovery.
Damage from the fire can include physical damage to equipment (equipment may burn or melt), but also includes contamination with ash and soot. Make sure that key employees know to:
- Not enter the building until they are sure it is safe to do so. Your employees are always worth more than your equipment. Have them check for compromised power lines and call the utility company if they see any. When they do enter, they should wear an N95 mask if needed, goggles, a hard hat, and gloves.
- Verify that equipment has been shut down. Do not restore power until equipment has been checked.
- Contact your facility cleaning and equipment decontamination recovery partners immediately. The faster they can get to work the better.
- Air out the building as much as possible so as to get rid of the soot and smoke.
- Clean the exterior of soot-contaminated equipment. While full decontamination will be needed in many cases, removing soot and ash from the outside of your equipment can reduce further damage.
AREPA specializes in wildfire recovery and post-disaster reconditioning. We have the expertise needed to decontaminate soot and smoke-affected equipment, often allowing it to be restored to full use. In turn, this speeds your return to operation and significantly reduces your costs.
Contact us for more tips on wildfire mitigation and preparation, and to schedule an audit of your equipment so that in the event of a fire or other disaster we will know exactly how to help you.