The warm, dry Santa Ana winds that often create spectacular beach days in Southern California each fall also bring a major hazard: Wildfires. Over the years, October has been a particularly dangerous month and is also Fire Prevention Month — A perfect time to get your home or business ready for an emergency.
#1 — Know Your Risks
One of the first steps an insurance agent does when writing any kind of policy (business, personal) is an assessment of potential risks. The same holds true for your home or business — Know your vulnerabilities. Take a walk around the property and look for things like nearby power lines that can spark in high winds, brush-filled canyons, blocked gutters or roofs covered with leaves, etc. Knowing what things might cause issues can help in reducing overall risk.
One key area that many business owners fail to consider is combustibles inside their operation — Take a look at what you have at your property (solvents, chemicals, materials, inventory) and determine if there is a safer way to store it so if a fire does threaten nearby, you are not potentially causing a greater hazard to firefighters or setting of a flash point for an explosion.
#2 — Mitigate That Risk
You often receive reductions on insurance policies by installing safety tools such as home alarms, smoke detectors and vehicle driving/performance monitors. To protect your business or home and also potentially reduce fire premiums, work with your agent to identify loss prevention activities like brush clearance, installation of fire-retardant roofing or siding, sprinkler system upgrades and even ‘outside the box’ techniques like bringing in a herd of goats to clear out nearby fields or canyons difficult to get to with traditional gardening techniques.
#3 — Have a Plan at Home
In an emergency, time is of the essence. Wildfires move fast and are often unpredictable and you may find yourself out of time when needing to evacuate. For your home:
- Indicate all the available ways out of the house and make sure everyone knows them
- Designate a family reunion spot
- Designate a contact person out of the family for everyone to update their status if you can’t reunite
- Make a ‘go bag’ with essential things such as copies of important papers, backup computer drives, necessary medications and contact information that can be grabbed at a moment’s notice
- Spend time getting to know your neighborhood and review maps to highlight available alternative ways out of your community if traditional roads are blocked
#4 — Have a Plan at Work
Fires don’t wait until you are off work to get out of control — You may find yourself at your office and need to evacuate your staff in a hurry. Some things to consider for a work fire safety plan:
- Have a list of all employees and their locations so you can account for everyone
- Identify all access points and exit routes out of your facility
- Create a similar ‘go bag’ for the office with copies of critical paperwork/documentation/insurance forms you would need to get your business back up and running
- Have an action plan for communicating with employees about evacuation status and procedures for coming back to work when safe
#5 — Review Your County’s Emergency Plan
Research and review your county’s emergency plan and specific recommendations for your area. The Department of Homeland Security also has an excellent emergency planning tool (useful for home or business) at ready.gov or the Red Cross at redcross.org.
#6 — Think of Everyone
If planning for a fire emergency at home, be sure your evacuation plan takes into consideration children and pets — That means be sure there are always necessary car seats available (if you are not home and a babysitter or neighbor needs to transport your kids) or animal carriers. Even if your dog or cat is always comfortable in the car, be sure to have a carrier to keep them safe as emergencies can aggravate pets and make them more prone to flee out of fear.
At the office, consider evacuation needs for any employees with physical or mental challenges that may need assistance following instructions or navigating things like exterior staircases or alternative routes.
#7 — Stay Informed
While the fall is technically “Wildfire Season,” that doesn’t mean you are safe other times of the year — Some of the most destructive fires have come at varying points on the calendar. Register for wildfire alert notifications from your local fire protection agency so you aren’t caught unaware!