Summer season forest fires in British Columbia have had their biggest impact on homeowners, which prompted Park Insurance to offer an article on how to protect your home from the threat. But commercial businesses located in fire zones are also reeling from the effects, ones which have impacted the livelihoods of small and medium business owners along with the employees that depend upon their wages.
While you may feel helpless when it comes to an approaching forest fire, there are steps that can buy your shop, restaurant, or other commercial space some extra time, which may be all you need as fire crews come to the rescue.
5 Things Commercial Business Owners Can do to Minimize Forest Fire Threat
1. Inspect Your Property Exterior for Gateways
Inspect your business property’s eaves, fascia board, soffit, shingles, and other roofing appendages for damage. Areas in disrepair may create openings that embers to enter and start a fire. Have them repaired right away. In addition, clear property gutters and downspouts of debris. Accumulated debris provides kindle, can catch embers, and escalate the threat.
Also cover roof vents with fire-resistant screens and consider installing vinyl roofing membranes. The latter contain fire retardants and are self-extinguishing when the source of heat or flame is removed, once again buying time for your property while fire crews attend to it. All fire-resistant roofing products are not created equal, so be sure to consult with your local commercial roofing expert for information. A relatively small investment can go a long way in keeping your business safer from forest fires during the summer seasons.
If your commercial property is a part of a business complex (strip mall, etc.) get together with fellow tenants to inspect and note areas of concern. Record and present the information to the commercial property management company and file a request for reasonable repairs and installations. A break in one link in the chain can result in a domino effect, as evidenced in this recent Greater Vancouver fire that destroyed several commercial properties in a row.
2. Store Non-Essential Combustibles at a Secure Location
If your commercial business sells or uses highly combustible materials have them removed from the property until the threat (evacuation alert) has passed. For example, an art supply store may carry aerosol spray paint and paint thinner, or a corner store may have oil cans in its inventory. These items should be collected, placed in hard plastic containers, and stored off-site (if viable) or in a more secure location on the property.
3. Maintain the Landscape and Area Surrounding Property
The path of a forest fire may have missed a business if it were not for the landscape and area surrounding the property. Inspect the entire area leading up to your building, including driveways, access roads, and back alleys. These zones must be well-maintained. Trim landscaped trees and bushes at least 10-feet away from your exterior walls, roofing, and external wiring. If vegetation such as weeds and bushes are not a part of the planned landscape then you would be wise to remove them completely. Driveways, access roads, and alleys should be pressure-washed free of oil and gas stains while garbage/recycle bins and dumpsters should be cleared frequently. Again, if you operate in a commercial complex then you will want to organize everything with neighboring tenants and take action.
4. Fire Safety Best Practices for Staff and Customers
Keep staff and customers safe while minimizing your commercial liability. That means abiding by on-site fire safety best practices. Should a forest fire suddenly make its way onto your property you want to make sure fire exits are clear of obstruction. Your own expertise on the matter may not be adequate, so don’t be afraid to bring in outside eyes. In other words, don’t fear a fire marshall inspection; invite it! Their feedback may result in a recommendation that saves your business and those within.
Should your community be on evacuation alert, let staff know that they need not come into work in the event that they need to be close to their homes. Even if not yet mandatory, you may consider closing your business until the evacuation alert/standby has passed. The lost revenue will be minimal given that local consumerism comes to a halt during the hazard and any missteps in not keeping up to date on evacuation orders can result in not just safety, but liability concerns.
5. PR for Commercial Properties Indirectly Impacted by Loss of Business
Businesses that are not in the literal line of fire are also taking a significant financial hit. For instance, Okanagan wineries are reporting that a wave of cancellations (for tours and accommodations) are coming in even though their direct region is clear from concern. This is due to the misconception that the area is in danger. This is common to BC summertime forest fires as tourists monitor the news on the matter. They draw conclusions about the safety and air quality of the entire area, even when unjustified. If your business locale falls in this category, do all that you can to let prospective customers know that all is well, if that is the case.
For example, if you depend upon bookings (hospitality-based businesses, etc.) contact everyone who has pre-booked to clear up any concerns. If air quality is safe, but the sky is under a blanket of haze, you may need to incentivize them with small discounts or perks , but this is better than the alternative–cancelled bookings. Keep your social media profiles updated and search hashtags for those expressing worry and engage them too. Distribute press releases and work with local media to generate buzz that it’s business as usual. Again, this applies to businesses and locations safely outside of fire zones, as in the case of British Columbia’s businesses. See Fire Danger Rating system.
All of the above aside, nothing else will give you peace of mind quite like the knowledge that you have the best available business interruption and commercial insurance coverage. In addition, you want to make sure you’re covered for commercial property crime and theft (i.e. looting) which is an unfortunate event that can accompany times of emergency. Contact Park Insurance today to consult with an independent insurance broker as soon as possible, especially if you find this article in the thick of forest fire season in BC.