During one of BC’s worst wildfire seasons on record we released an article on how commercial businesses can protect themselves accordingly. In light of recent events we feel that it’s time for an update. There’s enough for your company to contend with as is, and the risk of loss and damage from forest fires should not add to your concerns. Below is an ultimate guide to protecting your commercial property from the seasonal threat.
10-Step Guide to Reducing the Risk of Commercial Damage, Loss, and Liability During Wildfire Season in BC
1. Upgrade Your Building
You already know to have your fire alarm and sprinkler systems checked and maintained as explicitly required by governing bodies, but there is so much more you can do. Renovate/retrofit your commercial property with wildfire prevention in mind, aiming for a 1-hour fire resistance rating on overhangs, eaves and balconies in addition to a 20-minute fire resistance rating on all points of entry. The following upgrades will help shield your building from an approaching wildfire:
- Install fire-resistant roofing materials.
- Cover roof ventilation systems with fire and corrosion resistant screens.
- Install spark arrestors (device which prevents the emission of flammable debris from wildfire) on chimneys, vents, and other openings.
2. Create a Fuel/CHEMICAL-FREE BORDER Around Your Building
Many businesses inadvertently invite approaching wildfires by maintaining combustibles and flammables around their commercial property. Blazes that may otherwise have passed or been halted by firefighters instead find a path directly to an establishment. There are easy to follow steps to ensure you don’t create an environment conducive to this event.
For one, create a fuel-free border around your property. This can be accomplished by instituting the following:
- Do not store gasoline, oil, propane, or any type of flammable fuel within 10-meters of your property. If reasonable, store fuels off-site altogether.
- Park automobiles and other fuel-powered vehicles and machinery at least 10-meters from your building.
Also remove other flammable liquids, powders, and chemicals from the periphery of your building, including the following:
- Cleaning solutions and solvents.
- Paint, wood staining/finishing, and paint thinners.
- Insecticides and pesticides.
Even when stored at an adequate distance, fuels and chemicals must be stored only in approved (industry standard) containers.
3. REMOVE RISKY LANDSCAPING
Removing wildfire-attracting fuels and chemicals is one-step towards creating a fire-resistant border around your building, but it’s not enough. To create a truly safe zone pay close attention the landscape by performing the following on an ongoing (daily or weekly as needed) basis:
- Keep landscaping located within 15 meters of your building well-irrigated.
- Trim landscaping (within 15 meters) to remove dry, dead, and overextending leaves, twigs, and branches.
- Trim tree branches so that they are a minimum of 2 meters from the ground.
- Trim tree branches, shrubs, and bushes so that they are at least 2 meters from roofing, gutter systems, and eavestroughs.
- Replace lawn/grass with stones or gravel, where reasonable.
If your building has been built on a slope, you will need to extend the landscaping duties to address the following
- Clear dry or dead brush, trees, grass at least 60 meters from your building.
Some trees pose more risk than others. If your building has trees on the surrounding property, consider the following initiatives:
- Remove or relocate (as permitted) deciduous trees so that there are none within 10-meters of your building.
- Remove or relocate (as permitted) coniferous trees so that there are none within 30-meters of your building.
4. ban or better mitigate risky activities
There are on-site activities that also invite (or cause) a wildfire. These activities may be conducted by your staff, customers, and the general public. As the owner or leaseholder of a commercial property you have a right to forbid and/or regulate activities. Consider the following:
- Ban smoking around the property. Or, at the very least establish a safe outdoor smoking zone by providing a paved (landscape-free) area complete with appropriate receptacles for discarding cigarettes, cigars, and matches.
- Ban the use of firecrackers and fireworks of all kinds.
- Do not allow burning of any kind. Even staff BBQs (etc.) should be conducted off-site at a safe location.
5. Smarter Waste Disposal
Garbage, compostables, and recyclables are all kindle for an approaching wildfire. Institute the following protocols:
- Store garbage, compostables, and recyclables in fire resistant receptacles with tight-fitting lids.
- Never leave these items outdoors for longer than a week. Anticipate statutory holidays when pickup services may not be available for an extended period and make alternative plans.
6. Ensure Easy Property Access for Emergency Response
Fire department and other emergency response team vehicles need easy access to your commercial property in the event of an approaching wildfire. Ensure that you provide this access by providing the following:
- Ensure that driveways and access roads are well-maintained, properly sized and graded.
- Redesign/construct roads and parking areas to accommodate fire department vehicles, with lengths up to 11 meters and a turning radius of 14 meters.
7. Establish a Wildfire Response Plan
Despite all of your preparation, a wildfire may still approach and breach your property’s border. You need to institute a wildfire response plan that addresses the safety of your building, inventory, and assets, but more importantly that of your staff and visiting customers/clients. This plan should include the following:
- Dictate evacuation routes in addition to the safest place to retreat to if a wildfre burns and an evacuation becomes compulsory. This should be made evident to staff and customers/clients via highly-visable signage.
- Put the plan in writing (digital and hardcopy) and ensure that all staff receive and confirm receipt of each copy. If any future updates to the plan are made, update the documents accordingly.
- Hold an initial session to educate staff on the new plan, and conduct follow-up sessions every three-months. If any future updates to the plan are made, hold a new information session immediately.
- Hold practice drills every three-months to provide staff with experience in properly reacting to wildfires in the event of an emergency.
- Set up real-time data backup for your computer systems so you can access data and productivity tools remotely in the event of an emergency. This can be accomplished through cloud-based IT infrastructure.
Your wildfire response plan should also include a list of action items to only be conducted by delegated parties (owners, managers, supervisors, etc.). These action items should include the following:
- Shut down building air intakes and close windows, openings, and entryways.
- Turn off HVAC systems and electricity.
- Remove on-site combustibles.
8. Stay Alert
Make it your job to stay up to date on local and potentially approaching wildfires through the season. This can be accomplished via the following:
- Visit the BC Government’s Current Wildfire Activity webpage on a daily basis through the season.
- Set Google-alerts to your Gmail account for “BC wildfire” and “BC forest fire” in addition to “(your city/town) wildfire” and “(your city/town) forest fire”.
- Watch the local news in the AM and PM for updates.
- Monitor news updates from your local fire hall website and their respective social networks.
- Keep staff informed regarding all wildfire news reports, when relevant.
9. Alert Customers/Clients/vendors
You often hear about corporate responsibility to inform customers, clients, and vendors (as applicable) about cybercrime concerns surrounding your business (and their personal data). However, it’s a good idea to bear the onus when it comes to wildfire concerns too. If your business is at risk, or has been evacuated (voluntarily or otherwise) due to an approaching wildfire, you don’t want customer, clients, or vendors coming over to visit your business. It’s important to keep them just as informed as your staff or they too may be put at risk. Alert them about the threat and subsequent business interruptions on the following channels:
- Email or phone (as appropriate)
- Commercial property signage
- Your social networks
10. Connect to Your Insurance Broker
Your insurance broker is your partner in wildfire protection. Starting today access this important resource by scheduling a consultation to go over your current commercial insurance plan to make sure that you are as protected from damage, loss, and liability as much as you can be. Once you’ve established a rapport you will want to keep in close contact with them throughout wildfire season, especially when your local area is impacted. Be sure to keep their contact information, your business asset inventory, and necessary documentation on and off-site, including real time access in your cloud-based data management system.
Have any additional questions about protecting your business from damage, loss, and liability during wildfire season in BC? Contact Park Insurance today at 1.800.663.3739.