There are two ways to deal with danger: Hunker down and hope it goes away, or be proactive and take steps to prevent the hazard, or mitigate its effects. From an insurance company’s point of view, it may be cheaper in the short run to save the costs associated with a proactive approach, keep expenses down, and just pay claims as they come due.
At least two home insurers, Chartis and the Chubb Group, are choosing the opposite approach.
Chartis and Chubb aren’t among the largest home insurance companies. But they have carved a market niche in that they insure many larger, more valuable homes. And one home lost to fire represents a big chunk of change to replace.
With many of their customers in the fire-prone West, these companies are actively trying to leverage advances in communication and firefighting technology with an active wildfire damage prevention and mitigation program and outreach to their homeowner insurance customers. Customers do need to enroll to take full advantage of the program – but it’s free of charge, and Chartis and Chubb are encouraging all eligible customers to sign up.
Prevention measures are taking on a heightened importance this year, with a long La Niña weather cycle contributing to very dry conditions across the country. But some areas have been successful in limiting damage, thanks to joint efforts by local fire departments and the insurance industry, including Chartis and Chubb. In addition, some very large wildfires in the last few years have captured peoples’ attention.
“Wildfires are a concern for us out west,” explains Kevin Fuhriman, personal lines appraisal catastrophe manager at the Chubb Group. Fuhriman explains a multi-layered, defense-in-depth approach to protecting their customer’s homes from wildfires.
“The awareness level is rising dramatically” says Fuhriman. “There was a general lack of awareness before.”
In-person property inspection is the first line of defense. “We inspect every property we insure,” says Fuhriman. “We help determine replacement costs, we look at trip and fall hazards and sprinkler systems…We’re able to educate our clients on different construction techniques, fuel mitigation, ideas like defensible space. We walk them through the process to create a “survivable property.” Because sometimes homes will need to withstand that fire event on their own. There aren’t enough fire engines to get to every home affected, and sometimes they can’t even get into the area.”
The next step is at the underwriting phase. Like all insurance companies, Chubb has a responsibility to protect others in the risk pool. Occasionally, Chubb will decline to insure a property – especially if the owner refuses or fails to take steps to improve the property’s survivability against the wildfire threat. “We expect our customers to have some skin in the game,” says Fuhriman.
Both Chartis and Chubb’s third layer of wildfire defense come in the form of wildfire response teams. The companies were looking to take their outreach and education programs a step further, and began contracting with local and regional government-certified fire defense officials.
The process starts with the owner’s request to enroll in the program. The response teams map the property and begin overlaying and tracking known wildfires in the area. When an area is threatened, the insurers dispatches their teams to conduct last-minute education and intervention. This can be anything from a briefing on safety and evacuation procedures to recommending specific actions a property owner can take, even if the family has to evacuate. “It could be as simple as leaving a window open or closing a garage door,” says Furhiman. In some cases, response teams could assist with applying a fire-resistant gel material to vulnerable areas on the home and its surroundings. If appropriate and logistically feasible, Chartis’s teams will apply Phos-Tek or Class A fire retardant foam to exposed areas in advance of the approach of a wildfire.
Thus far, the teams have responded to well over 600 separate fire events. “We have no doubt that we’ve saved some homes as part of the program,” says Fuhriman, though exactly how many homes may have been saved but for the program is impossible to answer for sure.
How To Enroll
You aren’t automatically enrolled in the program. You have to take specific steps to sign up – which involves releasing contact information and potentially granting inspectors and response teams permission to access your property.
Chartis customers who wish to enroll in their company’s fire protection program can enroll here, at no charge. All fees are payed by the insurer. Their brochure explaining more about their fire protection program is here.
Eligible Chubb customers who wish to enroll in Chubb Wildfire Defense services during this time may do so by completing the form located at the following URL: www.chubb.com/WDS_EnrollmentForm.pdf. Use the mailing address on the form. If your home is currently threatened by a wildfire, though, you can email the form to email@example.com.