or retrofitted to Fortified standards. In these states, we have
worked with insurance regulators and insurance companies to
make sure the discount programs work as they were intended upon enactment, and actually facilitate risk-based pricing,
which can serve both to encourage effective mitigation and discourage unsound development in disaster-prone areas.
Another hazard threatening an increasing number of communities across our nation is wildfire. Wildfire is a serious risk in 38
states around the country, threatening about 120 million people
and their property. The number of destructive, expensive wildfires continues to rise, and whether or not a particular property
or a cluster of structures survives a wildfire may depend largely
on what people do now to prepare. There used to be a wildfire
season in the U.S., but now, due to persistent and widespread
droughts, wildfire has become a year-round issue.
Wildfire loss mitigation is generally approached in two ways.
First, there is prevention/risk reduction before a fire ignites.
Second, there are suppression efforts. Both are important to get
ahead of this emerging (and in some Western states, already all-too-present) risk.
As more people move to the wildland-urban interface, and
severe drought conditions in many Western states persist, prevention and risk reduction measures are more important than
ever. In 2014 alone, there were more than 63,000 wildfires in the
U.S. that destroyed 3. 5 million acres, according to the National
Interagency Fire Center. This year, Californians remain on edge
as several large and aggressive fires have taken multiple lives and
reduced hundreds of homes to piles of ash.
We must acknowledge that wildfire is a significant threat
to certain populated areas as well as to wildlands, and do more
to actively manage this threat before fire losses of a scope and
magnitude that rival tornadoes and hurricanes become a regular
occurrence. Wildfire research by IBHS and others has shown
that individuals and families can effectively protect their houses
and businesses against wildfires by addressing three clear zones
of vulnerability: the house or business itself; the landscaping
nearby; and the general vegetation in the area surrounding the
structure. Each zone can be dealt with through maintenance,
material and design improvements, and vegetation control.
Many of these projects are affordable and can be done over a
weekend. Some of the projects have an additional financial ben-
efit—they can help improve a building’s energy efficiency.
More Work to Be Done
At IBHS, we envision a time in the not-too-distant future when
communities become much more resilient, and low-level and
moderately powerful natural events become just manageable
bumps in the communal road, with life pretty much going on as
before. But there is a lot of work ahead of us in order to get there.
No matter which natural hazard is of direct concern to a community, there are certain things that would help make resilience
more immediately attractive to the people and businesses in
harm’s way. Mitigation incentives should come from stakeholders
beyond the property insurance industry. In addition to insurers
making coverage more available and more affordable to relatively
lower-risk properties, others who benefit from reduced loss costs
at the individual property owner or community level should encourage resilience. These stakeholders include mortgage lenders,
tax authorities, landlords, and community developers.
When the entire value chain around a structure reflects
relative risk and both first-cost and entire lifecycle costs and
benefits are aligned, resilience catches on. When demand for
better building design and materials increases, more choices will
We can become a more resilient nation, community by community. In fact, because we cannot prevent Mother Nature from
roaring, our economic and national security depend on us taking
the necessary steps to stand up to her and defend ourselves, and
the places in which we live and work.
JULIE ROCHMAN is the president and chief executive officer
of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
A wildfire demonstration at the
IBHS Research Center.