This interview was conducted by Selva Ozelli
Tell us about how wildfires can/have affected businesses in Northern California?
In recent years, wildfires have had significant impacts on small and large businesses throughout Northern California. These wildfires have resulted in property damage, interruptions in operations, and various economic losses among multiple industries. Retail and hospitality sectors have suffered from reduced consumer spending as well as temporary closures. Additionally, tourism, forestry, and agriculture have been affected due to decreased visitors, disruption to timber operations, and damage to crops and vineyards. The cost of insurance for businesses in wildfire-prone areas has also risen, adding to the financial pressure. The poor air quality that comes with wildfires has also impacted local business causing health care facilities, senior living, higher education, production facilities, and other sectors to implement plans to maintain indoor air quality for the safety of residents, patients, and staff.
Have you noticed an increased trend in wildfires in your area?
The wildfires in recent years have introduced uncertainty and challenges for businesses and families in Northern California. Over the last few years, the region has witnessed an alarming increase in wildfires. Some attribute this trend to climate change, drought, human activities, wind, and weather events such as lightening strikes.
Was your area impacted by the Canadian wildfires?
Not significantly, although I was visiting family in Washington state during the Canadian wildfires and experienced the impact in terms of air quality.
Are you involved with the wildfires in Hawaii?
My heart goes out to those impacted by the wildfires in Hawaii. Having seen firsthand the devastation that wildfires can bring, I know this is a trying time for those living in Hawaii. While I am not personally involved, First Onsite has offices in Oahu and Kauai who are working diligently to provide support and remediation services where needed.
What are the consequences to wildfires on businesses and health?
The first major consequence of wildfires on businesses can be the loss of life which is tragic. Additional consequences include loss or damage to property, interruption of daily operations, economic losses, supply chain disruptions, and increased costs.
From a health and well being standpoint, wildfire smoke releases fine particulate matter and pollutants into the air which can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and COPD. The strain on the healthcare system can be felt due to increased hospital admissions and medical visits due to smoke related illness. This can significantly impact our vulnerable population including children, elderly, and pregnant women as well as those with pre-existing health concerns.
What we often don’t discuss is the impact that wildfires can have on mental health for businesses, employees, and families. The stress, anxiety, and trauma among impacted individuals who have lost their homes, businesses, loved ones, pets, or livelihoods is not to be taken for granted.
How should people/businesses protect themselves against wildfire damage?
Both businesses and individuals can take steps to protect themselves from wildfires by doing the following:
- Developing a wildfire preparedness plan – This is a comprehensive plan that outlines evacuation procedures, communication requirements, as well as steps to safeguard property and assets. Be sure to include multiple escape routes within your evacuation plan.
- Employee Training – Train employees on fire safety and evacuation protocols and procedures, including the use of fire extinguishers.
- Landscaping – Maintain defensible space around your business or home by removing dead vegetation, and trimming trees.
- Emergency supplies – Keep emergency supply kits onsite stocked with essentials such as water, non-perishable foods, blankets, flashlights, basic first air medications, etc.
- Air quality protection – During wildfires try to stay indoors, keep windows and doors closed to minimize exposure. Have the proper PPE for your employees, especially those who may be required to work outdoors. If you must remain open, have a pre-planed discussion with a trusted restoration company who can supply air quality control equipment to keep the AQI levels low enough to create a safe work environment.
- Insurance coverage – Plan ahead and ensure that your business or home has adequate insurance coverage including coverage from property damage as a result of a wildfire and interruption of operations.
Anything else you would like to add.
I think it’s important to plan for unforeseen evacuation challenges in wildfire situations. Evacuations are very stressful. Some of the more complicated evacuations I’ve seen involve business that provide specialized care such as hospitals, senior living communities, pet daycares, and animal shelters. It’s important for all businesses to have Business Continuity Plans (BCP’s) in place in preparation or any type of disaster. While a business may not need to evacuate, business owners and leaders should understand that evacuations can impact their employees, as well as employee’s friends and families. Consideration should always be given to team members who may need to evacuate their place of residence.
How can people reach you?