When a fast-moving wildfire threatens a community, residents may have only minutes to seek safety. It’s an all-too common scenario for Californians and others in the West, who have suffered through more than one devastating fire season. California’s 2018 Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in history, burned 6,700 structures while Southern California wild fires burned 177 structures, with losses for these fires totally around $7 billion (source 3). 2019 was a much milder wildfire season, especially in comparison to 2017 and 2018; however, California remains the top state in the country for extreme wildfires with more than 2 million properties at risk (source 7).
On the opposite side of the country, hurricanes rival wildfires for wreaking havoc and displacing residents. In 2018, hurricanes significantly impacted the U.S. and Caribbean, resulting in approximately $100 billion in estimated losses.4 While 2019 saw a reprieve from monster storms, last year’s hurricane season on the Atlantic coast still resulted in almost $14 billion in damage.6
In contrast to quickly-spreading wildfires, residents often have more warning when a hurricane approaches. Depending on the strength of the storm, hundreds of thousands may be ordered to evacuate. Nearly 800,000 Texans faced mandatory evacuations for Hurricane Harvey. When Hurricane Irma hit Florida a few weeks later in 2017, some 6.5 million residents found themselves under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders. Half a million Florida residents were ordered to evacuate from Fort Lauderdale’s Broward County alone. During a natural disaster, neighboring areas not under evacuation orders see a surge in hotel bookings and rental demand, which inflates the cost of being temporarily displaced. Research indicates that altogether, the average cost for evacuating can be as much as $5,000 per family.5
After the danger has passed, the fortunate return to find their homes undamaged. But, while waiting to return and inspect potential damage, those under mandatory evacuation orders must seek emergency shelter until the all-clear is given, accumulating significant expenses around lodging, travel, and loss of use. For example, some Redding, California residents pushed out by 2017’s wildfires were allowed to return to undamaged areas after four days, while others had to wait significantly longer. After Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast in 2012, some New Jersey shore residents waited more than a week before being allowed to visit their homes. With each day that passes, the cost of evacuating rises, and many homeowners are unsure what costs are covered by homeowners insurance. Generally, homeowners’ policies can only help defray the costs of evacuating when coverage is triggered by physical damage to the residence. These policies don’t provide coverage when no damage is sustained.
Homeowners can help protect against the extra expenses incurred during disaster evacuations by adding a mandatory evacuation endorsement to their homeowners insurance policy, which is offered by a number of insurers for evacuations caused by wildfires and named storms. “The coverage is beneficial for those required to leave their home for multiple days or weeks,” says Allison Talus, CRC Regional Director of CRC Group’s Western States, Personal Lines Practice Group. “Homeowners can accumulate hotel charges and travel expenses but return to a home with no damage. Which is great, except without the loss to the home there’s nothing to trigger coverage, so the insured won’t receive payment for loss of use. With Mandatory Evacuation coverage the insured can receive payment for expenses without having a loss to their home.”
Mandatory evacuation coverage typically begins 24 hours after a mandatory evacuation order becomes effective and can extend for up to 14 days depending on the carrier. The coverage is very affordable, sometimes costing as little as $50 in additional annual premium. Coverage is also available for short-term rental property owners who face loss of rental income when mandatory evacuations nullify reservations.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that climate change is influencing variables that contribute to natural disasters, and it’s not getting better. Experts are forecasting a hot and dry summer in the West, which increases the likelihood of offshore wind events leading to increased fire danger. It’s expected that the biggest wildfire threat to Central and Southern California will come in late summer and into fall,7 On the East and Gulf Coasts, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma heralded a return to more damaging hurricane seasons after a decade of quiet. 2020’s NOAA forecast is expecting 13-19 named storms, of which 6-10 are likely to achieve hurricane status, with 3-6 becoming major hurricanes. Residents in at-risk areas should remain aware and prepare ahead of time for possible evacuations, including adding mandatory evacuation coverage to homeowners’ policies to lessen the financial impact of seeking safety during a natural disaster. Contact your CRC Group producer today to discuss how we can help your clients prepare for unexpected disaster.
- Allison Talus is the Director of Personal Lines – Western States located in the CRC Denver office and a member of the personal lines practice advisory group.
- Harvey victims begin returning home to damage and uncertainty, NBC News, Aug. 31, 2017. See: https://www. nbcnews.com/storyline/hurricane-harvey/harvey-victims-begin-returning-home-damage-uncertainty-n797946
- Hurricane Irma: By the numbers, ABC News, Sept. 12, 2017. https://abcnews.go.com/US/hurricane-irma-numbers/story?id=49677062
- California Wildfire Insured Losses at Billions of Dollars and Climbing, Insurance Journal. November 12, 2018. https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2018/11/12/507286.htm
- What to Expect from Builders Risk as Construction Market Booms, IA Magazine, January 29, 2018. https://www.iamagazine.com/markets/read/2018/01/29/what-to-expect-from-builders-risk-as-construction-market-booms
- Hurricane Irma's Coming: What an Average Family Spends and Does to Prepare, Fox Business, Sept. 7, 2017. https:// www.foxbusiness.com/markets/hurricane-irmas-coming-what-an-average-family-spends-and-does-to-prepare
- More Storms. Less Damage. But 2019’s Slow Hurricanes Leave Sense of Foreboding, Insurance Journal, November 30, 2019. https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2019/11/30/549673.htm
- What's Expected for the 2020 California Wildfire Season?, AccuWeather, May 25, 2020. https://www.accuweather.com/en/severe-weather/whats-expected-for-the-2020-california-wildfire-season/745087
- NOAA Predicts a ‘Busy’ 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season, EarthSky, June 1, 2020. https://earthsky.org/earth/atlantic-hurricane-season-2020-noaa-forecast
FEMA Image: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1390846764394-dc08e309debe561d866b05ac84daf1ee/checklist_2014.pdf