When it comes to the destructive potential of wildfires, most people think of the threat posed to homes and forests. But they also present an enormous risk to businesses located in high-risk areas. While homes can be rebuilt and forests regrown, businesses forced to close due to wildfire damage may never reopen. For instance, 13% of businesses affected by the Camp Fire of 2018 never reopened due to damage sustained during the fire.
Like with any disaster, limiting the devastation of a wildfire on a small business comes down to preparation. A comprehensive insurance policy covering wildfire damage is essential. But there’s more to be done. In particular, businesses in which employees are present with wildfires nearby are under pressure to formulate a safety plan. Proper planning and adequate attention paid to various measures could keep a disaster from turning into a tragedy.
The following is a wildfire preparedness checklist for small businesses:
The first step in preparing your small business for the possibility of wildfire is assessing the risk and determining potential weaknesses. Start with the outer perimeter of your premises and work inward, taking note of any dry brush, dead trees, or anything else that could ignite from a single spark. Examine your building for any signs of elevated risks, such as exposed timbers or places where embers can land unnoticed. Take these observations and use them to develop a more detailed approach to fire prevention if a wildfire threatens your business at a later date.
Local building codes probably require your business to have one or more fire extinguishers on site. Small businesses in areas where the threat of wildfire is higher than usual should consider adding several more extinguishers to the mix. Make sure they are placed in ideal locations in and around the structure. The last thing you want is to spend precious moments running from one side of the building to the other in order to grab the nearest fire extinguisher.
Even if your business is spared from the devastation of a nearby wildfire, it may be rendered inoperable due to a loss of power. Rather than wait for power to be restored – which could take days or longer – use a dual fuel generator to provide enough power to resume business as usual. A dual fuel generator enables you to use either gasoline or propane, making them a more convenient option compared to standard generators that only use one kind of fuel.
Specific tools will come in handy if a wildfire is approaching your small business. For instance, axes, rakes, and shovels can be used to clear land around the facility, keeping nearby wildfires from spreading any further inward. Furthermore, having an extra long garden hose will let you coat the outside of your building in water, reducing the chance of a spark or ember starting a fire. Lastly, personal protective equipment like gloves, masks, and goggles should be available for everyone on site.
Small business owners in the potential path of wildfire should have a designated shelter for employees to access when a fire reaches the facility. Examples include basements and storm cellars. The lowest point in the building is usually the best. Designate a center room on the ground floor if there is no basement or cellar. From there, map out an evacuation plan in case workers are forced to flee. If possible, you should have two routes, both of which lead as far away from the building without putting evacuees at risk of the existing inferno.
All these preparations won’t mean much if your staff aren’t adequately trained on what to do in the event of a fire. Take the time to run fire drills as well as let every employee know where they can find extinguishers. Ensuring everyone knows what to do reduces the risk of anyone getting seriously hurt or killed in a fire.
Many people in the path of a wildfire make the mistake of assuming no obvious signs of fire means the threat is over. But as previously mentioned, embers floating in the air can land on the roof or other concealed parts of the building, where they can ignite flammable materials and cause a fire. With this in mind, it’s essential for small business owners to do a thorough inspection of the building once the coast is seemingly clear. Start with the roof and work your way down until all sections have been examined.
People tend to forget that wildfires pose as much a risk to businesses as they do residential property. By taking all necessary precautions, small business owners in areas at a greater than average risk of fire can limit the potential damage to their business and keep their employees safe from harm.