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Natural disasters on the rise: risk mitigation strategies for lumber professionals

Already in 2023, natural disasters have wreaked havoc throughout the country. As of August 8, the 15 confirmed weather and climate disaster events have caused reported losses that exceed $1 billion in the United States as reported by the National Centers for Environmental Information. That does not include the wildfire events in Maui, Arizona, Oregon and countless others totaling over 2 million impacted acres so far in 2023 according to the National Interagency Fire Center. For lumber dealers and operators, such disasters have the ability to halt business operations and risk employee and visitor safety, not to mention potentially cost millions of dollars in damages.  

With several months left in the year, lumber and building material dealers should heed the warning of natural disasters in 2023 and double down on their risk mitigation and disaster planning strategies. From hurricanes and lightning to tornadoes and wildfires, it is impossible to predict how much damage such disasters will cause. Fortunately, there are ways to better protect lumber businesses from natural disasters through careful preparation. It’s never too late to get started. 

Hurricanes 

Hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30. In 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that hurricane season resulted in over $165 billion in damages. Identified as a storm with constant 74 mph winds or higher, hurricanes can cause heavy objects to fly through the air damaging property or potentially injuring people. At the same time, hurricane rains can cause extremely fast flooding, which can damage property and potentially destroy product.

Hurricane preparation requires careful attention and planning. Before a storm hits, lumber and building material dealers should ensure their properties are inspected from top to bottom. Roofing, gutters, drains and the like should all be inspected for operability and disrepair to ensure they can take on the excess wind and water. Windows and doors should be inspected and reinforced, securing hardware and latches for safety and any free-standing structures. Unsecured outdoor equipment should be taken inside and properly stored. 

If an evacuation is required, lumber and building material dealers should make certain their properties are prepared for the elements by ensuring gas, water and electric valves are turned off if necessary and supplies such as tools and reinforcement materials are placed in an easily accessible location. Communication must also be considered as excess winds and flooding could interrupt power and phone lines. 

Lumber and building material dealers can access additional hurricane preparedness tips for before, during and after a storm through Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company’s (PLM) Hurricanes & Floods loss control guide and through IBHS’s emergency preparedness and response plan, EZ-PREP.

Wildfires

This year has been no stranger to wildfires, from the Canadian wildfires impacting air quality in the northern United States to the wildfires in Maui that claimed over 100 peoples’ lives this summer. Often related to drought conditions and dry elements, wildfires can ignite and spread quickly. The leading causes of wildfires, however, are intentional burning or arson, followed by factors such as trash burning and careless smoking. 

To mitigate wildfire risks, lumber and building material dealers should consider the vegetation around their properties, their roofing materials, smoking policies, their emergency preparedness plans and more. The vegetation line of a lumber property should be at minimum 30 feet from the building exterior as vegetation can perpetuate fires and work as kindling to ignite a building. Roofing that is made with flammable materials such as low-quality asphalt have an 81% chance of being destroyed in a wildfire, where those made with nonflammable materials such as metal or slate have a 31% of being destroyed in a wildfire as noted in our PLM Wildfires Loss Control Guide. Ensuring all roofing is made with nonflammable materials is paramount to protecting high risk properties from wildfires. Smoking should be only done in safe, designated areas with proper disposal receptacles, away from building exteriors. 

An emergency preparedness plan is a critical element to help protect lumber and building material dealers should a wildfire blaze to the point of evacuation. Business owners will need to act quickly to keep their employees safe and continue serving their customers. The IBHS’ Business Continuity Toolkit, OFB-EZ®, is a great resource to get started on your emergency prepared plan and PLM’s wildfire loss control guide offers additional tips on mitigating wildfire risks. 

Lightning

Along with many storms comes lightning and unfortunately, dangerous and sporadic conditions that can lead to power surges and outages, fires and costly property damage. When lightning strikes, all personnel should be indoors and away from electrical equipment, windows, doors and metal objects. If shelter is unavailable, people should avoid wide open areas, isolated trees and high ground. With so much heavy machinery and electrical equipment used in the lumber business, lumber and building material dealers should make certain their properties are equipped with a good grounding system. Such systems should include at minimum two ground rods at least 10 feet deep, down conductors, air terminals and more. The elements of a good lightning protection system are laid out in PLM’s Lightning and Power Surges Loss Control Guide as well as additional lightning risk considerations. 

Tornados

Tornados are well known for leaving a path of destruction throughout impacted areas. Preparation is key, as once a tornado reaches its peak, there is little a person can do but protect themselves or property. Much like the above-mentioned disasters, lumber and building material dealers should understand weak points in their properties. Inspections should be done to ensure structures are resistant to tornados and identify areas for improvement. Windows, doors and free-standing outdoor objects should all be secured properly to combat high winds. Safe areas should also be identified long before a tornado approaches to ensure all employees are prepared to take shelter. 

Insurance Coverage 

PLM Insurance Policy

Again, the impact of a natural disaster cannot be predicted and while lumber and building material dealers have several resources at their disposal to prepare, some events are too destructive to hold off. Good insurance coverage is key to ensuring business owners are not subject to financial hardship due to a disaster. A specialty insurer in the lumber niche, like PLM, can be a valuable resource to ensure coverages such as business interruption and more are considered and deployed at the right values. 

PLM has been serving the industry for over 128 years and we know the challenges our businesses face. In addition to offering risk assessments and up-to-date risk management counsel on natural disasters, we also offer customized coverage designed to protect your businesses. In the event of a loss, lumber companies partnered with PLM can rest easier knowing their damages can be limited by the range of coverage PLM provides, including property, commercial auto, cyber, business interruption coverage and more. For more information, please visit https://www.plmins.com/ or contact us at CustServ@plmins.com or 1-800-752-1895.

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