In many parts of the world, wildfire risk has become a real and frightening concern for people living in high-risk areas. Property owners, first responders, and government officials at all levels are confronted by the need to plan for and all too often react to fires.
From a business perspective, any owner or operator of a fixed asset, mortgage holder, insurance carrier or service provider, and regulators of these industries are all coping with a quickly changing risk profile.
On a personal level, as a homeowner in rural Northern New England, I worry more and more about the increasingly real possibility of wildfires. As a life-long hiker, I am often confronted with reminders of the fact that wildfires can happen, even in the Northeast.
It’s common for hikes to feature a panoramic view from an old fire tower at the top of the mountain. Thankfully, I can say my home has never been at any immediate risk. Yet, when I look out from one of those towers, I am reminded that they were built out of a need to detect wildfire.
Fire behavior is dynamic
Year on year, wildfires are becoming more frequent. They grow larger, burn hotter, and move more erratically. In California alone, 4.2 million acres burned in 2020, the worst year on record. Oregon, Washington, and Colorado saw similarly record-breaking fire activity during the 2020 fire season.
In the US, for most of the spring and summer, turn on the news, and you’re immediately met with the damage these fires are posing to a growing number of Americans. Changes in precipitation, defensible space and the damage brought by the Mountain Pine Beetle are dynamically changing the patterns of wildfire risk to these communities.
Around my house, a combination of the Emerald Ash Bore and ice storms have left several standing dead trees that had me deeply worried during the draught in the Northeast in 2020. Like so many others, I am hyper-aware of the fact that wildfire patterns are not stable or predictable.
But there are ways of understanding these changes and risks as they develop. With the recent acquisition of Anchor Point Group LLC, Precisely has further committed to investments in wildfire risk assessment. We believe a better risk assessment tool means a better understanding of mitigation.
We provide assessment tools that benefit government agencies, policymakers, insurers, and consumers. In this post, I’ll discuss more about how wildfire data is helping to mitigate risk in a number of key areas.
Wildfire data helps cities to take necessary precautions
In 2021, in response to the wildfire disasters being faced across California, the City of Calistoga decided to require stricter building standards in high fire risk zones and update its wildfire risk map. They enlisted Precisely to guide them to a higher level of accuracy and planning as they worked to reduce these wildfire hazards.
A flexible, up-to-date digital model was created. It can identify where burning embers are likely to trigger a fire. It also helps predict the possibility of home-to-home ignition or urban conflagration. The data allows the creation of custom maps to support wildfire planning and land-use decisions.
For Calistoga firefighters, this new model means that they now can make on-the-spot decisions in the field. “Having something like this at our fingertips, we can carry real-time response plans in the trucks and implement them immediately, rather than rely on hours- or day-old information to make our decisions,” said Calistoga Fire Chief, Steve Campbell. This is particularly powerful as Calistoga Fire had last updated its high-risk zone designations for the city in 2008.
In short, the updated measures will help the City of Calistoga to more accurately predict wildfire risk. It enables it to take the necessary precautions to minimize impact to citizens. Or, as Council Member Don Williams succinctly remarked: “it could potentially save lives.”
Insurers need quality data to inform decisions when assessing wildfire risk
Wildfires were once merely an afterthought for the insurance industry. But with the increase in risk, it has fast become a more necessary factor for underwriters to consider. However, insurers are currently facing two main issues when it comes to analyzing the potential impacts of wildfires:
1. The quantity and variety of data available
As fires have grown both in size and damage, so has the investment in data collection and application. Wildfire risk assessors have many tools available. Among those are aerial imagery extraction, digital elevation modeling (DEM) and the application of near-real-time datasets (ex: Weather, smoke dispersion, etc.).
The challenge for insurers is that the quantity and update frequency of these datasets is so variable. Data providers simplify the result. They take the large number of datasets available and produce a product with simplified risk rankings at the property level. Integrating this variety and volume of data into a product with a simple, scalable output directly benefits insurers. It enables them to make decisions quickly and with confidence.
2. Increased variability in fire behavior
Fire behavior itself is changing. This leads to the second issue faced by insurers: accounting for the irregularities of fire behavior in their modeling.
As climate patterns change, insurance carriers can no longer rely only on previous wildfire seasons to inform property risk models. They want a risk model that can account for this variability.
Having access to data models which provide accurate and current snapshots of risk allows these carriers to make faster, data-driven decisions when they matter most. Currency and quality become incredibly important.
With quicker access to data, insurers have expanded capabilities to identify fraud where it may take place. They can flag claims in low-risk areas for further review. They can also quickly identify areas at a very high risk of damage to select claims to be fast-tracked. These types of extended capabilities benefit insurance carriers by allowing them to spend time and resources anticipating the needs of their policyholders.
Investing in the development of smarter property risk assessment tools
But the applications of wildfire risk assessment don’t end with insurance providers. Understanding wildfire risk is also important in industries such as property technology (PropTech). It has impacts on property value as well as on the real estate buying process.
Likewise, telcos need to understand wildfire risk better. It helps mitigate the impact it can have on serviceability. These are just a few ways wildfire assessment takes the complexity out of wildfire risk modeling, enabling businesses to make important decisions at scale.
Precisely’s latest Wildfire Risk capabilities allow customers to receive real-time wildfire warnings. They also provide consumer wildfire risk reports for properties. These protect high-risk communities from the impending threat of wildfire.
Precisely is a leader in world-class addressing and property products. It aims to further develop Wildfire Risk as an assessment tool. It is expanding its use to new geographies and growing the accuracy and currency of the dataset. Our goal is to make a product that is easy to use and can be enriched with other data offerings and tied to an address via the PreciselyID.
Click here to learn more about how Wildfire Risk can help assess the real-world exposure of critical infrastructure and property to wildfire impacts.
Precisely is the global leader in data integrity, providing accuracy, consistency, and context in data for 12,000 customers in more than 100 countries, including 97 of the Fortune 100. Precisely’s data integration, data quality, data governance, location intelligence, and data enrichment products power better business decisions to create better outcomes. Learn more at www.precisely.com.