The Camp Fire: Key Insurance Tips to Remember During This Unprecedented Wildfire Catastrophe

California's insurance commissioner issued a release reminding residents to look for coverage under their homeowners' policies for help with evacuation and recovery expenses during this volatile wildfire season.
By: | November 14, 2018 • 3 min read

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse with California’s wildfires, it did. When the week of November 12 dawned, the death toll from the fast-moving Camp Fire that started in Butte County, Calif. was still mounting. And at 56 deaths and counting (as of Nov. 15), the fire, which obliterated the town of Paradise, Calif., is now the deadliest wildfire in California State history, outstripping the Griffith Park Fire of 1933.


Snapshot: With more than 7,000 structures destroyed and more than 117,000 acres burned, the Camp Fire dwarfs the losses from the Oakland Hills fire of 1991. The Camp Fire was so hot and burned so fiercely, that emergency personnel have been hindered in their attempts to determine just how many people died. One reason is that the ground is too hot for cadaver dogs to walk on.  The second is that the destruction of homes and the people in them is so complete in some cases that there are no recognizable human remains. Hundreds are still missing, many of them believed to be in shelters, and the death toll is almost certain to climb.

Recovery: California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones issued a release on November 9 reminding residents of the state who were evacuated from not only the Camp Fire in Northern California but also the Woolsey Fire in Southern California they might have insurance coverage under their homeowners policies that could help them with evacuation and recovery expenses. This coverage is known as ALE, an acronym for Additional Living Expense. ALE coverage typically covers food and housing costs, furniture rental, relocation and storage and extra transportation expenses. Jones’ office also provided some additional tips.

  • Public adjusters cannot solicit business until seven days after any disaster.
  • Home and business owners should make sure that agents and adjusters are properly licensed.
  • Jones asked that evacuees, whether their homes were lost or not, should call the California Department of Insurance at 800-927-4357, or visit if they need further assistance.

Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus cautioned the state’s homeowners to pay close attention to their policies, particularly for clauses that would limit damage payments from smoke and ash.

Cal/OSHA also issued guidance for companies that have employees working outdoors. Proper respiratory protection and a requirement that safe breathing spaces be established in wildfire impacted areas are among the agency’s recommendations.

Where do we go from here?:  In the aftermath of the devastation of the Camp Fire, political divisions erupted even before the embers cooled. President Donald Trump lambasted state officials in California, saying that their forestry management is inadequate. California lawmakers shot back that climate change is the culprit in making the state’s forest’s tinder dry. They added that Thousands Oaks, where the Woolsey Fire  did so much damage, and Malibu, which was burning on November 12, are not forests.


The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the state and federal government need to devote more funding to resiliency.

The Times lauded California lawmakers for earmarking $1 billion this year to thin and better manage forests over a five year period. But the editors also said that California’s building codes must be upgraded, mandating retrofitting to the states homes, such as tile roofs, which could cut down on the number of homes that could be lost in a raging wildfire. The Getty Museum, in Malibu, is just one example of a property, extremely well-funded of course, that was built and is maintained with fire resistance in mind. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]