One year ago today the community of Fort McMurray was preparing an evacuation for what would be one of the most devastating natural catastrophes to impact Canada. The wildfire, first noticed by helicopter on May 1, would meander into town two days later guided by unpredictable winds, low humidity, and record breaking temperatures. More than 88,000 people were evacuated and miraculously no one was killed as a direct cause of the fire. This is a true testament to the exceptional work of the Wood Buffalo fire department and all other emergency personnel that helped with the evacuation.
Within days the insurance industry had representatives on the ground handing out cheques so policy owners could pay for accommodations and meals as a result of the evacuation ban, which was to last over a month. As part of this process reinsurers were pre-advancing funds to insurers so they in turn could quickly pass these on those
affected. In fact, reinsurers were responsible for about 85% of the CAD $3.7 billion in insured losses, proving once again to all Canadians that reinsurers are up to the task whether the devastation is caused by a wildfire, ice storm, or an earthquake.
2,500 structures were completely destroyed. According to CATIQ there were 25,000 property claims, 18,000 auto claims, and 5,000 commercial claims. Insurers were severely challenged by the sheer volume of claims but by allocating incredible resources to the situation they were able to overcome obstinate obstacles with the sole aim of comforting policy holders, in what would be, most likely, the most stressful time of their lives.
The wildfire resulted in CAD $9.5 billion in economic losses of which CAD $3.7 billion was insured. The ratio of insured to economic losses is similar to other events of this scale around the world. With almost CAD $6 billion in uninsured losses all stakeholders including insurers, governments, and consumers must come together and sit at the same table with the goal of closing this tremendous gap. We cannot let this happen again. Much of this protection gap could be covered by the private sector. The private sector has various risk transfer tools at their disposable such as traditional reinsurance and parametric based reinsurance covers. In addition, risk pooling amongst the various provinces could be another approach to reduce the gap.
Today, Fort McMurray has begun the rebuilding process. The construction season is short lasting from about May to October. The rebuilding will take four or five years and provide welcome employment to an area hard hit by the decline in oil prices. The rebuilding effort will not only create much needed jobs and bolster economic
growth but is a testament to the internal fortitude of the Alberta people.
A main cornerstone of the rebuilding effort should be to make our communities more resilient to natural catastrophe perils. Municipalities should be uncompromising when it comes to zoning new development in, or close to, forested areas. New building should not take place in flood zones and building codes should include hurricane straps in all new homes so that they are more resilient to wind storms and tornadoes. These are just a few of the steps required to make our communities more resilient. A lot has been done but more remains to protect our communities from the natural catastrophe perils that continue to threaten us each and every day.
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Climate change, Disaster risk, Resilience