Canadian Underwriter

Insurers prepare to assess damage from Fort McMurray

May 5, 2016   by Staff and Canadian Press

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(Serghei Cebotari)

(Serghei Cebotari)

Insurance providers are already preparing to assess the damage from a massive fire still burning in Fort McMurray, Alta., that has charred homes, cars and other treasured possessions. Several news operations now say more than 1,600 homes and buildings in the area have been destroyed, with 80 percent of the Beacon Hill suburb reduced to ash and rubble.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada is urging the more than 80,000 residents who have been forced to evacuate the city to contact their insurance providers and keep track of all their expenses.

“Insurers are mobilized and will answer questions,” said IBC spokesman Steve Kee.

Those questions have already begun, and the mainstream media is getting a bit of a refresher course in home policy 101. As Kee pointed out to Maclean’s, most policies offer replacement cost coverage up to certain limits, or guaranteed replacement cost coverage that includes any additional costs beyond. And most policies require the homeowner to rebuild on the same site.

Some homeowners will learn very quickly that replacement cost isn’t the same as market value, which also takes into account what the land is worth, and the homeowner chooses to sell and move, they’re only going to get cash value. Of course, it depends on who they’re with, as some insurers will pay replacement costs for those who decide not to rebuild.

“We are trying to locate our policyholders to provide them with emergency funding right away so they can carry on with their lives in this catastrophe,” said Trevor Brick, Western Regional Claims Manager at Economical Insurance in a formal announcement.

Crawford and Company is another firm that’s issued a statement regarding the wildfire, reporting that it’s “receiving a large number of calls from policyholders that are being evacuated in the region who are seeking advice and assistance. We are working closely with our insurer partners to provide emergency financial relief and instructions on how to proceed.”

Aviva says its senior claims representatives have opened a temporary command centre at the Canalta Lac la Biche Hotel in the area. The company says that “as soon as the evacuation order has been lifted from Fort McMurray, a new temporary Aviva location will be set up in the town and adjusters will be able to respond directly to the catastrophe and help the community deal with their losses.”

Suncor oil sands facility seen from a helicopter near Fort McMurray

Suncor oil sands facility seen from a helicopter near Fort McMurray

There are mild concerns over whether the wildfire could reach the oil sands, but the closest mines are a 30-minute drive north of Fort McMurray. As the Financial Post has reported, energy sector companies were enacting their emergency procedures and Suncor, Shell, ATCO Ltd., Inter Pipeline and Enbridge had or were preparing to shut down pipelines in the area.

Alberta’s disasters are starting to feel like the trials of Job. Insurers doled out $1.8 billion over the 2013 Alberta floods, according to the IBC’s 2015 report on Canada’s property and casualty insurance industry. And in 2011, a wildfire that ravaged Slave Lake caused more than $700 million in damage. At the time, the IBC calculated it to be the second-costliest insured disaster in Canada after the 1998 ice storms in Ontario and Quebec that saw $1.6 billion in payouts.

Some changes to insurance offerings can come from such disasters, said Rocco Neglia, vice-president of claims at Economical Insurance..

Following the Alberta floods, for example, many insurance carriers expanded overland flooding coverage to personal property, he said. Previously, that type of coverage was typically only offered to businesses.

Sometimes, natural disasters can lead to increased premiums for customers to help insurers cover expenses after major disasters.

Intact reported it paid out about $300 million to customers in Alberta due to storms and the floods in 2013, and analysts have speculated insurance costs are likely to rise as weather-related catastrophes occur more frequently.

The leading cause of insurance claims comes from severe weather damaging properties, and payouts for catastrophic losses have hovered around $1 billion annually for the six years up to and including 2014, the IBC said.

Premiums are based on a number of factors, said Mike Van Elsberg, senior vice-president of claims in Intact’s Western division.

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.