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Things to Consider When Securing a Multi-Tenant Site After a Large Loss

Fire scenes often involve all types of public entities: emergency medical, law enforcement, and fire services. Public utilities such as gas and electric companies may also be involved. Passersby, owners, tenants, customers, delivery agents all may have relevant information on what happened. The press and curious individuals attracted to large fire scenes can complicate investigations, making security a necessity. All of these entities can cause a large loss to spiral out of control very quickly.

Increased complications occur when the loss is at a multi-tenant site due to:

  • Multiple tenants involved
  • Several insurers involved
  • Multiple points of access
  • The mitigation takes longer
  • Property managers could be involved
  • Numerous experts onsite as well as various agencies
  • Higher exposure to liabilities
  • Tenant safety issues
  • Problems with asbestos
  • Fire watches may be required
  • Escorting and tracking systems may be necessary

When more people have access to the site, protecting the valuables that survived a fire becomes more of a concern. Theft of even the smallest item can impede evidence continuity in a case. If an insured wants to return to a scene to recover belongings, their every move must be authorized and recorded, to protect evidence for court. A well-secured scene ensures all items remain onsite and undisturbed until the insurance investigation is complete. A security presence also deters intruders who could be injured and become a liability risk.

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Fire Scene Security: The Importance of Preserving the Continuity of Evidence

Public safety is but one reason to have good, attentive security personnel guard a fire scene once authorities wrap up. Evidence that could be critical to a claim adjuster’s case is also at stake. Since the fire-fighter’s suppression of the blaze itself has already contributed to the demise of evidence, it is even more imperative to protect what is left. The issue of diligently protecting evidence in the interest of insurers is a relatively recent concern. Several court cases in Canada and the United States have penalized insurance companies for a lack of due diligence in protecting evidence, which ended in bad-faith judgements against insurers. In Canada, industry specialists point to an award against Pilot Insurance for $1 million in punitive damages for bad faith in refusing to pay out on a Haliburton family’s home, in part due to the company’s failure to produce credible evidence to support its suspicion of arson. In the United States, a number of similar rulings, along with a heightened concern over fire scene management in general, led to the release of the 79-page Fire and Arson Scene Evidence: A Guide for Public Safety Personnel. In the guide’s preface, Janet Reno, U.S attorney general at the time of its publication, writes: “Actions taken at the outset of an investigation at a fire and arson scene can play a pivotal role in the resolution of a case.” She continues, “Careful, thorough investigation is key to ensuring that potential physical evidence is not tainted or destroyed or potential witnesses overlooked.”

In a section called “Identify, Collect and Preserve Evidence,” the guide encourages fire officials to notify insurers as early as possible when a fire appears to be accidental and to “establish and maintain strict control of access to the scene” to ensure evidence integrity.

The timely arrival of reliable, private security personnel on a scene, to assist an adjuster once authorities are done, is pivotal to successful claims management.

To learn more about ASAP Secured please visit: www.asapsecured.com.

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Three Benefits to Having a Mobile Command Centre On-Site

A Safe and Private Meeting Room

A mobile command centre enables insurers to mitigate a loss on location effectively. It allows for spontaneous and confidential meetings between adjusters, engineers, and homeowners directly on-site. This can be particularly valuable in the event of a large-scale loss where immediate and confidential dialogue is critical.

Portable and Personal Office Space

Why go back and forth from your office to the site when you can have a fully operational office right on-site? A mobile command centre is equipped with a desk and chair, a large whiteboard, an Internet-ready computer, printer, and scanner, as well as air conditioning and heating units.

An Extra Layer of Protection

With security signage and decals on the outside of the command centre, it serves as a significant visual deterrent to potential criminals.

ASAP Secured has a 15-foot mobile command centre that can be rapidly deployed to select large loss sites across Ontario, allowing adjusters and other insurance industry professionals the ability to offer immediate assistance to their customers during a crisis or disaster.

To learn more about ASAP Secured and the mobile command centre, please visit: www.asapsecured.com.

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Three Benefits to Securing a Large Loss Site

Fires, by their destructive nature, consume the evidence of their initiation and progress as they grow. Often investigations are compromised, and scenes are further destroyed unintentionally by fire services, emergency medical and law enforcement whose primary responsibility is to save lives and protect people and property against further damage. The press and curious individuals attracted to large fire scenes can also complicate investigations and damage evidence, making security a necessity.

Below are three benefits to securing a large loss site:

  • Having security on a large loss site gives the adjuster time to review the policy, check their limits, find the named insured, and see if there are any exclusions in the policy. It also allows for the adjuster to get the right experts on the scene and seek legal advice if necessary. Time spent at the beginning of a claim can drastically speed up the process, making both the client and insurance company extremely satisfied.
  • Security also allows adjusters the ability to determine the liability and to prevent any further liability from occurring, while at the same time addressing any safety issues that may be present.
  • Lastly, security allows the adjuster to identify and address subrogation potential and to keep the continuity of any evidence. Insurers must demonstrate to the courts that proper procedures were established to preserve the continuity of evidence. If the site is not protected, unauthorized people entering the scene could remove or damage evidence that may be key to the insurance company’s case to determine liability or to seek subrogation.

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Plan E for Emergency! Are You Prepared?

As I hear and read about all the tragic and heart-wrenching events that have taken place over the years, I start to wonder what my family and I would do in an emergency situation. We are told that we should have this and that, in case something happens, but I have never met anyone who is actually prepared for an emergency. As a husband and father of two small children, a 4 and 1-year-old, it terrifies me to think of an emergency situation happening to my family, especially if I am not there. Unfortunately, it usually takes a serious event to get people to think about these things and prepare for what they would do. After the forest fires in Fort McMurray, my wife and I decided that we should have plans for different disasters and emergencies.

We started with teaching my son about fire safety and created a plan of what to do if a fire occurs in our house. The plan included different ways to get out of the house, places he can go, and who he can call when he is safe. The most difficult thing to talk about was getting his sister out and not worrying about his parents. This was a quick discussion as he is only 4 years old, but it is important to talk to your family about these types of situations, no matter how horrible they may be because everyone needs to know what they should do in these events. After creating our fire plan, we went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of nonperishable foods and some emergency supplies so we could be prepared for other emergencies.

After this, I thought my family and I would be ready for any situation that might occur until I was at home with my two children while my wife was at work. I was walking down the stairs carrying my daughter when I caught my foot on one of the steps and almost lost my balance. Luckily I did not fall, but it made me think about what would happen if I did hurt myself badly? Would my son know what to do? I travel for work and started to think about when he’s alone with his mother. He has learned her cell phone number (not mine yet) but like most people, cell phones are password protected, and we do not have a home phone. How would he call for help? At this point, I remembered about a function that most iPhone’s have for emergencies. On the bottom left-hand corner, there is an emergency button that appears, and you can call 911. Also, there is a button labeled medical ID. If you touch this button, it will list emergency contacts (with a link to call them) as well as some medical information about yourself, such as blood type and if you are an organ donor. This feature is very useful, not only for emergencies at home but also if you get into an accident anywhere. Paramedics can access this information along with your appointed emergency contact. This data needs to be filled out through the health app on your phone.

I know we cannot have a plan for everything, nor can we be fully prepared for an emergency or disaster but I feel more comfortable knowing that my family has discussed what could happen and what they should do. The most important part of any plan is to educate.

 

For more information on emergency planning with your family visit: http://www.getprepared.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/yprprdnssgd/index-en.aspx

 

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Fort McMurray – The Next Phase

CaptureThe fires around Fort McMurray will be the largest disaster on Canadian soil in history. Since May 2nd, the fire has expanded rapidly covering an area of over 241,000 hectares, the size of roughly one-third of the Greater Toronto Area. The fact that the fire destroyed 2400 houses and buildings and displaced nearly 90,000 people also makes it a human tragedy. Losing all your belongings and memories must be a devastating feeling. The moment that the city will be opened up is getting closer. The expectation is that the government will implement a phased approach. For example, those who work in essential services will go as the first group. Another group is the specialized engineers and insurance adjusters. Many of them are currently handing out cheques to policyholders in surrounding safe shelters. Once Fort McMurray is open to them, they will need to assess the damages to all affected homes and businesses. In some neighbourhoods, the losses are catastrophic and in others, there is only light smoke damage. The moment the city opens up there will be safety and security concerns. In many instances, properties will require some form of protection as it may not be livable, but may still contain valuable content. Also, a thorough inspection must be conducted to determine the damages, and the scene cannot be tampered with. Support in this next phase may also center around housing, food, cleaning and other basic needs. These services can be provided in the form of temporary camps with bedding and linens, kitchen trailers, shower facilities, laundry trailers and other equipment.

It is not only Western Canada that is experiencing a high amount of fires. Recently, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry reported 45 fires that have burned over 85 hectares of land in Northern Ontario so far.

Dr. Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, thinks this might be just a taste of things to come. Fire is a normal part of many ecosystems but the fire regime is changing in Canada, as warmer, dryer conditions, due to global warming, increase the chances of more frequent and intense wildfires. We’re also putting ourselves more at risk from fire by moving into naturally fire-prone environments in ever larger numbers.

Both of these factors will oblige us to learn to live and co-exist with fire, and find ways to reduce our risk and exposure when it comes.” (http://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/quirks-quarks-for-may-7-2016-1.3570026/fort-mcmurray-and-the-future-of-fire-1.3570153)

Many remote mines and oils sand operations have taken measures to protect their facilities against the destruction. Vast areas around the plants are cleared, so there is no material for the fire to consume. However, they still depend on functioning cities where their workers live and highways are used for transportation, products, and equipment.

The events of Fort McMurray will spark debates over how to protect vulnerable areas.

 

 

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People Helping People in Fort McMurray

Fire seen from the highway in Fort McMurray. (Serghei Cebotari)

Fire seen from the highway in Fort McMurray. (Serghei Cebotari)

Since joining the emergency fire scene division at ASAP Secured back in 2009, I’ve seen a significant amount of buildings lost due to fires or other large disasters. The stories I’ve heard from those involved and the damage that occurred was unbelievable. Many of the fires involved three houses or multi-residential locations such as condos or apartments. There were a few occasions when the disaster took out a block or town square, but those were mostly caused by tornadoes. I have never seen a fire cause as much damage as it has in Fort McMurray.

When visiting fire sites, I am always amazed how quickly and effortlessly the community rallies to support those who were affected. People offered space in their homes, went door to door to gather food, supplies and even toys for the children who were involved. Most families didn’t have time to collect any of their belongings and only had seconds to make sure that everyone got out safely. No one ever thinks that a fire will affect them. It is important to talk with your family about a fire plan and to practice it on a regular basis.

When I heard on the news what other communities around Fort McMurray and all across Alberta were doing to help those who were evacuated, it didn’t surprise me at all. It is great to see not only a province but an entire country come together to help those in need. But there is still a lot that needs to be done. Below are some ways that each of us can contribute:

DONATE MONEY

  1. If you want to donate to the Red Cross, you can give any amount through this link: Alberta Fires Appeal. Alternately, you can donate $5 by texting REDCROSS to 30333 or donate $10 by texting FIRES to 45678. Be careful: Some scammers are posing as the Red Cross asking for money on social media. Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government is matching all donations made to the Red Cross for the Fort McMurray Wildfires.
  2. If you want to donate to the Salvation Army, you can give any amount through this link: Alberta Fire Response.
  3. If you want to donate to Save the Children, you can give any amount through this link: Fort McMurray Emergency Wildfire.

OFFER ACCOMMODATION

  1. If you need a place to stay, or are looking to take in some evacuees, check out these Facebook groups: Fort, Fort McMurray evac relocation help group.
  2. Airbnb has waived all service fees for those affected by the fire, and there are already over 140 places listed on the site for free.
  3. Those able to house displaced people can also sign up at ymmfire.ca

HELP PETS

  1. The Calgary Humane Society is taking donations; you can give here: Fundraiser in Support of Fort McMurray.
  2. The Edmonton Humane Society is also taking donations; you can give here: Fort McMurray Wildfire Donation form.
  3. Those looking to house people’s pets, help unify lost pets with owners, and generally assist with animal rescue should check out this Facebook page: Fort McMurray Fire Emergency Animal Assistance

DONATE FOOD AND ITEMS

  1. If you want to donate items such as blankets or clothes, check out this Facebook group: Fort Mac Fire Donations. Make sure you’re only giving things people actually need. People often donate things after a disaster that aren’t needed, and sometimes actually get in the way of vital supplies.
  2. Edmonton Emergency Relief Services is collecting new shoes, towels, socks, underwear, diapers, baby wipes, and toiletries. Drop off items at: Hangar 2: 3631 – 56 Ave East, Edmonton International Airport.
  3. Edmonton’s Food Bank is collecting donations. Food can be dropped off at any major grocery store or fire hall.

VOLUNTEER

  1. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is inviting volunteers to sign up here.
  2. Edmonton Emergency Relief Services is looking for volunteers (must be 16 or older) at a number of locations throughout Edmonton. Volunteers are particularly needed at the airport, as that location is running 24-7. Follow their Facebook page: Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society, for the latest updates.
  3. Those interested in volunteering with the Red Cross can sign up here.

*Source: Macleans “Want to Help Fort McMurray? Here’s How.”Zane Schwartz http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/want-to-help-those-fleeing-fort-mcmurray-heres-how/

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Fort McMurray Wildfire – Testimonial to a Well Executed Emergency Response Plan

fortNo one ever wants to have to deploy an emergency response plan. The reality is when disaster strikes, every second counts. The Alberta Provincial Government has had to put their emergency service and business continuity plan into action, having to deal with the Fort McMurray wildfires. The quick deployment provided a safe and orderly evacuation. It is evident that the Alberta government was prepared; “Based on lessons learned that we have learned from Slave Lake and from High River, we have teams with an immense amount of experience in doing this,” says Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management. The Alberta government had preset defined plans, agreements, as well as memorandums of understandings that allowed the execution of the emergency response to act immediately with a focus on three key elements:

Phase 1. Safety of People

Phase 2. Stabling and Preserving Infrastructure

Phase 3. Re-entry of Residents and Businesses

Some evacuees are questioning whether local and provincial authorities could have done a better job of coordinating evacuation efforts. Fort McMurray residents said they were only given seconds to leave their homes. Others described panicked police officers and emergency service personnel who sometimes didn’t seem to be steering evacuees in the right direction, away from the fire. Even with a complete and well-defined emergency response plan, when the disaster strikes – every second counts to get perspective on what needs to be done in order to put the plan into play.

The Alberta government has had support as a result of their many agreements and memorandum of understanding. Many companies are working to ensure preventative and proactive measures are immediately launched and deployed including; transportation companies, oil and gas industry, military, federal and provincial governments, energy and infrastructure, Red Cross, first responders and emergency support groups as well as real-time voluntary support.

While the government is dealing with the Fort McMurray’s current landscape, they are also assisting residents with resource centres, insurance and financial assistance, and healthcare services. Edmonton and Calgary have also provided support and offered education assistance for displaced students.

The Fort McMurray Wildfire is a heroic testimonial to the success of an emergency response plan. The 911 response and action, managed to evacuate residents and save the city core infrastructure.

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A Tragic Tail

This past summer I was lucky enough to be involved in a few of the events at the Pam Am games. My favorite was the equestrian competitions that took place in Caledon. To witness how big and beautiful the horses were from different countries and how each one had their own personality was remarkable. Each equestrian event showcased each horse’s unique talents and strengths.

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January 2016: ASAP Secured security guard on duty.

So naturally, it was hard to hear about all the recent barn fires that have taken place across Ontario. Late at night on January 4, a large barn fire started at Classy Lane Stables Training Centre in Puslinch where 40 horses and three ponies perished in the fire. 10 days later, ASAP Secured was called to secure another large barn fire in Mount Forest that claimed the lives of 13 Arabian horses.

Unfortunately, barn fires have been on the rise in Ontario over the last three years. According to the Fire Marshal’s Office, between 2012 and 2014 there were 443 barn fires in the province; 192 of those barns were housing animals at the time. Although these fires and ones similar to them have caused tremendous damage and even sometimes the loss of lives, it never surprises me to see how communities, no matter how big or small, all come together to help those that have been affected by these tragic events.

Similar to the recent changes in fire code regulations for retire homes, I’m hoping that new fire prevention laws are applied to all barns that house animals to reduce tragic barn fires that claim more lives.

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January 2016: Barn fire site.

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