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Severe Weather Impacts: Tips for Response and Prevention
Access all of ACA's updated severe weather resources on the Severe Weather Resources page.
As we all know, the 2009/2010 winter/spring weather has been anything but normal. There have been record snowfalls in several parts of the county, unprecedented flooding in the Northeast, and fires and strong winds in other parts of the country . . . so what might this mean for your buildings, property maintenance, and insurance? This topic was one of several discussed at the recent Insurance Roundtable held at the ACA National Conference in Denver. Our thanks to Robert Monaghan of Hibbs-Hallmark & Company and Michael Swain of Markel Insurance for taking some additional time to respond to several questions.
Based on your experience with the impact of severe weather on camps in the past, how would you describe what many camps are facing after the winter of 2009/2010?
It seems that many camps are dealing with frozen pipes; fallen trees; freeze damage to boats, engines, and equipment that hold/use water; and washed out roads. Some key things to consider for these areas include:
- Does the camp have a tree maintenance program? Keeping trees a safe distance from buildings, fences, and roads helps make sure they won't damage a building/fence if they do fall. While insurance might cover the damage done to a building from a falling tree and the removal of that tree, it rarely covers the necessary debris removal from fallen trees (those that do not land on structures). In addition to managing your trees so they won't damage a building if it does fall, fire mitigation is another strong reason for both tree/shrub maintenance and debris removal.
- Building collapse: What caused the building to collapse? Heavy snow load? Wind? Were any of the structural components of the building compromised due to the collapse? You should strongly consider having a structural engineer inspect the building prior to repair (this may be required by your state or county building inspector).
- If a building has collapsed, it will be important to check out other platform-type surfaces (platforms on the challenge course, docks, etc.) to determine their structural integrity. If the collapse was due to high wind, an additional challenge course inspection might be in order.
- Areas that experienced flooding and very wet soils should inspect both tree and pole integrity on their sports fields, challenge courses, etc. It is not uncommon for trees/poles to shift due to extremely wet (and at times, dry) soil.
- It is always important to inspect the foundations of buildings following a wet winter and/or heavy spring/summer rain to verify the integrity of the foundation. Determine if new run-off patterns were formed and address those issues prior to damage being done.
- At times, heavy run-off (and fallen trees) can damage a camp road or block a culvert, causing road damage. Also, be aware of how construction and paving of roads and parking lots might impact the run-off patterns. While road damage is rarely covered by insurance, it is something a camp needs to address for the safety of all who travel their road.
- Talking to your insurance agent to determine what coverage you have regarding damage caused by natural causes (heavy snow load, excessive run-off, etc.) is important to do during each renewal/review.
What are the most frequently overlooked areas of camp maintenance?
Integrity of electrical wiring is often overlooked — both wiring inside the building and the main trunk lines coming in. While most camp owners/directors remember to turn off the water, drain the lines, etc. when they close for winter, few seem to consider what might happen to their wiring over the winter (squirrels and mice seen to enjoy gnawing and eating wires). Many camps have buildings more than twenty-five years old (for some camps, a building built in 1985 is new) and inspecting the wiring takes on an even more critical need. Things to consider during this inspection include:
- Use a licensed electrician to conduct the assessment of your electrical wiring.
- Determine your current needs versus your current capacity. (How many extension cords do you currently have in your camp office? What has to be changed in order to eliminate the need for those extension cords?) Overloading circuits and extension cords is possibly one of the most prevalent causes of office fires. Do you have enough grounded, in-wall plugs to power the computers, phones, radios, printers, cell phone chargers, cameras, etc. now found in many camp offices? If not, consider an upgrade!
- Have the buildings been added onto over the year? Was the electrical system "added onto" as well? As a camp expands, the need to upgrade the trunk lines into a building and/or the camp is often overlooked.
- Make sure to check with current building codes to determine if your wiring needs to be in conduit.
- Having your wiring inspected is often a recommendation of your insurance provider.
When determining which camp repairs can be made by a camp's maintenance department and which repairs should be made by a licensed contractor, what factors should a camp director weigh? How could a camp's insurance program influence this decision?
- All wiring and any electrical revisions, air conditioning/heating issues, and most plumbing should be done by licensed contractor. (For all repairs, consider using the question "What impact will this have if something goes wrong?" as a guide. Things to consider might be the location of the work — Is it ground level or upper level? How close is a turn-off valve to prevent flooding? Is someone in the immediate area to notice/fix any issues? Would a flood cause significant damage?)
- Vehicles: Any repairs/replacements that deal with brakes/tires/steering should be done professionally. It is important to document all maintenance. If a camp has a large enough fleet, consider hiring your own licensed auto repair person and insuring separately.
- Any time a used vehicle is purchased, a complete safety check should be done prior to using the vehicle.
- A rule of thumb: If a system was to fail and create an unsafe situation, then it should be maintained by a licensed professional.
When hiring a contractor to complete an inspection of wiring, repair a roof, etc., what things should a camp director consider?
- For any profession that offers a license/certification (electrician, plumber, auto repair, etc.), make sure the company/individual can provide you with a current license/certificate!
- Any contractor should also provide you with a certificate of insurance. It is important to make sure they carry:
- Workers' compensation insurance. If they do not and someone is injured on the job, it could impact the camp's workers' compensation insurance.
- The camp should require a certificate of insurance evidencing General Liability coverage that includes products and completed operations coverage . . . with limits of at least $1,000,000 per occurrence / $2,000,000 aggregate.
- If a contractor will be driving throughout your property, it is also wise to request that their commercial auto coverage also be shown on the certificate of insurance.
Do you have any "words of wisdom" to share with camps regarding maintenance as it relates to insurance coverage?
- It is very important to document and keep accurate records of all maintenance completed — and keep it indefinitely. You never know when you might need them, for both insurance and litigation.
- Promptly report damage discovered to your insurance agent. That way, the investigation can start quickly and there won't be any challenges or questions about why you didn't report it earlier. This also allows the camp to be "whole" as soon as possible.
- It is important to discuss business interruption insurance with your carrier. Many camps will carry property insurance on their buildings but don't always consider the extra expenses or loss of business income that might be incurred should there be a loss. A sample question you might consider asking your agent is: "If my dining hall burns down in the middle of the summer, what are all of the types of coverage I should consider in order to allow me to operate the rest of the summer?" Having all the information allows the camp director to make a conscious and educated decision.
- Whenever possible, make sure to have good separation (space) between buildings. This is one method of fire mitigation. Other fire mitigation tactics include:
- Keeping the grass and other vegetation cut and cleared away from buildings, even during the off season.
- Cleaning up fallen branches in the main areas of camp.
- Removal of dead tree limbs from trees in living and trail areas of camp.
- An insurance underwriter will often ask the agent if the camp seems to have "good housekeeping" procedures. If so, this often equates to someone who cares about all aspects of their operation (maintenance, recordkeeping, etc.).
- Pay special attention to the roofs of buildings where electronic equipment is stored — especially if equipment is stored there during the off-season when a leaking roof would not be noticed immediately.
- If your program uses a river for something like rafting, or you have a river/stream running through your property, be aware of what might have occurred upstream during the winter season that could impact your program and/or property (log jam that might break loose, logs buried, etc.).
What resources should camps be referencing with regard to proper camp maintenance?
- The articles in Camping Magazine that focus on maintenance are always a good resource. Rick Stryker writes the "Building Principles" column on maintenance issues. View Camping Magazine online.
- The ACA Web site — the Knowledge Center also includes some information.
- Government or trustworthy organization Web sites provide good information for maintenance, codes, and what to do in the event of a disaster. A few are listed below. Also check your state's government Web site for state-specific codes.
- Of course, your insurance provider!