State insurance commissioner urges Malibu to prepare for disasters

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, and John Todd, Los Angeles County Fire Department Forestry Division Chief, visited Malibu on Tuesday to offer tips for disaster preparation to Malibu residents, such as how to conduct a home inventory. Photo by Lisa Kestenbaum / TMT

Steve Poizner, California Insurance Commissioner, visited Malibu to talk about preparation for wildfires and other disasters.

By Lisa Kestenbaum / Special to The Malibu Times

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner visited a Malibu residence Tuesday to demonstrate how homeowners could protect their assets in the event of a disaster. Since dry brush and deep canyons make Malibu especially vulnerable to wildfires, Poizner wanted to reach out to the community and encourage residents to proactively prepare for future flare-ups.

Before flames swept through Southern California last October and November, which collectively destroyed more than 60 homes and several businesses, Sycamore Canyon resident Will O’Leary had taken measures to prevent property damage and personal loss; the house provides an example of how simple actions in and around a home could ultimately save it.

“Waiting for a fire to erupt before conducting a home inventory and reviewing your insurance policy means you could get burned twice-first from your house burning down, and then when you try and collect from insurance companies to recover your losses,” Poizner explained Tuesday.

In order to prevent the latter from occurring, Poizner offered four steps that every homeowner should take to protect their home and belongings.

Step one is to update your insurance policy, he said. Poizner explained that in order to be reimbursed after a crisis, this information must be current.

“Make a point to call your insurance agent or broker and provide them with information about any new assets you may have purchased or re-modeling you may have done,” he said.

For the second step, conduct a physical home inventory. Homeowners should create a written account of their possessions, and also use a digital camera or video camera, since many items are difficult to describe on paper, Poizner said. The insurance commissioner pointed out specifically what to catalog, such as high-end electronics, valuable artwork, furniture, updated appliances, and special countertops and floors.

“It’s important to capture how much you paid to upgrade,” Poizner noted.

The inventory should include serial numbers of electronics and appliances, and all photographs should be labeled with detailed information. Poizner advised homeowners to make an extra copy or two of their inventory, and keep one at home in a safe deposit box, and another offsite with a relative, close friend, accountant or attorney. “Step three is to maintain a home emergency kit,” Poizner said.

Kits should include supplies that can help you and others in various emergency situations.

The fourth and final step is to create an action plan for your family so that all members, especially children, know emergency escape routes and evacuation procedures.

John Todd, chief of forestry for Los Angeles County Fire Department, accompanied Poizner Tuesday and spoke specifically about certain areas around the home’s exterior that are vulnerable to fire and how to make them safer.

“Placement [of vegetation] is key to making sure your home survives a fire,” Todd explained.

He noted that while plants such as clinging wall vines beautify a structure, the vines eventually spread and cover the wall, and, over time, dead material builds up underneath, making the wall susceptible to embers. Todd advised homeowners to walk around the perimeter of their home and clean up, making sure there is only living vegetation.

In addition, he recommended examining vents on the side and at the base of the house.

“These areas are vulnerable to embers going in, especially without a vent screen. Various new vents are being manufactured with baffles to catch embers so they don’t enter the home,” Todd explained.

Even though California’s Building Standards Code does not yet require vent screens, they are an important, inexpensive way to protect your home, he said. Furthermore, because windows are a key entry point for flames, the Fire Department recommends that homeowners install double-pane windows.

It is essential to include native plants in your landscaping, Todd added, since this type of vegetation is usually deep-rooted and therefore more resistant to erosion.

“You can put in plants that will complement your home and hold the soil in place, but not make it vulnerable during the next fire,” Todd said. “And that’s one thing that we all know-there will be more fires here.”

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