Every California disaster produces a new form of fatigue.
Last summer and fall, it was drought fatigue. Then came the inevitable wildfires, which introduced fire fatigue. That reached a peak with arrival of the Thomas fire.
Then came brief torrential rains, and residents who had been forced from their homes by wildfire and were told to leave to escape flooding suffered from evacuation fatigue, which compelled some of them to stay home, with deadly results.
Maybe it would simplify things to just say California residents have overall disaster fatigue, because we seem to be confronted with one crisis after another. And as every veteran Californian knows, the hits just keep on coming.
These facts are not lost on the insurance industry, whose bean counters said last week that policy claims to cover last fall’s litany of wildfires are approaching $12 billion — which officially makes those fires the costliest in state history.
That goes hand in hand with the fact that the Thomas fire that swept through Ventura and southern Santa Barbara counties is officially California’s biggest-ever wildfire, at least in terms of acres burned.
Insurance companies now are experiencing their own form of fatigue, and it’s the kind that has ominous potential. The issue is underlined by the fact that many policy holders are still sorting through the ashes and mud, so more claims are likely.
An insurance industry spokesman last week assured policy holders that companies have enough reserves to pay the mountain of claims. But he also pointed out that those companies may have to re-evaluate the risks inherent in California properties, and adjust premiums accordingly — or stop selling insurance here altogether.
For context, we turn to the Sunshine State, Florida, where a series of hurricanes in 2004-05 eviscerated the homeowners’ insurance market, compelling the state’s largest insurer — State Farm — to stop writing homeowners’ policies.
The decision-makers at State Farm aren’t dummies. They recognize the huge potential for profit in the Florida market, and it was decided to resume selling such policies, if the state Legislature would authorize a whopping increase in premiums. Lawmakers did just that, with some of them squawking about institutional blackmail.
When it comes to disasters, Florida has a bunch. The No.1 maker of disasters is hurricanes, but they also have sink holes that swallow houses and people, extended drought and wildfires.
But not on the scale of California’s menu of disasters. For one thing, California has more than twice as many residents as Florida. Bigger state, more people and places at risk — it doesn’t take an advanced degree in finance to understand what California insurers may be considering.
When insurance underwriters start talking about re-evaluating fire risk and premium pricing structures, it may not be long before the same kind of legislative arm-twisting that occurred in Florida years ago happens here.
Which raises the question — is California too unsafe for insurers? It used to be that we had a dry season and a wet season. But lately the dry seasons have spanned several years, followed by bigger and more devastating wildfires. Throw in a major earthquake or two every few years and you have the perfect storm for higher insurance premium costs and/or having no affordable coverage available.
We can say with some authority that we are not insurance underwriting experts by any stretch of the imagination. But we can read, monitor history and we watch the daily news on an almost hourly basis.
More is changing than Earth’s climate, and we need to prepare mentally, emotionally and financially.