Impact of the California Wildfires: Chris Folkman from RMS on CNN’s Quest Means Business

Chris Folkman, senior director of product management at RMS, was interviewed by Paula Newton on CNN’s Quest Means Business program on Monday, November 12, about the impact of the California wildfires.

Paula asked Chris about the range of factors that have made these wildfires so intense, and also about the potential causes of the fires. Chris explained how the fires could have started and how the almost perfect conditions for the fire produced such a rapid spread. For the Camp Fire in Northern California, deaths were caused by the fire’s sheer speed that had overwhelmed residents as they tried to escape from the path of the flames.

Paula stated that California authorities are now saying that these major wildfires will not be a once in century event, and she asked Chris to explore the reasons why they are saying this. Chris quoted California’s Governor Brown who has said that these wildfires are now the “new abnormal.” Some of the reasons for this stem from the response to the housing crisis in the state. Chris outlined that forty percent of the new residential buildings built between 1990 and 2010 in California were in the Wildland Urban Interface, areas at the highest risk of wildfire.

Factor in changing climate, prolonged drought, high winds, and a firefighting philosophy of aggressive fire suppression that lasted for a century up until the early 2000s producing a legacy of burnable vegetation, and wildfire risk is exacerbated. Chris points out that these factors will be in place for the long term.

Paula asked what can be done today in California with regards to wildfire risk. Chris says that there are plenty of actions that can be taken, awareness is now heightened, and buildings can be made much more safer, such as with the use of defensible spaces, and construction materials that can withstand heat as much as possible. Chris believes there will now be a renewed focus on building communities that are more aware of wildfire risk and much more resilient moving forward.

Chris Folkman is a senior director of product management at RMS, where he is responsible for specialty lines including terrorism, casualty, wildfire, marine cargo, industrial facilities, and builders' risk. He has extensive experience on both the broker and carrier sides of insurance, where he has led many aspects of property and casualty operations including underwriting, pricing, predictive analytics, regulatory affairs, and third-party commercial coverage and claims.

Prior to RMS, he was a managing director at CompWest Insurance Company, a workers’ compensation start-up that was acquired by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Chris holds a bachelor's degree from Stanford University. He is a licensed insurance broker and a Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter (CPCU).

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