Back in October, I had a trip to Richmond Va planned so I could continue to work on my retirement savings plan – ie my leg sleeve by Teresa Sharpe. A beautiful tattoo that has continued to grow and evolve – I am always excited (and mildly nauseated) to get back in the chair and discover how much a new part of my body can hurt. (Frontrunner? Top of foot – hands down). This past October was no different. The trip was planned and booked 3 months in advance and I had my coveted spot on Teresa’s schedule secured. Then disaster.
On Sunday night, October 8th fire broke out in Sonoma County. This unexpected fire soon was raging out of control and sweeping across huge swaths of Sonoma and Napa – devastating neighbourhoods, businesses, and lives. I woke up Monday morning and thought the sky looked hazy. On my way to drop the kids off at school, I saw that the sun was blood-red. I live roughly 2 hours away from the epicentre of the fires but the effects were evident. News travelled quickly as neighbours began picking up reports of the unchecked blaze with 0% containment. All of the sudden a trip to get tattooed seemed like a bad idea.
I watched nervously with thousands of other county residents as the fires created unprecedented loss and damage. I feared that they would make their way towards the coast. I heard many stories of neighbours and friends who knew someone who lost a home, a pet, a business, or even a loved one. I had friends who were evacuated and living in shelters. Three days after the fires began I made the decision to go ahead and travel to Richmond. It was a tough call that I agonized over even though by this point I knew the fires would not impact where I live directly. I headed down to the airport in the early evening to catch a red-eye flight but was unprepared for what I witnessed.
As soon as I got off the country highway and onto the main highway smoke was evident in the surrounding hills – still over 30 minutes away from the worst of the fire. Radio stations had suspended all music and programming and were doing minute by minute live updates, talking to people calling in desperate for information. Cal Fire helicopters swept into the hills and over neighbourhoods at risk of being engulfed by new fires just breaking out. Highway Patrol was everywhere. People were parked on the side of the road filming the scene or just standing in shock.
As I got to the heart of the origin point of the blaze in Santa Rosa I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is a busy city of over 50,000 people with a big highway running through the centre of it. I passed a turnoff where a big Hilton Hotel stood on a hill – it was gone. Burned to the ground. The fire had literally jumped a 4 lane highway and torched businesses – surrounded by pavement and concrete – into twisted rubble. I saw a highway handrail twisted and bent and still on fire over 3 days after the fires had first begun. There were police and fire trucks everywhere. I almost turned around. I pulled over to call home and to decide if I should keep going. After a few more miles the scenes of the disaster were replaced by untouched neighbourhoods. A great majority of the fires wiped out areas inland of the highway that I didn’t witness but this particular stretch – so familiar to me – had left me shaken and shocked.
Sonoma County and Napa County are strong. They are rebuilding as we speak. Giant piles of melted cars and rubble are still in heaps but eventually, they will be replaced with new homes, new businesses. No one could have predicted a fire/fires of this size and scope in an essentially suburban/urban environment. There was no warning, no way to prepare. PPIB is based in Sonoma County. They underwrite insurance for tattoo shops, permanent makeup, piercers – a lot of people who didn’t even realize they could have stuff like liability insurance or workers comp. PPIB also offers property insurance.
There is one positive result that has come out of the many disasters that 2017 brought – people now
understand the value of keeping their insurance current. At PPIB we want to cry when we must tell a
client they did not buy property insurance. We have one insured who has been with us 15 years and
every year he would say, “No I don’t need property insurance.” When he lost his business in the Wine
Country Fires of October he called us four times. It just broke my heart to have to say we asked you
every year. He finally had to admit he wanted the “cheapest policy” possible.
The problem with not having insurance for any of the major disasters that hit this year is that you will
likely wait in line like everyone else to get funding to repair or replace your damaged items or building(s).
In the case of our Northern California Wine Country fires, it is likely going to take a few years for property
to get rebuilt. The government must do waste removal once they figure out where burned out appliances,
cars and other hazardous waste will go. Then they will need to confirm boundary lines, followed by all the
underground set up and other work required to start buildings from scratch. For those in the path of
Hurricanes Irma or Harvey, the issues are likely to be the same.
All of this is happening when there is a major shortage of contractors to do building and subcontract
work everywhere in the United States. Who are they likely to contract with? Insurance companies.
To expedite the work in these damaged areas, it will be up to the insurance industry to see work
happens in a timely manner so they mitigate their losses. Their interest aligns with that of the people who
lost everything. The major insurers are all over the wine country helping people find housing and helping
with their expenses to begin to get their lives back in order. For those people who don’t have insurance,
they will have to rely on the federal or state government to advocate for them or for help from those
nonprofits who provide support where none other none other is available. This is going to be much harder than it
would be if insurance were available.
No one likes to imagine the worst. There are other perils to property than fire. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes – they happen all over the world and leave so many people unprepared for happens next. How do you make ends meet when you have lost your livelihood? Your home? There are also unprecedented events like vandalism or arson. Tattoo artist Marcus Kuhn said he set up the shop using his life savings and now has no money left to rebuild his studio after it was destroyed by arson only 11 days after opening. He did not have insurance in place at the time. Sadly this is not the only incident of this nature as there have been others reports of tattoo shops destroyed by arson, theft and vandalism. So many tattoo artists bring themselves up by their bootstraps – learning their trade over many years and working towards having a shop of their own. Tattooing is no longer on the fringes but many of the artists who work in shops or own them come from a freewheeling artistic background and are more focused on tattooing than the mundane aspects of shop management and paperwork. Rare is the shop that has a full-time manager, waivers, legal paperwork, and is fully insured, but thankfully this is changing.
More shop owners are understanding the importance of not only delivering amazing tattoos and customer service but protecting their huge investments and making sure they are covered for every potential problem. Insurance and what is “necessary” brings to mind the old dentist joke.
“You don’t have to brush your teeth – only the ones you want to keep.” So when it comes to insurance I guess the thinking goes;
You don’t have to have full coverage – only protect yourself against the problems you plan on having.
If this past October taught me and my neighbours anything is that you can’t plan for every possible outcome – but as least you can try to be prepared. Stay safe out there. And call your insurance agent.