ISO Uses Space-Age Solution to Assess Wildfire Risks

NEW YORK, Jan. 26, 1998 — In an insurance first, Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO) is offering a product that uses satellite images to better assess commercial- and personal-property wildfire risks.

FireLine uses satellite imagery to pinpoint heavy concentrations of highly flammable brush near homes and businesses. Wildfires destroy thousands of buildings and cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

FireLine produces maps that are of much greater detail than traditional maps by providing information previously not available. The information is available on CD-ROM and is compatible with most Geographic Information System (GIS) software.

"Now we're able to offer insurers a service that will enable them to make better business decisions and assess wildfire hazards even more accurately," says Patrick McLaughlin, ISO's senior vice president — risk decision services.

"In addition to providing greater accuracy, FireLine offers insurers greater consistency in applying their own underwriting guidelines," McLaughlin says.

FireLine uses three critical factors identified by ISO and the National Fire Protection Association in assessing risk and replacement value in areas that are a mixture of housing and vegetation. Those three factors are:

  • Fuel. Determines whether an area is covered in grass, trees or dense brush, giving an indication of how intensely that area will burn.
  • Slope. Identifies whether a risk is located on a steep grade. Slope can affect how quickly a wildfire may spread and can be a significant factor in reconstruction costs.
  • Access. Identifies whether a risk is located on a dead-end, winding or narrow road that fire trucks may have trouble negotiating.

Besides insurers, FireLine information also is of interest to groups such as municipal forestry and fire-protection departments, the Federal Emergency Management Association, tax authorities and banks, among others, notes McLaughlin.

ISO's FireLine information is currently available for California, where eight insurers, representing more than half the state's premium volume, are licensed to use it. ISO is working with insurers to develop similar wildfire data in other states that have high potential for brush-fire damage.

Wildfires are unpredictable — and can cause staggering losses. In 1996, more than 96,000 wildfires consumed about 6 million acres. In 1991, the Oakland/Berkeley Tunnel wildfire in California caused an estimated $1.7 billion in insured property losses — $2.0 billion in today's dollars.

To obtain more information about FireLine, call ISO's customer service department at (800) 888-4476.

Release: Immediate

Giuseppe Barone / Erica Helton
MWW Group (for ISO)
201-507-9500 /

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