California wild fires

In what is the end of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer it is terrible to see the impact in areas of California, including the Napa Valley, as well as East of Los Angeles Metropolitan area, being affected by bush fires.

The full details of the catastrophe are still coming in, but the early reports indicate that over 1000 structures have burned with 1000’s more under threat. Reports so far put the death toll at 13.

The cause of this fires is that it has been the especially dry conditions, similar to what we have experienced for much of our winter here in Australia, a long with strong winds. Australia is heading for another hot summer, and it is a reminder to any of us who live in bush fire areas to carry out a risk management audit of their property and review their evacuation procedures.

PHOTO: Wildfires whipped by powerful winds have swept through northern California. (AP: Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register)

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Does the colour of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Helmets signal more take overs?

I noticed that the spokesperson for the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade (“MFB”) was wearing a blue helmet and the thought crossed my mind that the organisation has more on their mind than just taking over sections of the Country Fire Brigade (“CFA”).

Perhaps, the long term aim is for it to become the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Police Force!

I am just joking of course, although the thought did really cross my mind, which is more a reflection on how my mind works and the fall out that the Andrew’s Government has created in the fire services space of late, rather than the sterling work of our fire fighters.

For the record, the blue helmet on an MFB or CFA officer signifies he or she is a Station Officer as per the chart below.



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Dubai launches Dolphin water jetpack system for firefighting from the air

Reports from an article published by the ABC show how Dubai is taking firefighting to new heights, quite literally, with their introduction of a water jet pack system called ‘Dolphin’. You can view a video of the Dolphin in action on the ABC website (link above).

Alongside the Dolphin is the Martin Jetpack being looked at as an option to reach those tricky areas safely as it can be both unmanned and controlled remotely, or manned on the system.

As the heat from a fire goes up, I am not quite sure about this one but it is clearly worth a look for areas where it is extremely difficult to get to.


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Acts of God in Insurance

It amazes me how many times people have spoken of Act of God being both an insured or excluded peril under an insurance policy.

There was even a famous Billy Connolly with this as its theme. My nephew, Jeffery, one of the guys sending me a joke questioned me on it and I thought it was worth setting the record straight.

Despite having read thousands of policies of insurance and being involved in the drafting of 100’s more, I have never seen the words ‘Act of God’ appear in a policy as an insured, or excluded peril.

What it means in layman’s term is:

a completely unforeseeable event where there has been no human intervention

Things such as fire, lightening, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, cyclone, flood, landslip, and the like.

Under policies such as a comprehensive motor vehicle policy, all these perils are in fact, insured. Most property policies, such as your home and contents, business pack or ISR, the vast majority would be insured, although landslip, action by the sea, storm surge and flood may be excluded.

If you are in any doubt as to the cover afforded by the policy which you have in place, I recommend that you speak to your insurance broker.

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Crime does not pay

On the back of my post yesterday, I do not want anyone to think that I am in any way in favour of insurance fraud. I have in fact spent my entire working life fighting insurance fraud.

It was therefore with great interest that I read the article [link removed] from the Boxing Day edition (26 December 2016) of The Age following the case against two men, [name suppressed by County Court order] who was engaged to set fire to a pizza shop owned by [name suppressed by court order] in 2013. Unlike yesterday’s article this one I do have more information that what was reported.

What was not reported from the court case was that [name suppressed by Country Court order] had instructed his paid arsonist to turn on the gas jets despite the fact that 4 people were residing in a flat above the shop. View full post…

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Changes to the rules around smoke detectors in Queensland homes

Smoke Detector in the smoke of a fire.

I share an update provided via Hayley Enders of Belle Property Carina. Thank you Hayley.

“Queensland homes will be required to be fitted with photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms in all bedrooms, as well as hallways as part of legislation passed in parliament this week. All houses being built or significantly renovated will need to comply with the smoke alarm legislation upon completion after January 1, 2017.

“All houses leased or sold will need to meet compliance after five years and all owner-occupied private dwellings will need to comply with the legislation within 10 years. Any smoke alarm being replaced after January 1, 2017 must be a photoelectric alarm. Fire and Emergency Services Minister, Bill Byrne said the legislation followed recommendations handed down after the 2011 Slacks Creek fatal house fire. “The absolute tragedy we saw at Slacks Creek where 11 people died is an incident we never want repeated and this legislation ensures people will be alerted to house fires as early as possible,” Minister Byrne said.

“The legislation specifies that every Queensland residence will need to be fitted with photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms in all bedrooms, as well as hallways of residences. By having the alarms interconnected, it won’t matter which part of a house a fire might start in, the alarm closest to you will sound and if you are asleep, an alarm will sound in your room, even if the area is closed off to the rest of the house” Minister Byrne said. “Research shows that photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms are the most effective on the market for alerting people to fires early. “I am proud Queensland is now the national leader on this issue, making sure we are doing all we can to keep residents safe.”

“Minister Byrne said a 10-year phased rollout of the legislation would allow ample time for everyone to have their alarms installed correctly. “Hard-wired, interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms will require a qualified electrician to conduct the installation and ensure the alarms are working as they should be,” he said. “There is an option to install photoelectric alarms with a 10-year lithium battery that have the capability to achieve interconnectedness wirelessly between alarms. This option may be more suitable for Queenslanders living in remote areas where attendance of an electrician could be difficult.” Minister Byrne said although some residents would have up to 10 years to install the alarms, everyone should take action to update their alarm system as soon as possible. “This technology is proven to save lives and the sooner it is in every Queensland home, the safer we’ll be,” he said.

“Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) worked closely with the Palaszczuk Government to develop the legislation and Commissioner Katarina Carroll welcomed today’s announcement. “This legislation is the strongest of its kind in the country,” she said. “QFES has long recommended photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms to be hard-wired into homes and the decision to mandate this is to be applauded. “As Queenslanders make the change and update their smoke alarm system, we are also encouraging everyone to review their fire escape plans. “When an alarm sounds, you need to know what you will do. Every household should have a fire escape plan and every person should know their role in that plan. “You may have as little as 15 seconds to enact your fire escape plan, so make sure you sit down with everyone in your household and discuss your escape plan. “Once you’ve had the discussion make sure you practice your plan.

“With a well-practised fire escape plan, you’ll stand a better chance of avoiding panic and getting everyone to safety during a house fire.” QFES has a free Safehome program where Queenslanders can request a visit from local firefighters who will advise them of the best locations for smoke alarms and suggest other fire safety initiatives around the home.

“To request a Safehome visit you or your clients can call 13QGOV or visit

In summary – All tenanted properties have 5 years to comply with the new legislative requirements. Owner occupied homes have 10 years.

My advice is to do it sooner rather than later as these alarms have been shown to save lives and reduce the size of property losses.

Finally, please do not just go for the cheapest product or installation. We do not want to turn this into another insulation batts fiasco where a good initiative turns out to have adverse unintended consequences. This means not doing this yourself but using a qualified and insured electrician.

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Government Price Comparison – My thoughts

bigstock-123372560I write as someone who has been handling insurance claims for over 45 years and from that perspective I think the whole idea is flawed. For most of us in the Australian economy, our home is our most important asset, after that comes our motor vehicles. We invest 10’s of thousands of dollars into these assets, often with a home loan or other forms of finance to acquire the asset.

Particularly with home & contents insurance but even with comprehensive motor insurance there are differences between the breadth of coverage afforded by the policies.

I have written about many of the pitfalls in the cheaper policies, such as texting while driving exclusions or driving into a flooded road way in motor and things such as landscaping exclusions regarding renovations, consumption of alcohol, the list goes on and on.

In those 45 years of handling claims, only 4 times has anyone mentioned the premium at the time I visited them after a claim. In each of those occasions it has been “I’ve saved this much by switching insurers, but tell me again Allan how much has this cost me?”, that is it has never been a positive experience, it is always one of regret that the consumer has purchased on price.

What really matters at the end of the day is that the coverage afforded by the insurer and their policy, the financial strength rating of the insurer and their claims service.

It is for these reasons that I have written my books on insurance such as “It may happen to me – The essential guide to general insurance” and the children’s books “What’s Insurance? – How insurance protects your stuff”, this blog, my son’s YouTube series ‘InsuranceBites’, and two comparison websites and To create a website that just compares price flies in the face of all of this effort and I would simply ask the government to have the discussion with the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) who are doing their best to urge consumers to not just buy insurance on price, but make an informed judgement on the quality of the policy and the claims service and that is why we are being encouraged to take our products such as those mentioned as well RiskCoach and to the United Kingdom.

Similarly, I have grave concerns about the whole idea about the big switch when it comes to insurance. With insurance we are not talking about buying a refrigerator or electric power. We are talking about something that should be tailored to the individual needs of the insured, how do we pool someone who needs flood insurance, to someone who is in a bush fire zone, etc. The whole idea of general insurance brokers is to bring together a group of insureds through the one banner and place the right cover with the client, obtaining volume discounts. The big switch ought to leave general insurance to licensed and qualified general insurance brokers rather than converting this all important protector of individuals assets, our communities and our very economy based on the cheapest price.

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Does your home policy cover your landscaping?

Garden stone path with grass growing up between the stonesI was out assisting a bush fire victim today and was surprised to see that with the particular policy they were covered under, despite it being the top of the range policy for this insurer, had no cover at all for ‘Landscaping, trees, shrubs and plants’ of any description.

Upon looking on we found that with even some of the most basic policies with other insurers there is cover for landscaping, trees and shrubs and the like, ranging from $1,500 – $20,000. Some policies do not provide cover, this surprised me as I am used to seeing this cover for landscaping including plants in business packs and certainly in the ones I draft.

In the case I was assisting with today, this was something that was very disappointing for my clients as they are keen gardeners and what the fire didn’t get initially, the builders have destroyed in the reconstruction process.

If you are in any doubt about your home and contents policy, please discuss this with your insurance broker, who using tools such as can quickly advise you on the cover available under the various insurers.

The cover on this one aspect can vary enormously, with monetary limits, distance restrictions from the home as well as other exclusions including embargo periods from the inception date of the policy.

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Blog question on demand surge following a catastrophe

Turn Knowledge into PowerHi Allan

We specialise in insurance valuations in my capacity as a valuer. I do lots of work with [name quoted] from [general insurance broker named] brokers who you may know.

I had a question which was posed to me by an Owners Corporation Manager and I would love to hear your perspective:

In addition to the full replacement/reinstatement value (total limit of liability) – what would be a reasonable percentage increase which should be included to cover catastrophes?

Kind Regards,

Moish [surname and email provided]

Hi Moish

There is no one answer to this. The demand surge as we call it depends on the size, location and type of catastrophe.

As a general rule of thumb, I would work on 30% but have seen it and thankfully managed it down from much higher. There is still a demand surge in Christchurch five years on following the earthquake there but it has dropped from the first year or two.

Showing their understanding of the problem and their social responsibility, most quality strata policies and business pack policies have an allowance to automatically increase the sum insured/limit of liability on buildings when a catastrophe event has been called. This is typically 30% on strata and 20% on business packs but I stress this is a generalisation and you need to check this on a case by case  basis.

I hope this helps.




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Disturbing findings from the Wye River fires


A friend of mine’s family holiday home destroyed in beautiful Why River. Photo courtesy of Channel 9.

The findings from a CSIRO report released into the Wye River and Separation Creek bushfires and as reported in The Guardian, ‘Houses built after Black Saturday fires fared worse in Wye river fire, report finds’.

Part of me cannot believe it. We have the slowest most expensive most bureaucratic local authority planning process in any jurisdiction I do claims. This causes unnecessary emotional and financial stress on home and building owners often to the point of failure of the business. The owners feel completely helpless in the process and see the cost of construction increase substantially and their design, usable space etc often drastically changed. For what. In this case a worse outcome than before.

The other side of the coin is that designing a building to withstand a raging bush fire is no easy task with clearly the best strategy to have an adequate fire break around the structure. But here again you run foul of local authorities who put great emphasis on preserving trees even when they pose a treat to life and property in a severe storm or fire.

It certainly is not an easy problem to fix but it is something I would like to see the insurance industry have more influence over in both the design phase and in speeding up the approval process to something that is half reasonable.

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