Ready for El Niño?

by Charles T. Wilson on November 9, 2015

Further to last month’s weather alerts tip, several readers asked about El Niño. This weather disturbance where Pacific Ocean temperatures alter dramatically, can bring heavy rains to the western U.S. and Canada, and dry and unsettled weather elsewhere – southeastern U.S. and southeastern Asia.

Ten Checklist Preparations

Here are 10 preps for you to protect families, homes, and businesses. Asterisks (*) below mean there is little or no coverage in your basic insurance policies!

  1. Don’t ignore the warnings – we humans are great at dismissing risks and having incomplete understanding of possible impacts.
    • In 1998 nothing happened until mid-January despite dramatic warnings – then rains hit with a vengeance.
    • In the San Francisco area it rained for two straight months!
    • Stay alert, follow the news, and make some preparations!
  2. Flooding creeks and rivers can cause huge damages. Even slopes and hillsides can become torrents when parched, and then turn into foul mudflows (resulting from flooding).*
    • Sandbags and other types of protection – like plywood sheets – need to be ready beforehand.*
  3. Flood insurance may be useful, but take action early – it takes 30+ days until you’re covered!*
    • Your normal property policies do not cover floods. And there are very broad definitions in the exclusions.
    • Landslides and mudslides and usually deemed “earth movement” are also excluded from basic policies even if rain and floods are present.*
  4. Clean gutters, rooftops, downspouts, etc. Animals and debris can quickly cause big problems.
  5. Clean or alert public works to clogged storm drains; check backup prevention valves on your property to be sure they are operational.*
  6. Beware of trees weakened by drought – they can lose root strength and fall unexpectedly.
  7. Dangerous driving conditions from severe rain can cause hydroplaning and serious accidents.
  8. Blackouts can happen unexpectedly – from vehicles or trees taking out power lines or poles. Make sure you have enough flashlights and extra batteries – candles are a no-no due to fire hazard!
  9. Emergency supplies can mean survival in dire circumstances – now is the time to update and refresh.
    • Consider supplies of food, water, extra clothing, flashlights and other necessities in vehicles and at workstations.
  • Evacuation plans must include mapping out your routes to higher ground.
    • You must be able to contact family members and coordinate locations – often someone out of the immediate area is easier to reach.
    • A “go bag” can contain essential clothing, glasses, medications, car keys, and cash for a fast exit.
    • The mantra for your gas tank should be: “half-full is empty.”


  • FEMA has many tips about flood protection and safety:
  • So does the California Coastal Commission: – search for El Niño for property preparedness checklists.
  • The National Weather Service can be a useful source for forecasts:
  • Local newspapers and special magazines may have articles of interest – search for El Niño.

Your municipal Public Works department may have suggestions and sandbags for residents.

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Weather Alerts

by Charles T. Wilson on October 5, 2015

Some risks are seasonal. The fall equinox means it’s time to get ready for weather!

Here are pertinent reminders to help you and your family, your employees and your business to be prepared. A special thanks goes to Consumer Reports and Scott Hauge, president of Small Business California for their expertise and advice.

  • Storms are inevitable. Whether it’s hurricanes or just a big rain or wind storm, your property needs protection. Water is a disaster in the wrong places! Gutters, rooftops, downspouts and drains need to be cleaned and cleared. Report clogged city drains that are nearby too. Prepare for possible flooding.
  • Heating systems will be firing up soon. Flues and chimneys can be blocked with soot, debris or animals; filters need to be changed; many systems need an annual maintenance tune-up. Getting it done now – before there’s a problem –can cost a lot less than an emergency visit from your heating specialist.
  • Smoke and CO2 alarms are lifesavers. Now is the time to check they are functioning and replace batteries. Do you have alarms in all appropriate locations? Many experts recommend photoelectric or dual-sensor detectors – not just ionizing ones. Check this RiskSmart Tip for more details and resource links.
  • Frozen pipes can ruin your whole day. Exterior sprinkler valves, water pipes, faucets and hoses need extra protection. Shut off water to exterior lines, insulate crawl-space pipes, drain water from spigots, filters, hoses, etc.
  • Auto travel can be a survival test. Make sure you have appropriate tires for your area. Consumer Reports () says all-season tires are inadequate on snowy pavement and AWD vehicles do not help in braking. Look up “auto survival kit” on the Internet for suggestions and checklists. And anywhere where severe weather can hit, the mantra for your gas tank should be “half full is empty” – filler up!
  • Power outages are not enlightening. Check flashlights and have extra batteries on hand. An emergency radio can be an excellent helpmate. Keep your devices charged – you never know when a loss of power might happen. Check/maintain emergency generators – and keep them outside! Consider an alternative way to cook meals like a propane stove and extra tanks – also outside of course!

What Weather Alert reminders do you put on your calendar at this time of year?

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Disasters — 10 Ways to Be Prepared

September 9, 2015

“Disasters” for small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) can arise from many sources and come in all shapes and sizes. Many studies report that 60% to 80% of SMEs that are hit with a major disaster don’t survive … unless they have a contingency plan. The big news items that catch our attention are usually about […]

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Internet Gurus and DIKW

August 11, 2015

I was recently asked if an email about personal security was for real. It said, in big bold letters: “Tell everyone, even the checkout-out girl … put your car keys beside your bed at night  … If you hear a noise or have a heart attack set off the alarm!” While perhaps interesting for some […]

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Who Should Read Your Insurance Policy

July 9, 2015

This article, from Aldridge & Cox, Risk Management Consultants (, addresses a pet peeve of many clients, and of course, me! It’s well-written and right on target.  Do policyholders read (and understand) their own insurance policies?  Perhaps a better question is, do agents and brokers read (and understand) your insurance policies before they are delivered to you? […]

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Workers’ Comp Nightmare

June 8, 2015

One of the biggest shocks clients experience is when, after years with no injuries, a moderate accident occurs and a worker is injured. What often comes next is difficulties finding the insurer’s medical clinic, miscommunication between the worker and the insurer, delays, prolonged recovery, frustration, and high healthcare costs. Workers’ Comp rates are calculated by […]

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Cyber Drill Down #3

April 27, 2015

This Tip is the third and final installment of the Cyber Breach Response series. So far, we’ve discussed the costs of a data loss, the benefits to your reputation of having a plan, and the likelihood that any business can and will be attacked. We’ve also outlined how to prevent a data loss, ways to […]

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Cyber Drill Down #2: (Even More) Steps for Keeping your Company Safe

April 7, 2015

Responding to a data breach can test your organization’s survival readiness. Many have no plan, no resources, no insurance protection. Could you be risking all you’ve built? The previous RiskSmart Tip talked about prevention steps you may need to implement. But that’s not all you need to help make your business safe. Next, you must: 1) […]

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Cyber Drill Down: Steps for Keeping your Company Safe

March 11, 2015

We’ve discussed the costly impacts of a data loss in Where’s Your Data? and began talking about a Cyber Breach Response plan last month. Additionally, future Tips will provide more detail on how to protect your business from problems, hassles, and lawsuits. Once you have identified a risk, the first risk management step is always […]

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Cyber Breach Response

February 4, 2015

We humans have an ingrained “It won’t happen to me” attitude, as well as a head-in-the-sand reaction to things we don’t – or don’t want to – fully understand. It’s part of our nature. However, there are millions of cyber-incidents every day in the U.S. – yes, millions per day! And any one of them […]

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Annual Risk and Protection Checklist

January 5, 2015

This month’s Tip is your reminder to get going with your prevention plans! As you organize your priorities for the New Year, remember to include the following. Below are seven key risk and protection reminders for your checklist. Many of these we know are important, yet they’re often not immediately urgent, so they fall to […]

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Where’s Your Data?

December 10, 2014

In Florida, a healthcare provider was recently charged with a lawsuit in light of a data breach. The results of their case mandated these specific precautions: Security awareness and training programs for all employees Training on laptop use and security Additional security, including GPS tracking, on all laptops New password rules, and full disk encryption […]

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Planning on a Disaster?

November 11, 2014

Humans are wonderful procrastinators. Our knee-jerk defense is, “Well, it won’t happen to me…!” And yet hardly a week goes by without news of businesses and homes destroyed by wildfires, floods, tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes. Prepare for survival We can’t prevent natural disasters, but it’s not hard to prepare for survival. Large-scale losses like these […]

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Stop! You’re Driving Dangerously!

October 8, 2014

Driving is dangerous enough by itself – and with rush hour traffic all day long, tight schedules and all kinds of cars, trucks and motorcycles trying to change lanes in front of you, it’s even worse. The National Safety Council reports that “Highway incidents remain the leading cause of occupational death” – estimated at 35% […]

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Insurance Account Reviews

September 8, 2014

Most clients don’t initially understand all the services their insurance broker can provide. An annual account review is an excellent example and a great learning experience. What’s an Account Review? It’s an opportunity to update your knowledge of insurance exposures and fine-tune your coverages. Pick a date mid-year to your policy expirations – when there’s […]

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How To Train Your Attorney

August 11, 2014

Do I hear a snort?  Or possibly an “Oh, sure?” Does the title sound like How To Train Your Dragon? And when you question an invoice you’ll get your eyebrows singed off? For many reasons, lawyering has evolved. Remember when your family doctor, the local GP, knew and did everything? Today they are all medical […]

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Safety Training and Recordkeeping

July 21, 2014

This is the last of RiskSmart’s Safety Series discussions (see Tips #85-#88 to see the previous posts). These will be consolidated into an e-book shortly and made available to subscribers. Two final elements of any safety plan are training and recordkeeping. These are not afterthoughts, but essential foundations and where the plan must start. Successful Training? […]

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Correcting Safety Hazards

June 17, 2014

We’ve talked about a Safety Plan as a critical foundation to ensuring business survival.  Many businesses round out the culture of Safety by including product and service reliability and quality – or as one client’s work shirts say, “No Excuses.” The previous Tip (#87, Communicating Safety) discussed the best techniques for identifying safety hazards.  Here […]

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Communicating Safety

May 2, 2014

(Part 3 of the Safety Series.  See Tip 85 and Tip 86 for the entire series.) A Safety program is a living, growing, changing system.  If not – if it’s on the shelf – it won’t survive day-to-day problems and priorities.  And everyone will be surprised when the accident does occur.  Everyone except OSHA, that […]

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The First Steps Toward Productivity, Quality and Safety

April 7, 2014

Many business people don’t quickly and easily connect the three areas mentioned in the Tip title.  How often do you see that? In simple terms, Productivity is “on time, on budget” and enhancing the bottom line profits of the firm.  Quality is producing products and services that meet or exceed customer expectations.  And Safety is […]

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Safety and the Bottom Line

March 11, 2014

In the past three to five years I’ve become painfully aware how fundamental safety is to risk management and to business owners’ bottom line. I’ve seen workers’ compensation “experience mod” rates soar with: a couple of nasty – but preventable – worker injuries; a shoulder “strain” that morphed into surgery and 9 months of rehab; […]

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Can You Make Cents of it All? Minimum Wages 2014 and Beyond

February 10, 2014

Federal, State and County laws throughout the US have varying minimum wages and they are changing at a more frequent rate than ever. Some studies indicate an increase will stimulate local economies and put less stress on social services; and yet other groups predict an exodus of businesses from the highest wage areas. While we […]

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2014 Risk and Protection Checklist

January 12, 2014

As you organize your priorities for the New Year, here are 7 key Risk and Protection reminders for your checklist.  Many of these we know are important, yet they’re often not immediately urgent so they fall to the bottom of the pile.  An annual schedule for these updates on your calendar can be effective in […]

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Can Your Business Run Without You?

December 9, 2013

While Charles continues his recovery, RiskSmart Tips would like to thank several colleagues for volunteering to contribute their professional views, particularly in the areas of avoiding, planning for, and managing business risk.  This month’s tip has been authored by Mike Van Horn of The Business Group. Can Your Business Run Without You? If all decisions […]

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Managing Your IT Risk

November 11, 2013

Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report 2013 lists small businesses as the target of 31% of all cyber attacks in 2012, up from 18% in 2011. “While it can be argued that the rewards of attacking a small business are less than what can be gained from a large enterprise, this is more than compensated by […]

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The Checklist

October 7, 2013

While Charles continues his recovery, RiskSmart Tips would like to thank several colleagues for volunteering to contribute their professional views, particularly in the areas of avoiding, planning for, and managing a crisis.  This month’s tip has been authored by Bart Gragg, founder of Blue Collar University®. Several years ago Charles introduced me to the bestselling […]

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The Extreme Case, and The Consequences

September 10, 2013

My name is Patrick Wilson; I am Charles’ son and am contributing this month’s blog. On July 25, my parents returned from a trip to visit family in New York State and Canada.  The next day was Friday, and my father found himself suffering from flu-like symptoms, including a headache, fatigue, and high fever.  By […]

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Fast Growth Can Be Risky Business

July 8, 2013

Many business people envy the companies that are on the “100 Fastest Growing” lists.  The risk manager says, “Be careful what you wish for.”  Sometimes what looks good from the outside can be a painful problem on the inside. What happens when you grow too fast? Mike Van Horn, President of The Business Group (, […]

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The Fastest Way to Improved Productivity

June 11, 2013

What’s the fastest way to improve business productivity?  Lots of organizations struggle to just set basic priorities, get things done on time/on budget, and keep everyone focused and safe on the job.    There’s so much “noise” in today’s business world it’s hard to know who’s on first – with internet orders, marketing key words, employee […]

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Exit Checklist

May 7, 2013

“If you don’t know where you’re going you might wind up someplace else.” ~Yogi Berra Isn’t planning great?  Some folks seem to spend their time writing stuff down and never really doing anything.  While others write what they just did on a To Do list so they can cross it off.  Yogi’s quote above is […]

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Exit Stage Right

April 9, 2013

The last RiskSmart Tip was about Transitions   – the ones you or your business could experience whether you plan for them or not! This Tip will provide an initial Checklist to help you get started on a graceful exit.  It can’t cover everything: it’s intended as a starting point.  Your primary goal is to […]

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Transitions: Good News – Bad News

March 12, 2013

Good news might be when your MD says you’re as strong as a horse and you’ll live at least another 20 years!  The bad news is now you can’t avoid completing the Transition Plan for your business, rather than just slipping out the back door! Planning of any kind is a struggle for many.  Some […]

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Howdy Partner – Friend or Foe

February 12, 2013

I remember what is probably an apocryphal story about the Lone Ranger and his sidekick, Tonto riding over the ridge to face a large band of hostile Indians.  The Lone Ranger says, “I think we’re in some big trouble here, Tonto.”  And Tonto replies, “What you mean ‘we’ Kemosabe?”   Oops – friend or foe? Partnerships […]

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Annual Risk and Protection Checklist

January 8, 2013

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know.  It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.  ~ Mark Twain As you organize your priorities for the New Year, here are 7 key Risk and Protection reminders for your checklist.  Many of these we know are important , yet they’re often […]

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Disasters – 10 Ways to Be Prepared

December 11, 2012

Quote:  Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.  ~ Abraham Lincoln   Title: Disasters – 10 Ways to Be Prepared   “Disasters” for small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) can arise from many sources and come in all shapes and sizes.  Many studies report that 60% […]

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Annual Insurance Budget Alert

November 27, 2012

Many businesses and not-for-profit organizations want to plan for next year’s revenues and expenses.  For many, insurance premiums can have a major impact and may require adjusted pricing on products and services in 2013. RiskSmart Solutions has polled a number of California brokers for their best estimates and I’m pleased to provide these for your […]

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Annual Cold Weather Alert

November 20, 2012

Winter’s fast approaching – or already here – in many parts of the US.  Even the San Francisco Bay Area may experience some record lows over the next few weeks.  Is your business or home at risk? Consider extra protection for your exterior sprinkler valves, water pipes, faucets and hoses. Sprinkler valves need special jackets […]

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Time Change and Smoke Alarms

November 16, 2012

While many people have hard-wired smoke detectors as part of their home alarm systems, they often supplement that system with battery-powered extra units. Residential smoke alarms need to be on every level and are recommended in every bedroom – especially if doors get closed. Experts say to change your 9-volt batteries at least once a […]

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Saftey and First Aid Equal a Winning Strategy

October 9, 2012

Workers sometimes joke – particularly within earshot of a Safety person – that, “Safety comes third – first there’s lunch, then break!” At least they’re thinking about it! Safety = good investment ~ From a business perspective, safety is a good investment. Every safety professional will tell you it costs $6-10 to fix the accident […]

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Insurance Premium Audits

September 11, 2012

Many business insurance policies are subject to audit by the insurance company.  Initial premiums are calculated from revenue, payroll or other estimates. These estimates can change and, no surprise, the insurer wants more premium! What can go wrong? Revenue and payroll estimates can go up or down. While they’ll want additional premium for “up,” you’ll […]

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Certificates Not Always Certain

August 7, 2012

Certificates of Insurance and Additional Insured (AI) endorsements are usually a “best practice” whenever you hire subcontractors and certain suppliers and vendors.  Many businesses don’t understand the pitfalls of getting this right. Remember that insurance is the other side’s financial back-stop to indemnify you for losses due to their negligence or contractual responsibilities. Certificates and […]

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Advisors You Can Rely On

July 11, 2012

Last month’s Tip discussed the need for risk management in addition to an organization’s insurance broker.  What other “experts” do you depend on?  In today’s economy, with increased outsourcing, the list, and the risks, can be huge. Many businesses need – attorneys with various specialties, CPA/tax advisors and perhaps a bookkeeper, bankers, financial/investment planners, Human […]

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Why You Need a Risk Manager

June 13, 2012

Many mid-size organizations depend on just an insurance broker for their entire Risk Protection Program.  Today’s world is marked by increasing business complexity and insurance coverage restrictions.  Should we be surprised that execs still get blindsided by claims and lawsuits that aren’t covered by their insurance? Typically, larger firms have in-house risk managers for broad, […]

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Difference Between Business Expense and Investment

May 7, 2012

It’s easy in a rough economy to misunderstand the difference between a business expense and an investment.  They both look like the same cash out the door!  Unfortunately, when expense cuts are across the board, the law of unintended consequences can rear its ugly head. Short-sighted ~ I remember my employer, a major insurance organization, […]

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Take Care of Important Business First

March 29, 2012

Here’s a not-so-successful story about Risk Management.  It’s sad, and I wish I could have done more to prevent it. I was working with a start-up client to get a new Employee Benefits Program up and running.  We were in the “final” stages for several months:  there were just a couple basic decisions to make, […]

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Risk Profiles Save Money

March 4, 2012

Do duct tape and plastic sheeting form the cornerstone of your business security and protection plan?  Were things ever that simple?  Here’s the real question:  How do you handle the high costs of insurance premiums? If you take a common-sense approach to risk management, you can significantly reduce your risks, minimize your potential losses and […]

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Warning – Hard Insurance Market Ahead

February 8, 2012

The insurance market has been “soft” for a long time.  Renewals with lower costs now seem normal, and you may have gotten better coverage too, if your broker was paying attention.  Clients and RiskSmart Tips subscribers know this is not a forever thing.  Inside information and preparation can save you a lot of hassle – […]

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2012 Risk Protection Checklist

January 17, 2012

As you organize your priorities for the New Year here are 7 key Risk and Protection reminders for your checklist. Many of these we know are important, yet they’re often not immediately urgent and so they fall to the bottom of the pile. An annual schedule and planning can be effective in avoiding that last […]

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