Episode 20 – Unmasking Wildfire Risk: Navigating Insurance Challenges and Community Solution

In this episode, we have Nancy Watkins, an actuary with extensive experience in property casualty insurance and catastrophic risk analysis. The episode explores the challenges and strategies related to protecting properties against the threat of wildfires.

Nancy P. Watkins is a principal and consulting actuary in Milliman’s San Francisco office who leads a consulting practice that specializes in climate resilience, insurance and catastrophic property risk. At the forefront of innovation in wildfire risk, Nancy and her team provide state-of-the-art tools, technology, and analysis to insurers, reinsurers, government entities and trade groups. Their recent engagements include a ground-breaking white paper for the Casualty Actuarial Society showing how to create wildfire mitigation credits for rate making using catastrophe models, calculation agent support of a new parametric wildfire reinsurance product, and a multi-disciplinary study for the Town of Paradise exploring ways to rebuild the town to promote climate resilience and long-term insurance access.

Widely known as a thought leader in the areas of property insurance availability and affordability, Nancy leads the global Milliman Climate Resilience Initiative. She currently represents the insurance industry on the California Office of the State Fire Marshal Risk Modeling Advisory Workgroup of the Wildfire Mitigation Advisory Committee. She serves on the United Nations Capital Development Fund’s Climate Insurance Linked Resilient Infrastructure Finance Working Group to pilot climate adaptation financing for emerging markets and least-developed countries. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Wharton Risk Center Policy Incubator, advising on innovative risk transfer instruments.

The episode begins with an introduction to Nancy Watkins, whose expertise spans the realms of insurance and risk assessment, with a particular focus on the pressing issue of catastrophic risk exacerbated by climate change, especially in regions prone to wildfires.

As the conversation progresses, the discussion delves into the challenging landscape of insurance. Nancy recounts her own experience when her insurance provider withdrew from the California market, leaving her and many other homeowners grappling with the task of securing alternative coverage. This narrative lays the groundwork for understanding the disconnection between community-level wildfire mitigation efforts and the insurance industry’s capacity to effectively measure and manage wildfire risk. An exploration of the missing pieces in this puzzle sets the stage for devising more precise wildfire risk assessment strategies.

A pivotal concept emerges in the conversation—the need for comprehensive data to understand wildfire risk thoroughly. The challenges in measuring such risk are discussed, especially when considering factors that go beyond individual homes, such as the collective efforts of communities to mitigate fire hazards. Nancy introduces her initiatives to establish a data commons, which would provide parcel-level inspection data to facilitate a more accurate quantification of wildfire risk. This data could be a valuable resource for informing insurance companies, scientists, fire management professionals, and communities about the true extent of wildfire risk.

The episode underscores the importance of community-wide mitigation efforts in addition to individual home-based measures. It discusses the transformative potential of new construction methods to reduce wildfire risk, especially in the vulnerable wildland-urban interface. This highlights the significance of better community-level mitigation in protecting existing communities from the relentless wildfire threat. Moreover, it explores how changes in the insurance market can serve as incentives for communities to engage in meaningful mitigation efforts.

The discussion shifts toward the pivotal role of data in influencing homeowner behavior and promoting wildfire mitigation. It raises the prospect of creating risk categories based on data to differentiate communities, thus encouraging communities to invest in mitigation efforts and providing them with a clearer sense of their risk levels. The episode delves into the potential for insurance companies to utilize data to incentivize mitigation and the challenges associated with motivating community-wide mitigation and data-driven strategies.

In conclusion, the episode explores the importance of innovative landscaping approaches in striking a balance between aesthetic appeal and fire mitigation efforts. Landscaping architects and contractors are encouraged to offer attractive, fire-resistant alternatives that can effectively protect properties while preserving their visual appeal. The conversation underscores the ongoing need for innovation and education in wildfire mitigation strategies, as well as the collective efforts required to address the wildfire threat effectively.

Key Highlights:

  • Discover the challenges homeowners face when insurance providers exit the market, as shared by Nancy Watkins.
  • Explore the gap between community-level wildfire mitigation efforts and insurance companies’ ability to assess and manage wildfire risk.
  • Learn about initiatives to create a comprehensive data commons for better wildfire risk assessment, benefiting insurance companies, scientists, and communities.
  • Understand the significance of community-wide mitigation in protecting homes and neighborhoods from the growing wildfire threat.
  • Dive into the transformative role of data in incentivizing homeowner behavior and fostering wildfire mitigation efforts.
  • Uncover innovative landscaping approaches that strike a balance between aesthetics and fire safety.
  • 🌟The episode sheds light on the complex and interconnected aspects of safeguarding properties against wildfires, offering actionable insights and potential solutions.

Overall, the podcast episode offers valuable insights into fire safety and insurance considerations for residents in fire-prone regions.



Join the growing community of wildfire enthusiasts and stakeholders, and discover how we can collectively work towards a safer and more resilient future. Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to gain valuable knowledge from the experts in the field.

Thank you for joining us on the journey of fighting wildfires. We understand that we are in a constant battle with mother nature and things seem hopeless when we have to evacuate, leave our homes, and not know what we will come back to. 

On our podcast, we bring experts to educate homeowners, communities, and businesses on what they can do against wildfires. Our team consists of wildfire prevention specialists, retired fire captains, and fire marshals. 

If you’re trying to get educated, find a solution to the wildfires, and do everything you can for your property then you have arrived at the right place!

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