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COVID-19 and Property Claims: What’s the Connection?

May 01, 2020 David Wylie and Joanie Arrott

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Any discussion of protecting your organization’s property against risk might seem unnecessary right now. After all, between the coronavirus and summer break, many of your facilities will remain sparsely or entirely empty for the foreseeable future. The longer they stay that way, the greater the chance you could absorb unbudgeted expenses.

Small roof leaks, loose electrical outlets, and other minor maintenance issues are more likely to escape notice when facilities are unoccupied. If you do not address minor issues, they can mushroom into major repairs or replacements. Theft and vandalism are also more likely in the absence of watchful employees and students.

How to protect temporarily closed property

Governor Greg Abbott’s latest directive allows the Texas economy to slowly reopen, with restrictions. But schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year. You can take steps now to ensure your facilities are in good condition when that first bell signals the return of in-person education.

While maintaining facilities is important during the pandemic, so is keeping employees injury and illness-free. Make sure your teams know how to protect themselves against traditional hazards associated with maintenance tasks, as well as COVID-19 infection. Best practices include keeping at least six feet of separation between employees, washing hands frequently, using required personal protective equipment, not sharing tools, and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces.

Lay the groundwork

Each year in December, the Fund recommends members shore up their facilities before sending staff and students home for the holidays. Some of those to-do’s will also help you brace for intermittent closures related to the pandemic and summer break.

Comply with regulatory requirements. Because of COVID-19, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) temporarily modified boiler equipment inspection requirements. Fund Property program members can still request inspections by contacting Hartford Steam Boiler. Keep in mind that failure to perform routine boiler maintenance can cause accidents that damage property and harm people. To date, TDLR has not relaxed its requirements for underground fuel tanks.

Inspect fire protection equipment. About 30,000 fires happen every year in unoccupied buildings, costing about $700 million in direct property damage, according to a US Fire Administration study.  Control the risk to your facilities by inspecting fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and sprinkler systems regularly. For example, you should make sure sprinkler systems have enough water and that all valves are locked in the open position.

Let the air conditioner run. Mold thrives in heat and humidity. Make your facilities less hospitable by setting the air conditioning to 85 degrees or lower. You can also reduce risk by controlling indoor moisture. For example, give freshly shampooed carpet a chance to dry before closing  doors and windows.

Eliminate hazards. Take time to address hazards such as debris, broken stairs, and chemical containers that could injure staff, emergency personnel, contactors, and visitors.

Make security a priority

School-based law enforcement officers are being called on to help manage meal distribution, testing sites, and other pandemic-related activities. Consider these strategies to beef up onsite security in their absence.

Keep security devices in service. That includes emergency lighting, intruder detection systems, and security cameras. Tell your alarm company about empty facilities, and give them your emergency contact information.    

Install deadbolt locks. Carving out time to install deadbolt locks on perimeter doors and windows also gives you an opportunity to check frames for holes, deteriorating caulk, and damaged weather stripping that drive up summer electricity bills.

Protect valuables. Store your computers, career and technology program equipment, and other valuables in secured areas, and elevate it to protect against flooding. Valuables include employee and student personally identifiable information (PII). A strong cybersecurity program protects digital PII, but don’t forget to lock HR offices, special education offices, and other areas that house hard-copy employee and student records.

Consider security guards. You could contract with a vendor to provide 24/7 security or to visit the property at random times during the week.

Maintain a presence

When you go on a long vacation, do you set your lights on a timer and ask your neighbors to keep an eye on the place? You can also apply those simple strategies to protect temporarily closed property.

Enlist the community. Local law enforcement, first responders, and even neighbors have a vested interest in helping prevent damage, theft, and vandalism. Make sure they know how to contact you if there is an emergency or if they see suspicious activity.

Inspect the property regularly. Choose different days and times to walk through the property. Check for weather-related damage, minor maintenance issues you can address, and evidence of tampering.

Install motion or timed lighting. Not only does lighting deter crime, but it also discourages animals from taking up residence in your facilities.

Keep up with landscaping. Trimming trees, lawns, and shrubs is about more than keeping up appearances. Closely cropped landscaping also gives criminals fewer places to hide.

Need to file a claim?

Even with the best preventative measures in place, incidents can happen. The Fund is here to support members, just as we have since 1974. If you serve a county that limits or prohibits access to your facilities during the pandemic, and you need to report a claim for an incident that happened while you were not onsite, note your county restrictions in the description field of your online claim report. You can also tell your adjuster when he or she follows up with you about the claim.

Tagged: coronavirus, COVID-19, "Risk Trends", Safety