Ron Nersesian, CEO of Keysight Technologies, can measure the impact of the Tubbs Fire in what his company had to haul away: 1,400 tons of ash and debris, 126 tons of electronic waste, 1,200 smoky cubicles, and 370,000 square feet of flooring.
Keysight, a company that was originally part of Hewlett-Packard, is headquartered in Santa Rosa. The Tubbs Fire inflicted a total estimated loss of around $130 million on the company. An elementary school on Keysight headquarters property burned down, as did two smaller buildings there, and smoke damage rendered some of the rest of the site unusable.
Keysight employs about 1,500 people on the site, manufacturing electronic measurements products used by a wide range of businesses in industries from commercial communications to aerospace defense. Helping those employees cope with their lives’ disruption became one of the company’s biggest challenges. Keysight donated $10,000 to everyone who lost a home. (Among employees, 119 homes were lost, Nersesian says; in all, about 3,000 housing units were lost in Santa Rosa’s city limits.) It also set up temporary housing and allowed colleagues to donate money or vacation time to those who needed it. Crisis counselors were added to the mix, along with legal counseling. Many employees didn’t know “where to start,” Nersesian says.
Still, the fire did not result in any lost business. Keysight brought in $3.2 billion in revenue during fiscal year 2017, up from $2.9 billion the previous year. During this year’s third quarter, it reported a record revenue of $1 billion. The fire broke out Oct. 8, and Santa Rosa was evacuated on Oct. 9. But by Nov. 1, manufacturing was “up and fully functioning,” Nersesian says, and everyone had returned to work at headquarters by about Aug. 1.
Nersesian says the company’s insurance was able to cover a high percentage of Keysight’s costs. However, not every business can afford such extensive coverage. “Small business is usually the more vulnerable,” and may not want or be able to afford “to spend money on extra coverages,” says the Insurance Information Institute’s Ruiz.
Ruiz says the industry tries to encourage companies to plan for catastrophe by evaluating their risks, assessing every area from employee safety to its supply chain, as different businesses may require different types of insurance—for instance, vineyards may need crop insurance.
And increasingly insurers, along with city planners and lawmakers, are looking more closely at how to manage in areas vulnerable to wildfires. Organizations like the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety are heavily involved in researching how to fortify communities against fires, including enabling property owners to reduce the vulnerability of features like decks and skylightsby using flame-resistant materials, and in the case of decks, routinely removing debris.
Preparing for what comes next
At Keysight, the removal of 1,750 fire-damaged trees around the perimeter of headquarters has created a bit of a spatial break between any future fire and the company’s buildings. The main buildings are built with a type of concrete on the outside, which is why they survived, Nersesian says, and the large parking lots around the buildings should also serve as a firebreak.
At Paradise Ridge, in addition to changing building materials, the ownership intends to take precautions like installing fire hydrants. “We’re hoping if this ever does happen again, that we will be in a better place,” Byck-Barwick says. “There’ll be something left at least.”
The Santa Rosa fires have had a lasting emotional impact on the community. Wright, Byck-Barwick’s builder, lost his own home, which he plans to rebuild, even as he works on reconstruction of area schools and businesses. “It’s been a learning process—it gives you a different perspective and outlook on things,” Wright says. “Others are probably in worse situations, [and] I know there are people who have had to move out of the area…. But everyone’s trying to help everyone. That’s the best thing about it.”