Craig Allen recently accomplished a personal first as an ecology professor by getting listed on a patent for a fireball-dropping drone.
“For me, because I expect that I will probably never have another patent in my life, because I do science that’s generally not patentable and I really don’t have the capacity for that kind of thing, the patent is fully unique and, thus, will have a special place in my heart,” said Allen, director of the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship at Nebraska.
He worked with agronomy professor Dirac Twidwell, computer science professors Sebastian Elbaum and Carrick Detweiler, and former Nebraska students Christian Laney, James Higgins and Evan Michael Beachly in developing IGNIS, the drone product.
At first, the three discussed using drones as a less dangerous way to sample invasive species like zebra mussels in Nebraska waters. Then, when a person was injured on an ATV during a prescribed burn, the three professors turned to discussing using drones in prescribed burns.
Allen said about 40,000 acres of rangeland in Nebraska are invaded by trees every year and fire is the best way to control that.
Typically, firefighters on ATVs or in helicopters carry out prescribed burns, but both methods can be dangerous.
I spoke to Rex Frazier, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, who cited several policies that no doubt contributed to State Farm’s decision to stop issuing policies, including various price controls that prevent insurers from raising prices to meet surging costs without the written approval of the California Department of Insurance.
“California is the only state in the country that doesn’t allow insurers’ rates to be based upon actual reinsurance costs,” Frazier said. “California’s regulations employ a legal fiction that each insurer uses its own capital to serve customers. As reinsurance costs go up, insurers cannot have their rates reflect those higher costs.”
State Farm General Insurance Co. last week became the latest insurer to retreat from California’s homeowners market. The culprit isn’t climate change, as the media claims in parroting Sacramento talking points. The cause is the Golden State’s hostile insurance environment.
The nation’s top property and casualty insurer on Friday said it won’t accept new applications for homeowners insurance, citing “historic increases in construction costs outpacing inflation, rapidly growing catastrophe exposure, and a challenging reinsurance market.”
In other words, State Farm can’t accurately price risk and increase its rates to cover ballooning liabilities. Other property and casualty insurers, including AIG and Chubb, have also been shrinking their California footprint after years of catastrophic wildfires, which are becoming more common owing to drought and decades of poor forest management.
Leave it to California lawmakers, however, to cast aside thousands of years of complex commercial history in a misguided attempt to fix an admittedly legitimate insurance problem. Thanks to Proposition 103, a 1988 ballot measure, California already has a distorted insurance market that gives the insurance commissioner czar-like powers to approve rate increases and impose rate decreases.
Because of that law, insurers have a tough time adjusting rates to manage their risks. It’s a long, cumbersome, and antagonistic government process to adjust rates. Their other lever for ensuring solvency is to reduce their underwriting risks by, say, not writing fire-insurance policies to homeowners who live in high fire-risk areas or car insurance policies to drivers with multiple DUIs.
Instead, California Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-Marin County, has introduced Assembly Bill 1522, which would prohibit insurers from canceling insurance policies solely because a home or business is located in a high-risk wildfire area. It epitomizes California’s economically illiterate edict approach.