Column: Risk Management

Lessons Learned from a Costa Rican Earthquake

By: | December 14, 2017 • 3 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

This was my first earthquake. I was standing in my kitchen in Costa Rica on November 12 when it happened. The ground started to grumble. The dog barked.

The fridge began a hula dance. The house swayed back and forth intensely. My pool shot out plumes of water that travelled 20 feet.

I could not walk. I felt as though I was on a very tippy boat. I grabbed the counter and waited.

After the longest 30 seconds of my life, the house stopped swaying. For a grand finale, I heard the last gasps of power shutting down. It got pitch dark. No appliances. No TV. No internet. No cell service. No landline. I was in a blackout on all levels.

I could not see, and I did not know what was going to happen next. Would there be a tsunami? Would there be aftershocks? I decided to stay inside and wait.

When a neighbor heard I stayed inside, I was severely scolded and mocked. “You are a risk manager. You should know; you must get out of the house during the earthquake. Right?”

Within a half hour, things seemed to calm down. My dear neighbor drove up to the house — a beautiful sight, our beach community checking in on each other. We soon learned it was a 6.9-magnitude earthquake as measured at the Universidad Nacional Costa Rica. As it turned out our homes sat right atop the epicenter.


We gathered as neighbors to relive our individual experiences. When a neighbor heard I stayed inside, I was severely scolded and mocked. “You are a risk manager. You should know; you must get out of the house during the earthquake. Right?”

In truth, I was not completely sure. One hears so many versions of what one should do. I never realized how many renditions of escape plans exist. The confusion only compounded as I listened to my overly excited neighbors argue about who pushed who out of the way to get out of the house first.

This story ended well for our community. No damages. No injuries. No threat of a tsunami.

But as a curious risk manager, I decided to take stock and research this issue and finally settle the score. What to do during an earthquake? What is the appropriate risk mitigation for dealing with quakes?

According to the website of the Department of Homeland Security (www.ready.gov), if you are inside, you are to drop down onto your hands and knees, cover your head and neck with your arms to protect yourself from falling debris and hold on to any sturdy covering until the shaking stops.

You are not to run outside or get in a doorway. In short you “Drop, Cover and Hold on.” Prepare the same way for aftershocks.

Practicing the drop, cover and hold on procedure is essential. Next is having an earthquake kit at your home or business. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit, a battery-powered radio, a flashlight and extra batteries. I would add to this list a phone: An old fashioned analog phone that does not need a power connection.

So, when I look back at my instinct to stay put, it all makes sense now. Drop, cover, hold on. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession: Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?


I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?


Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?


A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]