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Column: Roger's Soapbox

Fear of Cosmic Rays

By: | September 14, 2015 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Do you fly regularly? If so, pour yourself a stiff drink and sit down. I have bad news, which I won’t sugarcoat: You’re doomed, lost without hope. You might as well accept it. The only job you’re fit for is president of the United States.

The British Cabinet Office — not a furniture store, but the body that claims to “ensure the effective running of government” — reports that airline passengers and crew could be at risk from dangerous solar cosmic rays. A full report is due any time now from the Cosmic Radiation Advisory Group, and it’s going to say that frequent flyers have had their chips. They’ve run out of luck.

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Large explosions on the sun throw out huge amounts of magnetically charged particles, in what are known as coronal mass ejections. The report will indicate that humanity would have a 12-hour warning about such an ejection, which could damage the electricity supply, oil and gas pipelines, and railway signals.

This is not news, apparently. Radiation levels are already modeled for aircrew, but passengers are on their own. During an event, accurate advice is unavailable. So, if you’re on a plane, and you start to feel weird, it’s not down to the so-called omelet you just ate (more fool you). Coronal ejections are to blame.

Absolute evidence of the danger was made available recently by presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who said that Mexican immigrants to the U.S. are “rapists.” Clearly, The Donald, who flies around all the time dispensing his wisdom to those unable to get away before he starts, has had his brain fried by coronal ejections. This might also explain his inevitable electoral ejection.

If you’re on a plane, and you start to feel weird, it’s not down to the so-called omelet you just ate (more fool you). Coronal ejections are to blame.

Solar storms can trigger showers of harmful radiation that could cause health problems not just in the air, but also at ground level. The evidence suggests that although radiation at ground level from solar events is too weak to cause concern, it may trigger “secondary” showers of ionizing particles that can tear apart atoms and molecules.

“Neutrons, which don’t reach the ground, do reach airline altitude,” said Adrian Melott, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas.

“During solar particle events, airplanes are diverted away from the North Pole, where a lot more cosmic rays come down.”

Say, for purposes of illustration, that you return home from a flight to the Phoenix office to discuss the wording of your company’s terms and conditions. You start spouting idiotic and hateful things about foreigners and exaggerating your usefulness to the rest of society, a la Trump. Your wife, who has read this article, rushes you to hospital, where it is confirmed that your brain has been toasted by excessive solar radiation.

You phone your insurance agent. You explain to him that all Canadians are child abusers. He surmises, correctly, that your brain has been baked by the sun while you were aloft.

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You ask how much money you will be paid as a consequence. The broker points out that, since your flight was unnecessary, as are the great majority of business flights, your claim will be rejected.

You reply that all insurance brokers are serial killers, and the conversation ends.

Here’s the good news. Once the contents of Hillary Clinton’s emails are made public, she will have to withdraw from the race, and you can go on to be elected president. You appoint your broker as vice president; ground Air Force One; and achieve détente with Vladimir Putin, whom you declare to be a man you can do business with.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

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?

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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?

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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?

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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]