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.


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.


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

Risk Management

The Profession

Janet Sheiner, VP of risk management and real estate at AMN Healthcare Services Inc., sees innovation as an answer to fast-evolving and emerging risks.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

As a kid, bagging groceries. My first job out of school, part-time temp secretary.

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

Risk management picks you; you don’t necessarily pick it. I came into it from a regulatory compliance angle. There’s a natural evolution because a lot of your compliance activities also have the effect of managing your risk.

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


There’s much benefit to grounding strategic planning in an ERM framework. That’s a great innovation in the industry, to have more emphasis on ERM. I also think that risk management thought leaders are casting themselves more as enablers of business, not deterrents, a move in the right direction.

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

Justified or not, risk management functions are often viewed as the “Department of No.” We’ve worked hard to cultivate a reputation as the “Department of Maybe,” so partners across the organization see us as business enablers. That reputation has meant entertaining some pretty crazy ideas, but our willingness to try and find a way to “yes” tempered with good risk management has made all the difference.

Janet Sheiner, VP, Risk Management & Real Estate, AMN Healthcare Services Inc.

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

San Diego, of course!  America’s Finest City has the infrastructure, Convention Center, hotels, airport and public transportation — plus you can’t beat our great weather! The restaurant scene is great, not to mention those beautiful coastal views.

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

The emergence of risk management as a distinct profession, with four-year degree programs and specific academic curriculum. Now I have people on my team who say their goal is to be a risk manager. I said before that risk management picks you, but we’re getting to a point where people pick it.

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


The commercial insurance market’s ability to innovate to meet customer demand. Businesses need to innovate to stay relevant, and the commercial market needs to innovate with us.  Carriers have to be willing to take on more risk and potentially take a loss to meet the unique and evolving risks companies are facing.

R&I: Of which insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion?

Beazley. They have been an outstanding partner to AMN. They are responsive, flexible and reasonable.  They have evolved with us. They have an appreciation for risk management practices we’ve organically woven into our business, and by extension, this makes them more comfortable with taking on new risks with us.

R&I: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the U.S. health care industry and why?

I am very optimistic about the health care industry. We have an aging population with burgeoning health care needs, coupled with a decreasing supply of health care providers — that means we have to get smarter about how we manage health care. There’s a lot of opportunity for thought leaders to fill that gap.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

Professionally, AMN Healthcare General Counsel, Denise Jackson, has enabled me to do the best work I’ve ever done, and better than I thought I could do.  Personally, my husband Andrew, a second-grade teacher, who has a way of putting things into a human perspective.

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

In my early 20s, I set a goal for the “corner office.” I achieved that when I became vice president.  I received a ‘Values in Practice’ award for trust at AMN. The nomination came from team members I work with every day, and I was incredibly humbled and honored.

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

The noir genre, so anything by Raymond Chandler in books. For movies,  “Double Indemnity,” the 1944 Billy Wilder classic, with insurance at the heart of it!

R&I: What is your favorite drink?


Clean water. Check out for how to help people enjoy clean, safe water.

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

Liqun Roast Duck Restaurant in Beijing.

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

China. See favorite restaurant above. This restaurant had been open for 100 years in that location. It didn’t exactly have an “A” rating, and it was probably not a place most risk managers would go to.

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

Eating that duck at Liqun!

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

Dr. Seuss who, in response to a 1954 report in Life magazine, worked to reduce illiteracy among school children by making children’s books more interesting. His work continues to educate and entertain children worldwide.

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

They’re not really sure!

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