2016 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Fragmented Voice of Authority: Experts Can Speak but Who’s Listening?

Myopic decision-making based on self-selected information sources results in broad-based societal and economic harm.
By: | April 4, 2016 • 6 min read

On Jan. 11, a German-Russian girl alleged she’d been assaulted by a Muslim mob. Her allegations fed into weeks of anti-immigrant hysteria in Germany and tension between Moscow and Berlin before her statements were unveiled as a hoax.

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Fears over Syrian immigrants and Ebola light up our mobile devices as the much broader dangers of E. coli in our food supply and hospital-acquired infections get lost in the digital noise.

Misinformation on the connection between vaccination and autism spreads globally, leading parents around the world to stop inoculating their children. As a result, the measles, thought to be contained, re-emerges as a health threat in California, Germany and elsewhere.

All of these are examples of the fragmentation of the voice of informed authority.  This emerging risk stems from our tendency to self-select information sources, choosing reports that conform with our pre-established notions, rather than trust official statements.

Helen Thompson, director of commercial marketing, Esri

Helen Thompson, director of commercial marketing, Esri

In essence, there are large segments of the population giving more credence to friends’ Facebook posts than to information from the government or some other informed source.

“Because of the way that information is curated and supplied to audiences, people are increasingly curating their own sources of facts, and this changes society’s ability to understand and respond to information. Consequently authoritative information is being distorted based on our own lens,” said Helen Thompson, the director of commercial marketing for Esri.

Thompson pointed to a February extreme weather event in Virginia in which four people were killed as a risk that most people ignore, either because the death toll was “low”, or the risk wasn’t sensational enough.

“Natural disasters slip off the agenda because unless you are directly impacted something you consider equally or more important comes down your curated channel and displaces it,” she said.

“We know that when people are seeking new information, when they perceive a risk of some sort, that they hold onto the first piece of information that makes common sense to them,” said Barbara Reynolds, a senior crisis and risk communications adviser with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Unfortunately, sometimes that piece that they are exposed to and hold onto right away could be incorrect, making it more difficult to share correct information,” she said.

The risk is that stakeholders will underestimate grave threats, magnify less substantial ones, and fail to take appropriate action. And negative information, whether by street corner gossip, or through social media, spreads much faster than accurate information which might not be as dire.

“When we see something that affects us in a negative way, we are more inclined to retweet or rebroadcast that information without trying to understand whether this is an actual fact,” said Emilio Ferrara, a researcher with the Information Sciences Institute & Department of Computer Science at the University of Southern California.

“That is one of the most dangerous consequences,” Ferrara added.

“The fact that this conversation can foster the spread of panic, or even mass hysteria, whereas there is no practical risk involved.”

International Consequences

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Perhaps the most glaring example is the current presidential election cycle in the United States.

An executive with a European reinsurer said he and his colleagues see the tone of political dialogue in the United States as a threat. That the acrimony, extremism and misinformation being expressed in some corners could lead to grave international consequences.

Among members of the Democratic and Republican parties, what’s emerged is a widespread belief that substantial disruption is needed.  That there is something very “wrong,” and that a radical overhaul is in order.

“Our willingness to accept decentralized dissemination of knowledge and reject centralization of knowledge is what’s changed.” —Helen Thompson, director of commercial marketing, Esri

That’s leading to extreme ideas like building a wall between the United States and Mexico or free college student tuition — without calculating the financial cost or the societal impact.

This when the national unemployment rate is at 5 percent, violent crime is down and we have access to better health care than previous generations, said Thompson.

“Our willingness to accept decentralized dissemination of knowledge and reject centralization of knowledge is what’s changed,” she said.

“For whatever reason, there is widespread mistrust of government and the information it shares at the federal, state and local level.”

Technology Holds the Answer

But just as technology, in the form of social media and the internet, are the vehicles for the spread of misinformation and mistrust, experts agree that technology holds the hope of mitigating, not only internet-spread rumors, but real threats such as food supply chain dangers or internet propaganda campaigns of terror organizations.

Barbara Reynolds, senior crisis and risk communications adviser, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Barbara Reynolds, senior crisis and risk communications adviser, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Yes, we have the fragmentation that you are talking about, that is true,” said Barbara Reynolds, the CDC risk and communications adviser who spent her career at the nexus of communications and social psychology.

“But when I put those parts of my knowledge together, I find that for every negative there is a positive,” she added.

In Reynolds’ view, these online postings, Tweets and “shares” mean that government agencies become less paternalistic.

“For someone in the business of trying to help people make good health decisions, this is an invaluable feedback mechanism for me,” she said.

Whereas before it might take her days or weeks to filter through reactions to CDC statements, now she gets that feedback almost immediately.

“You can’t just put out a recommendation, you have to be able to withstand attacks,” she said. “What’s really important is to be out there first. It has to be repeated and it has to come from more than one source.”

That means dropping the notion that you are the only authority and seeking strength in numbers. Reynolds said her organization now knows to communicate in concert with other health care organizations.

“It’s important for us to work with other authorities who are trusted and bring them into the conversation,” Reynolds said.

USC’s Ferrara said he and his co-researchers are creating algorithms that are capable of learning the characteristics of misinformation campaigns.

“We are seeing promising advances into the realm of detecting — and even predicting when it’s possible — forms of artificial orchestrated campaigns.

And a campaign can be defined as sustained efforts from some party or entity or a group of people to push some information out.”

Ferrara is collaborating with a company in Washington, D.C. on a system to be used by the U.S. Department of Defense to identify and mitigate terroristic propaganda campaigns. He is also working on frameworks for the CDC and other health care authorities.

“Yes, we have the fragmentation that you are talking about, that is true. But when I put those parts of my knowledge together, I find that for every negative there is a positive.” —Barbara Reynolds, senior crisis and risk communication adviser, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Even though the general population might not be focused on food supply chain risks, Thompson’s Esri is working on solutions.

She said her company is working with international organizations to create a unique way to link every farm in the food supply chain to the produce they grow.

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“Now when you say, where did this apple come from and where did this prawn come from, you know its exact origin,” Thompson said.

It’s not only food supply chain risk that can be mitigated in this manner.

Labor law compliance, supply chain concerns over conflict diamonds or “gray market” gold could also be tracked through advanced technology.

“It’s going to require us to exchange information, transfer liability and quantify risk in a different way that’s happened before,” she added.

She said technology improvements and the Internet of Things will also allow for the tracking of every single unit a factory, farm or mine produces. That should provide much greater clarity for companies mitigating or facing a product recall.

“The IOT is going to fundamentally transform the way we monitor compliance and mitigate these classes of major risks,” she said. &

BlackBar

2016’s Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

brokenbridgeThe Fractured Future Infrastructure in disrepair, power grids at risk, rampant misinformation and genetic tinkering — is our world coming apart at the seams?

01b_cover_story_crackCrumbling Infrastructure: Day of Reckoning Our health and economy are increasingly exposed to a long-documented but ignored risk.

01c_cover_story_leadCyber Grid Attack: A Cascading Impact The aggregated impact of a cyber attack on the U.S. power grid causes huge economic losses and upheaval.

01e_cover_story_dnaGene Editing: The Devil’s in the DNA Biotechnology breakthroughs can provide great benefits to society, but the risks can’t be ignored.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

After 20 years in the business, Navy Pier’s Director of Risk Management values her relationships in the industry more than ever.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Working at Dominick’s Finer Foods bagging groceries. Shortly after I was hired, I was promoted to [cashier] and then to a management position. It taught me great responsibility and it helped me develop the leadership skills I still carry today.

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

While working for Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the administration of claims. This led to a business relationship with the director of risk management of the organization who actually owned the property. Ultimately, a position became available in her department and the rest is history.

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

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The risk management community is doing a phenomenal job in professional development and creating great opportunities for risk managers to network. The development of relationships in this industry is vitally important and by providing opportunities for risk managers to come together and speak about their experiences and challenges is what enables many of us to be able to do our jobs even more effectively.

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

Attracting, educating and retaining young talent. There is this preconceived notion that the insurance industry and risk management are boring and there could be nothing further from the truth.

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

In my 20 years in the industry, the biggest change in risk management and the insurance industry are the various types of risk we look to insure against. Many risks that exist today were not even on our radar 20 years ago.

Gina Kirchner, director of risk management, Navy Pier Inc.

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

FM Global. They have been our property carrier for a great number of years and in my opinion are the best in the business.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

I am optimistic that policies will be put in place with the new administration that will be good for the economy and business.

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

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The commercial risks that are of most concern to me are cyber risks, business interruption, and any form of a health epidemic on a global scale. We are dealing with new exposures and new risks that we are truly not ready for.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My mother has played a significant role in shaping my ideals and values. She truly instilled a very strong work ethic in me. However, there are many men and women in business who have mentored me and have had a significant impact on me and my career as well.

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

I am most proud of making the decision a couple of years ago to return to school and obtain my [MBA]. It took a lot of prayer, dedication and determination to accomplish this while still working a full time job, being involved in my church, studying abroad and maintaining a household.

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

“Heaven Is For Real” by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. I loved the book and the movie.

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

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A French restaurant in Paris, France named Les Noces de Jeannette Restaurant à Paris. It was the most amazing food and brings back such great memories.

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

Israel. My husband and I just returned a few days ago and spent time in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jericho and Jordan. It was an absolutely amazing experience. We did everything from riding camels to taking boat rides on the Sea of Galilee to attending concerts sitting on the Temple steps. The trip was absolutely life changing.

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

Many, many years ago … I went parasailing in the Caribbean. I had a great experience and didn’t think about the risk at the time because I was young, single and free. Looking back, I don’t know that I would make the same decision today.

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

I would have to say the relationships and partnerships I have developed with insurance carriers, brokers and other professionals in the industry. To have wonderful working relationships with such a vast array of talented individuals who are so knowledgeable and to have some of those relationships develop into true friendships is very rewarding.

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

My friends and family have a general idea that my position involves claims and insurance. However, I don’t think they fully understand the magnitude of my responsibilities and the direct impact it has on my organization, which experiences more than 9 million visitors a year.




Katie Siegel is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]