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Column: Roger's Soapbox

Heroes, Seen and Unseen

By: | November 1, 2013 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Recently, I moved from London to a small town on the south coast of England called Eastbourne. It’s a retirement community, akin to Florida but without the sun, sand (the beaches are pebbles) or cocaine proceeds that have fueled Miami’s growth.

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The other day, two men in crash helmets were peering into my living room window. Nothing very unusual there, I suppose. Except that perverts rarely wear crash helmets, I’m guessing.

Because of the enhanced real estate values in a giant metropolis such as London, I was able to swap a modest 750-square-foot apartment in social housing for something rather grander: a giant penthouse, hard on the English Channel. My nearest neighbor to the south is France.

My new abode is a glorious folly, absurdly flashy and even slightly regal. My ‘Bourne Identity’ is that of king.

The apartment is on the ninth floor, which for reasons best known to themselves, the British refer to as the eighth floor. One would think that, on that basis, the first floor should be called the zeroth floor and the ninth should perhaps be known as the sky floor, but it seems logic is not applied in such matters.

The apartment is as far into the heavens as a man may climb in Eastbourne, which made the spectre of two men in crash helmets peering in, well … something of an anomaly, to say the least.

Were they 80 feet tall? On stilts? Superman and the Green Lantern on patrol?

They were, in fact, supermen of a sort. They were officers of the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. They were perched, rather precariously, I thought, atop an aerial ladder, an extending metal pole thingie, a new piece of kit being tested on Eastbourne’s tallest building. My building, that is.

Wobbling all the way, they roamed around the space between my building and the one next door.

From time to time, they stopped so close to (ahem) one of my balconies that we were able to have a pleasant chat. They reluctantly turned down the offer of a cup of tea because their boss was keeping an eye on them from the zeroth floor.

I have nothing but respect for firemen. The word “heroes” barely begins to describe them. Not just because they rush into burning buildings to save children and cats, if the movies are to be believed, but because they wobble around in a steel box 80 feet off the ground in case some old fool like me accidentally sets fire to his home and then can’t get out.

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It struck me later that firemen fulfill a role exactly analogous to that of insurers: They take on the risks that no one else wants to carry. If your building burns down and you’re fried to a crisp, all the insurance in the world won’t make any difference.

Despite the dangers, firemen help you avoid that fate, so that you may cash in on the insurance.

Yet, where firemen are rightly regarded as heroes, insurers tend not to be. At best, they are considered, as someone said recently, staid. But when catastrophe strikes, we turn to firemen as well as insurers to seek relief.

Maybe it would help their image if insurers wore fluorescent orange jackets instead of boring suits. An aerial ladder outside every insurance office? It might be worth a shot.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swans

Black Swans: Yes, It Can Happen Here

In this year's Black Swan coverage, we focus on two events: An Atlantic mega-tsunami which would wipe out the East Coast and a killer global pandemic.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 2 min read

One of the most difficult phrases to digest without becoming frustrated or judgmental is the oft-repeated, “I never thought that could happen here.”

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Most painfully, we hear it time and time again in the aftermath of the mass school shootings that terrorize this country. Shocked parents and neighbors, viewing the carnage, voice that they can’t believe this happened in their neighborhood.

Not to be mean, but why couldn’t it happen in your neighborhood?

So it is with Black Swans, a phrase describing unforeseen events, made famous by the former trader and acerbic critic of academia Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

We at Risk & Insurance® define these events in insurance terms by saying that they are highly infrequent, yet could cause massive damages. This year, for our annual Black Swan issue, we present two very different scenarios, both of which would leave mass devastation in their wake.

A Mega-Tsunami Is Coming; Can the East Coast Even Prepare?, written by staff writer Autumn Heisler, profiles an Atlantic mega-tsunami, which would wipe out lives and commerce along the East Coast.

On the topic of whether the volcanic island of La Palma, the most northwestern of the Canary Islands, could erupt, split and trigger an Atlantic mega-tsunami, scientists are divided.

Researchers Steven Ward, a geophysicist at UC Santa Cruz, and Simon Day of University College London, say such a thing could happen. Other scientists say Day and Ward are dead wrong; it’s an impossibility.

One of the counter-arguments is backed up by the statement that there has never been an Atlantic mega-tsunami. It’s never happened before and thus, could never happen here. See exhibit “A” above, re: mass school shootings.

Viral Fear: How a Global Pandemic Kills an Economy, written by associate editor Katie Dwyer, depicts a killer global pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century.

Tens of millions of people died during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

Why it could happen again includes the fact that it’s happened before. The science on influenzas, which are constantly mutating, also supports just how dangerous a threat they pose to millions of people beyond the reach of antibiotics.

Should a mutating avian flu, for example, spread widely, we could see a 10 percent drop in GDP, mostly from non-physical business interruption.

As always here, the purpose is to do exactly what insurance modelers and underwriters do; no matter how massive the event, we create scenarios, quantify possible losses and discuss risk mitigation strategies. &

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