Risk Insider: George Browne

What’s So Special About Special Hazards?

By: | November 14, 2017 • 2 min read
George Browne, CFPS, has a B.S. in Fire Protection. He is Manager of Training Services for Global Risk Consultants. He manages fire protection services, and develops and delivers training programs for clients on an individual basis. He can be reached at [email protected]

Defining special hazards seems straightforward; the typical expectation might be that, in the event of an emergency involving any of these hazards, there is the potential for a significant loss.


The incident has the potential to develop rapidly, cause substantial property damage and may even affect other properties in the area. Additionally, the hazard may require the following in order to provide life safety and property protection:

  • Special extinguishing systems required for fire control (clean agent, foam, CO2, water mist, etc.).
  • Special detection systems to provide detection of products generated by a special hazards incident (gas specific detectors, infrared or ultraviolet detectors, specialized smoke and heat detectors, explosion detectors, etc.).
  • Damage limiting construction to allow the pressure generated by an explosion to vent out of an area without destroying the structure (explosion relief panels for walls or roofs, vents, etc.).
  • A combination of any of the above.

The above criteria should make many special hazards easy to identify. Unfortunately, some special hazards can be hidden because the impact to the operation is not recognized. These hidden special hazards can include any of the following:

  • The reliability of utilities such as electric power, gas (natural gas or LPG), process/drinking/fire protection water or steam.
  • The vulnerability of the electric power to the site because there is only one transformer or multiple transformers that are rare and difficult to source if the transformer(s) fail.
  • The use of an electrically-driven fire pump, without considering the reliability of the power supply.
  • The reliability and adequacy of the local water supply to meet fire protection needs.
  • Identifying nearby exposures that can threaten the facility, including: fire, explosions and spills occurring at neighboring facilities, and wildfire exposures.
  • Evaluating the surrounding flood hazard and whether or not it might leave your facility high and dry, but isolated and unreachable by suppliers, shippers and employees.

There are many other things that can create a special hazard for an operation, and the above list is certainly not all inclusive. When one begins looking to identify special hazards, stick with the basics. Risk is based on severity of the impact to an operation and the frequency with which it can occur. High frequency and high impact events define the highest level of risk and are usually easy to identify. Low frequency events with high impact need to be qualified to see if they are a special hazard. High frequency events with low impact may also need to be better defined and may or may not be a special hazard.

When one begins looking to identify special hazards, stick with the basics.

You and your company’s policies determine what acceptable risk is. Look at your site and its operations to identify and qualify vulnerabilities. Determine which hazards are unique and require special attention. Large scale incident/emergencies don’t start big; they all start with small failures that compound on each other. Identifying and resolving special hazards is meant to contain the incident and keep it as small as possible.

More from Risk & Insurance

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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.”


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]