2018 Risk All Star: Dianne Howard

Determined to Protect Public Funds, This Risk Manager Found Out-of-the-Box Solutions

Creativity helped 2018 Risk All Star Dianne Howard find effective and affordable ways to protect her district, and the thousands of schoolchildren it serves.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

Managing risks at an organization that provides services to 193,000 underage clients with more than 22,300 employees and 229 facilities was never going to be an easy task. But circumstances conspired to make the job even harder for Dianne Howard, the director of Benefits and Risk Management at Florida’s Palm Beach County School District.

Dianne Howard, director of Benefits and Risk Management, Palm Beach County School District

The district’s schools are spread over an area larger than Delaware and exposed to hurricanes. So it was certainly worrying when, in 2015, Howard learned that FEMA was likely to contribute less money to rebuild facilities after catastrophic events.

A wave of tragic school shootings, including one in a neighboring district, highlighted another level of threat to schoolchildren. And the unstoppable rise of cyber risks showed the need to overcome limitations imposed by public procurement rules in order to be able to react quickly.

With creativity and perseverance, Howard was able to engage the insurance market and devise creative solutions for an evolving set of challenges. That is why she is a worthy receiver of a Risk All Star award in 2018.

In the case of the property program, Howard needed to cover an estimated $50 million of exposures that, in the event of a hurricane, would not be covered by FEMA because the agency had already paid for those damages in previous events. Together with broker Don Dresback from the Beacon Group, she found the solution in the London market.

“We agreed on a policy that we call Obtain & Maintain, which costs us around $1 million a year and covers any money that we had previously collected from FEMA,” she said. “They are pretty creative in London. At first, there was a $10 million catastrophic limit, but once they felt comfortable with the idea, we were able to increase the limit to $15 million in the second year, on prior grants of $50 million.”

“One day someone told me: ‘You should get into risk management. That is where the money is.’ I don’t know about the money part, but I love the rest of it.” — Dianne Howard, director of Benefits and Risk Management, Palm Beach County School District

The school district also decided to purchase an active shooter policy for the eventuality that one of its schools is targeted by a shooting attack. The challenge was to find a cover for the possibility of having to demolish a school building because of the trauma suffered by students and their families, as happened in Sandy Hook, Conn.


“I flew to London and explained to our underwriters why we might have to replace a building even if it had suffered no physical damage,” Howard said. “They were afraid of abuses with that kind of coverage, but we ended up agreeing on a policy where we split the costs if we need to rebuild a school after an active shooter event.”

Howard also obtained a cyber policy wherein the carrier pays for the hiring of experts to evaluate whether or not a breach has happened. This enables a quicker reaction to a cyber event by skipping some of the red tape involved with spending money in the public sector.

Finding creative solutions that enhance the safety of staff members and students is one of the reasons why Howard, who began her career as a loss adjuster, enjoys being a risk manager, a function that she has performed for the past 23 years at the Palm Beach County School District.

“One day someone told me: ‘You should get into risk management. That is where the money is,’ ” she recalled. “I don’t know about the money part, but I love the rest of it.” &


Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.


Rodrigo Amaral is a freelance writer specializing in Latin American and European risk management and insurance markets. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]