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

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]

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