Crisis Management

Plan to Survive

Employers are still slow to take the necessary steps to ensure that their organizations are prepared for violence.
By: | January 25, 2016 • 11 min read

You’re at your desk, engrossed in a report. From somewhere on the other side of the building, you hear a loud muffled noise. Furniture-moving mishap? Backfiring car? It barely registers in your mind until you hear it again.

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Then you hear screams. The icy grip of fear tightens your chest. There’s a shooter in the building.

Your vision blurs for a moment as you try to decide in that split second what to do next. Fifteen minutes from now, you will either be a survivor, or you will be a statistic.

Armed killing sprees have long been a troubling fact of life in the U.S. and elsewhere. As far back as August 1966, Charles Whitman opened fire from the clock tower of the University of Texas at Austin, killing 16 people and wounding 31.

The massacre shocked and horrified the world in 1966. But in 2016, our capacity for shock has been dulled by the increasing frequency of the type of violence we now commonly refer to as active shooter incidents.

In 2015, there were 330 incidents in the U.S. in which four or more people were shot or killed using firearms, resulting in 367 deaths and 1,317 injuries. Incidents at schools, universities and public spaces took up most of the media attention until December, when an employee of the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., left work and returned with his wife and a small arsenal of firearms. Fourteen people were killed, and 22 were wounded. Suddenly employers that gave workplace violence only a passing thought began asking “What if it had happened here?”

The question is long overdue. The FBI reports that 45 percent of active shooter incidents occur at places of business, making them the most common target for these attacks.

Be Proactive

There are multiple categories of active shooter or other workplace violence situations. The San Bernardino shooters are alleged to have had ties to terrorist factions, but acts of political terrorism in the workplace are rare. Acts perpetrated by unstable individuals are far more common, as are domestic violence incidents.

active shooter chartWithout question, there are situations where a target is chosen at random, and there is absolutely no way an employer could have seen it coming. But more often there are signs or signals along the way — red flags, both subtle and obvious, that were brushed off or even deliberately ignored out of a reluctance to create conflict. That is a mindset that desperately needs to change, say experts.

“Many of the incidents that we see could have been avoided because there were clear precursors,” said Sean Ahrens, Aon Global Risk Consulting’s Security Consulting practice leader. He adds that “incidents where there’s a straw that broke the camel’s back are happening more and more.”

The culture of silence happens for a variety of reasons. Coworkers don’t speak up for fear they’ll be branded as troublemakers. Employers worry they will be accused of defamation or discrimination if they take a hasty action against an employee.

In the well-intentioned quest to create a solid, documented case for taking action, sometimes employers wait too long. The results can be tragic.

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Experts agreed that risk managers must work to cultivate a “see something, say something” culture. To increase the chance of being able to identify a burgeoning threat, experts strongly advise employers to have a means in place for employees to report concerns anonymously.

Sean Ahrens, security consulting practice leader, Aon Global Risk Consulting

Sean Ahrens, security consulting practice leader, Aon Global Risk Consulting

“Employers should afford as many ways as possible to communicate this information,” said Ahrens. That could an online email form, an anonymous hotline, a third-party hotline, or whatever methods make the most sense for the organization.

From there, an internal threat assessment team can gather further intelligence and decide how to proceed or attempt to de-escalate the situation. Simply terminating an at-risk employee isn’t necessarily the smart play, and could actually make things worse. Crisis management experts can be a useful resource for employers working to avoid a misstep.

The Survival Plan

The bottom line for risk management is that there is no iron-clad means to eliminate the risk that your workplace will experience an active shooter event. Even the best preventative measures have to be backed up by a solid emergency plan paired with response protocols spelling out what needs to happen during an event.

Communication is the first line of defense. A clear warning can give everyone out of the line of fire a better chance of evacuating safely. The simplest method is using overhead audio such as a P.A. system.

“Don’t use codes, just plain English,” said Ahrens. Be straightforward: “There’s an aggressor in the building near the Northwest stairwell. We’ll provide updates when available. Evacuate now if you can, or shelter in place.” Then provide continuous updates, he said.

Other environments may require additional measures. A noisy manufacturing floor or warehouse, for example, may need to use a strobe light to alert workers to turn off machines so that they can hear the emergency message.

What happens after the warning is broadcast will likely make the difference between life or death, which is why failure to train employees is not a valid option.

Michelle Colosimo, director, Black Swan Solutions

Michelle Colosimo, director, Black Swan Solutions

“Yes, you have to call 911,” said Michelle Colosimo, director of Black Swan Solutions, “but look how quickly these events can [unfold]. You now need to leverage your own employees to make sure that they’re doing the right things to help keep themselves safe.”

In 2012, the City of Houston produced a 6-minute video called “Run. Hide. Fight.,” funded by the Department of Homeland Security. The video has become the standard training model endorsed by the FBI and DHS for teaching civilians how to protect themselves and others around them.

Other training models have gained traction, such as “Avoid, Deny, Defend,” but most have same underlying message at their core:

    * Escape if you can do so safely
    * If not, then get to a location that can be locked or barricaded, if possible
    * Fight back as a last resort, using any improvised weapon within reach

“You don’t have a means in place to be able to take down that gunman,” said Colosimo, “nor do you want to be encouraging employees to try to take down that

gunman. So what are you doing to help educate and train them? Because it’s really up to the employee to make the right decisions.”

Some risk managers may find upper management squeamish about the phrase “active shooter training,” because their perceptions have been shaped by stories in the news about unannounced active shooter drills that traumatized employees.

The goal of drills is not fear, it’s understanding, said Mike Payne, organizational resilience manager at iJET International.

“You want to walk everybody through and talk everybody through what the expectations are, where the decision points are, and how to effectively respond.”

Jay Hart, director, Force Training Institute

Jay Hart, director, Force Training Institute

“This kind of training is very easy to get wrong. It’s very easy for it to be fear-based,” said Jay Hart, director of Force Training Institute. “I’ve noticed that’s what a lot of executives struggle with.”

Those same misperceptions may tempt some to provide training without drills, but that strategy is ill-advised, experts said, because in an emergency, there’s no accounting for how people might respond without a frame of reference.

Most will revert to habit – perhaps attempting to exit the building via their normal exit route, even though that route might be in the line of fire. Others may simply freeze in place.

“When chaos strikes and fear takes over, we’re typically not thinking clearly,” said John Stevens, senior vice president at Keenan.

“I think you’d be amazed by how many people would just sit at their desk and process that information.” agreed Ahrens. Drills help people move past that paralysis by ingraining the right behaviors and turning them into reflex or “muscle memory.”

“[They have to] go through the motions, pretend something is happening — make sure they actually have to take those steps necessary to protect themselves, kind of like a dry run,” said Colosimo.

“Give them all of the tools and the means necessary.”

Drills are important not only to help employees refine their instincts, she added, but also to identify potential flaws in the emergency response plan.

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“It may look great on paper,” she said, but when you actually test it, you may find that some escape routes are obstructed or that a particular route didn’t lead where you thought it would.

Keep in mind that there’s always the potential for some employees to react negatively to whatever training you provide. But Ahrens suggested putting it in perspective.

“You have people saying, ‘I can’t believe you showed us that, that training was over the top.’ But if they remember it during an incident, I think it’s worth the couple of people who don’t like it.”

Far-Reaching Repercussions

While employers are no longer burying their heads in the sand about workplace shooter risks, most are still a long way from being truly prepared.

Mike Payne, iJET International

Mike Payne, iJET International

“People are putting plans in place,” said Colosimo, “and maybe [some are] training people. But when you get to the drill level, specific to active shooters, those numbers are still low. And that’s what needs to change.”

Risk managers may still be struggling to get the buy-in they need, and the problem doesn’t necessarily revolve around the bottom line. Taking steps toward active shooter preparedness can involve some uncomfortable decision making, explained Payne, so “by not having a background in handling those types of risk decisions, it creates a level of denial. And while that is a response, it’s not the preferred one.”

To help the C-suite move past reluctance, experts recommend framing the language in terms of safety as well as presenting the bigger picture and the potential impact to the business.

To help the C-suite move past reluctance, experts recommend framing the language in terms of safety as well as presenting the bigger picture and the potential impact to the business.

While the frequency of an active shooter incident may be less than any other risk that a business faces, stressed Stevens, “the severity and the magnitude of the circumstance become greater than anything else they face because you’re dealing with human lives.”

In the aftermath, the fallout would likely be a tangle of workers’ comp and liability claims related to fatalities and potentially catastrophic injuries. Property damage could be extensive in some situations, and many organizations could face significant business interruption expenses. In addition, questionable security procedures or a failure to respond to threats made prior to an incident may expose employers to a Pandora’s box of employment liability actions.

“In the world we live in now,” said Ahrens, “courts aren’t going to recognize ‘We didn’t see it as a risk.’ ”

As if that wasn’t enough, some businesses could find themselves in violation of workplace violence prevention laws, which are on the books in several states. And many companies may not even be aware of their obligations under OSHA.

While there is no federal workplace violence standard, OSHA asserts that it has the authority to cite employers for failing to take steps to prevent workplace violence under the General Duty Clause, which requires employers to keep workplaces “free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or physical harm.” Courts have generally agreed.

In addition, some say, there are multiple OSHA standards related to emergency action plans and job hazard training that can be interpreted to apply to active shooter training. Those claims have not yet been legally tested. But if the frequency of incidents continues to climb, it may only be a matter of time.

Reputational harm is also a very real possibility — not just among customers, but among vendors. Some companies may choose not to do business with a company it perceives as having lax security measures. Not least of all is the company’s reputation among both existing and prospective employees.

“If you have a workplace where people don’t feel safe, they’re not going to come to work,” said Colosimo. “If they don’t come to work, your productivity is gone.”

Insurance recovery may not be as straightforward as some assume. In the wake of a workplace shooting, business interruption losses may or may not be covered depending upon policy wording.

Workers’ compensation typically will cover costs related to injuries or fatalities that occur at work. However, a targeted, personal attack on an employee with a clear motive that is unrelated to the workplace — such as an attack by a jilted spouse — could negate some workers’ comp claims because it falls outside of the “scope of employment.”

Workers’ comp costs can wreak havoc on employers and insurers. The California death benefit of $250,000 for a single dependent survivor was multiplied many times over for those that died in the San Bernardino attack. But those that survive such an event with catastrophic injuries can potentially cost 10 times that amount over the long-term.

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Until recently, there were no insurance products designed specifically for the risk of gun violence. But Willis Towers Watson now offers active shooter insurance. The coverage was intended for universities, but the company is now fielding inquiries from hotels, hospitals, and other institutions.

The policies, underwritten by Beazley, an affiliate of Lloyd’s, can cover up to $5 million of liability against claims that the company didn’t take the necessary precautions to prevent a mass shooting. It also covers the “on the scene” costs of a shooting incident, as well as any counseling or consulting expenses needed after the event.

What companies need to guard against is being lulled into false assumptions about the scope of the problem. After 911, there was a similar spike in interest in protecting workplaces from violence, noted Colosimo.

But eventually the interest waned, as the media moved on to fresher territory. Her hope is that it won’t require more incidents like San Bernardino to keep risk managers focused on what needs to be done.

“We’ve got to keep the momentum going because this isn’t stopping,” she said. “People have to be prepared.”

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]