MayCover2009
THE
BULLETIN
Volume 77 | Issue 3
May 2009

Safe and Secure: A look at the risk management

Interviewed by Elizabeth Beltramini

Lightning could strike the college union, but it’s more likely that a fire would be caused by an overloaded powerstrip in a upstairs office, a candle tipping over during a wedding reception in the banquet hall, or someone flicking a still-lit cigarette into a trash can near the entryway. Should the college union catch fire, it is important to have emergency protocols in place. However, equally important, is the need to assess the threat of fire and other risks so they can be mitigated before flames are ever ignited. Risk management personnel can be partners in this process.

Allen Bova, director of risk management and insurance at Cornell University, provided insights into current risks related to campus facilities during an interview with ACUI on March 27, 2009. Bova is a past president of the University Risk Management and Insurance Association and has received numerous awards for his leadership in risk management. His responses to our questions follow:

ACUI:
Emergency preparedness has been a hot topic for college campuses, but what sorts of minor “emergencies” occur daily about which facility managers should be mindful?

Bova:
Facility managers need to have a good handle on what happens in their facility and the extent of their operations. With that understanding, they can anticipate the most common types of emergencies. All facilities have risks associated with slips and falls, and medical emergencies for faculty, staff, or students. Other emergencies or incidents are more specific to particular types of operations. For example, if you have a food operation, you should be prepared for choking, food allergies, kitchen fires, or food preparation injuries. If they handle large amounts of cash (e.g., due to a concert), they would want to make sure they have a good cash management program and might arrange for an armored car pick-up. On the most basic level, managers need to understand the impact on their operations due to IT or utility outages, and they need to understand their critical operations and how they will be able to continue their business and support their institution. Once you understand the risks, only then can you start to develop your emergency plan.

ACUI:
How has modern-day risk management for facilities professionals moved beyond slip-and-fall accidents?

Bova:
I think the litigiousness of our society is part of what is driving the focus on risk management. But also, other drivers include natural disasters and major assault incidents like the 2007 one at Virginia Tech. Fundamentally, the current economic crisis is a failure of risk management in the financial system. The trustees of most organizations are focused on it, and, as such, it is flowing to the rest of the organization.

Some of the most recent risks we have been focusing on are the data and IT risks—things such as data security breaches, extension of credit, and loss of confidential information. Certainly managers need to also pay attention to employment risk such as terminations and discrimination claims.

ACUI:
What might be some important considerations for updating facilities’ risk management programs?

Bova:
My advice is to pay attention to the money. Pay attention to those risks that are high-severity or high-frequency—the ones that are going to take you away from doing your job. Get the basics down first and stop the accidents that you see all the time and those that will have a significant impact.

A basic question we ask all the time is: What experience did the last school have with this speaker/activity/artist and what can we learn from that experience that will help in our own management responsibilities? For example, if you know of some serious accidents at the performance of a particular artist from mosh pits, develop protocols and risk management techniques to stop the moshing before it gets started and have a plan to respond in case it occurs.

Sometimes folks overlook the true costs of an incident. I have seen lawsuits drag on for 10 years. I think most folks discount the time, energy, and costs involved in the defense of an action or who might have to get involved. In the more serious matters, sometimes it is the president and chairmen of the board of the institution who are involved and asking questions about how an accident happened.

ACUI:
How could these scenarios be prevented/mitigated?

Bova:
My advice is not to wait for a renovation project but to update your facilities and risk management plans now if possible—especially if it is a low-cost or “no cost” project. It is important that you be seen as caring about the folks who visit your facility and utilize your services. So yes, develop your emergency protocols and install an AED [automated external defibrillator]. There are a variety of state laws related to AEDs, so check with others at your institution prior to any installation because there are some compliance things to worry about, and it is not as simple as just buying the unit. We recently had an incident where the facility manager installed an AED and about a year later a student’s life was saved because of it. That is a “win” in anyone’s book.

The most common loss associated with facilities is a slip-and-fall claim. Managers should pay close attention to the entrances to make sure they are properly maintained. Repair uneven surfaces and cracks. Clearly mark changes in elevation (step down). Make sure handrails are there and in good repair. Make sure mats and carpets are well maintained. Mop up wet areas and put up warning signs. Close problem areas and make sure warning messages (caution tape or other) are well-lit and have good visibility. Document your activities to further to mitigate this risk so you can show you are taking reasonable steps to control and eliminate hazards.

ACUI:
College unions are somewhat unique in that often students are managing facilities, particularly after hours and on weekends. What training needs to occur for these individuals?

Bova:
I think it is important the individuals involved have a clear understanding of their duty and responsibilities especially relating to risk management. I also think it depends on the operations, but generally student operations staff might consider themselves similar to the hospitality industry. When I teach students in the Hotel School at Cornell on the eve of taking over the hotel here on the Cornell campus, typically I ask them what the No. 1 rule of the hospitality industry is? Can you guess? It is to ensure no one leaves the premises in an ambulance due to some fault of yours or the facility. If that happens, students understand that they will get a failing grade in the course. Thus, the best thing to do as a manager is to set the proper tone. If you personally don’t show concern for the safety of the folks using the facility, neither will your staff. Encourage them to report issues to you and put the safety of the folks using the facility first. Second, give them training in how they should respond to emergencies. Third, make sure that they know their role in the event of an emergency and the roles of the emergency responders.

ACUI:
When considering a particular risk, what sorts of criteria should one use to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks?

Bova:

An analysis of the benefit side of the equation starts with what you are trying to accomplish and whether there are alternatives that are less risky. Few activities “need” to happen, and most folks don’t want to see someone get hurt. Saying “no” requires a lot less work than trying to find a way to make something happen.

Still, life is about taking risk, and you have to have a healthy attitude about risk to be successful as not every risk can or should be avoided. Our goal in risk management at Cornell is to say “yes” to every activity. I cannot say we reach our goal every year, but at least we start with the right attitude.

I will admit that I am a risk-taker. However, I don’t like to make bad bets or take risks that are uncalculated. I look at our own claim experience, and I look at the claim experience of others, and I try to determine what the worst case scenario is and the likelihood of the bad event happening. However, beyond that, I care about other people and have seen too many deaths and the impact on families to ignore the risks, however small. You have an obligation to maintain a safe facility and provide appropriate support services so that events are managed properly.

ACUI:
What can facility managers do to make the risk management officers’ work easier?

Bova:
Communication! Communication! Communication! Facility staff manage risks for only their facility; the risk management staff looks at risk on a big-picture basis for the entire institution. We are all part of the same team, and risk management needs to work with managers to help them achieve their organizational goals. Likewise, managers need to work with their risk management unit to ensure that risks are being properly managed.

The most difficult issues are the problems that I haven’t anticipated or the problems I haven’t been consulted on. It is like not seeing the bus that hits you. I am happy to say I have a good relationship with the folks who run our college union, and I trust them to do their best and keep me informed as needed.

ACUI:
For large-scale events, how much involvement should the risk management officer have?

Bova:
That may vary by institution, the event, and the experience of the individuals involved in the event planning. Generally though, for large-scale events you need a team that may include: police, safety, facility managers, risk management, and a variety of other folks depending on what is happening. For our large Slope Day event, we have about 300 staff who volunteer and support the student activities folks in the overall event management.

ACUI:
What concerns might you have about facilities being open 24/7?

Bova:
I am not so much concerned about premise liability as I am about the potential for assaults, use of alcohol or other drugs, and the personal safety of the students using the facility. Managers should work with their campus police to ensure emergency response and notification systems are adequate. They should also make sure that the facility is properly staffed to reduce the risk and eliminate areas that are hard to police during off hours.