Thursday, March 28, 2013


Wouldn’t it be nice …

At the airport

My kids came to visit for Pesach. They live in Israel so it’s more than just “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we’ll go.” More like 18 hours in transit – and that’s on a good day. Sometimes it is much longer.

Since they are traveling with the World’s Greatest Grand-daughter, hereafter WGG, and since the WGG is just a bit over two years old, hanging around airports can be trying for all concerned.

Now that Obungler is, in his infinite lack of wisdom, trying to force Republicans into signing on for even GREATER deficits by implementing a “sequester,” lines at government functions (mostly Terrible Service & Aggravation, a/k/a TSA, and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, both brought to us compliments of the Department of Homeland (in)Security) are supposed to be getting longer and longer.

    To be fair, when the kids got to incoming Passport Control the Customs folks (a) had a line set aside for people with special needs – including parents with small children and (b) had a sharp Customs guy who – seeing my daughter and the WGG going through the US passport line while son-in-law cooled his heels in the non-US line – opened up a new line and signaled to Son-In-Law to be first in the new line. Customs folks CAN (and often are) king and considerate. I have my own “Bravo! Customs” stories.

Having stayed their stay, they headed back home.

Get boarding passes online.

Check luggage - and passports

Wait in line for a US government (TSA) passport check

Wait in line for an electronic strip search

And, finally, the always (for me anyway) l_o_n_g walk to the gate in hopes that the departing flight will do so on time.

Some in-laws discovered that departures can be delayed. We had offered, indeed strongly encouraged them to take, snack food “just in case.” The delay on the ground amounted to several hours and these people, grandparents, parents, and two very young, whiny children (OK, the parents were whiny, too) had nothing on which to snack. We, of course, were chastised for letting them go off sans snacks.

I don’t know what other airports do to keep travelers, and those of us charged with getting them from and to the airport expeditiously, to let people know about wait times.

In the “old” MIA – back when there was only one Customs for incoming passengers – there was a huge sign showing what flights were being cleared by Customs. No clue how long it was taking to clear, but those on the waiting side at least knew that passengers on So-N-So’s plane were being processed.

The new, spiffy MIA, with two Customs operations lacks this nicety.

Worse, the airports Web site gives no clue as to outgoing or incoming wait times.

As with most airports, it DOES list arrivals and departures.

Checking how many other international flights are arriving within 15 minutes before or after the flight for which you are waiting can give you a hint at wait times.

At MIA, a lot of flights are from Latin America and many are in smaller (compared to 747s) aircraft – maybe the plane has 100-150 passengers vs. a 747’s 400. I generally ignore these and look for trans-Atlantic flights in Big Boeing and Airbus monsters.

Outbound is about the same. Check outgoing trans-ocean flights to Europe or South America – MIA bills itself as the gateway airport to Latin America.

Life could be a lot simpler if, Obungler notwithstanding, MIA would post on its Web site transit times for incoming and outgoing passengers. How long from the time the first person deplanes until they realize the airline misplaced their luggage, and in the other direction, how long from the time the outgoing passenger queues up in the passport control line to be followed by the indignity-by-TSA line.

We used to be told to get to the airport 90 minutes or a bit more for international flights, and that was BEFORE print-at-home boarding passes (which seem useless unless all the traveler has is carry-on).

AS IT HAPPENS US Customs (and Border Patrol) has a wait times Web site - , BUT while MIA is listed on the airport options, it offers no information.

There is a commercial Web site, , that lists “historical” wait times. How recent the history – since Obungler’s “sequester” fiasco?

For all that, this time the travelers WILL have “in case the flight is delayed” snacks for both adults and the WGG.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Of thermostats and risk management

Driving back from a shopping trip the other day I noticed the Check Engine idiot light illuminated.
Since the Elantra seemed to be working OK, I continued on my way – some 15 miles in stop-n-go rush hour traffic.

On the way, I checked the tachometer – 1000 rpm and 30 mph in top gear = normal.

The engine temperature gauge stayed almost at the bottom, cold, line. The indicator is supposed to be just under half way up the gauge.

Hyundai Thermostat
Having been driving longer than many readers are old, I knew that the problem probably was the thermostat. (On the bright side, the thermostat is part of the engine/drive train and that’s warranted for 100,000 miles; the flivver, less than 5 years old, has less than 20,000 so the repair – whatever it turned out to be – would be on Hyundai.)
Given that I supposed – based on years of experience – the problem was with the thermostat, I continued to the house and the next day to the Hyundai dealer’s service center.

Of course I was correct; the thermostat was replaced, the Check Engine light was extinguished, and the engine temperature gauge behaved as expected.

So what is the “risk management” perspective?

Actually, there are several. Alphabetically:
  • Diagnosis
  • Lost time
  • Warranty
DIAGNOSIS Because I was an experienced driver who had experienced many “strange” things over the years, and because I have some general knowledge of thermostats – they all do basically the same thing – and because the dashboard temperature gauge failed to record the normal temperature, I felt I could safely point the finger at the thermostat.

On top of that, when I got into the car the next morning to take it to the shop, I used the heat, and that worked fine.

On the other hand, I could have been very wrong and the engine could have over heated and been ruined. Still, given the vehicle’s age and mileage, and that fact that I never saw any indications that the radiator leaked, over heating wasn’t likely.

The same “know your environment” applies to risk management.

I know that if the sky turns green, a tornado is very likely about to come into sight.

Almost everyone knows “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning.”

If something in the work environment seems unusual – a smell, a sound, a sight (e.g., flickering lights), an unidentified and unescorted visitor – there likely is an associated risk. Being “risk aware” is the first line of defense against major operational interruptions. It’s easier to put out a trash can fire than a fire than engulfs a structure.

Well trained, alert people are a practitioner’s best allies and are worth their weight in gold. Personnel (and personal) safety and awareness training should be part of every risk management program.

LOST TIME It took nearly two and a half hours – round trip – to get the flivver fixed. Fortunately I had things I could do while cooling my heels. The dealer has Wife for those that are chained to their computers. I had a Jonathon Kellerman novel (Bones) and fresh, not-too-bad coffee, but even then the time did not pass quickly. If I had a pressing deadline or had I been slated to meet someone someplace, the time spent at the dealer’s would have been more than a little frustrating.

Under my risk management hat, I’m thinking about how long it would take me to get back to some semblance of operation – not “business as usual,” but just “basic functions” whatever that means for a particular organization. If I had equipment failure, anything from a computer malfunction – be it a server, a desktop unit, laptop, or connectivity failure – or an electrical disconnect that prevents everyone working independently of an external generator from doing their job, I’d be more than a little frustrated. How much profit am I losing until an electrician finds and resolves the problem? How much is it costing my organization is my IT staff lacks repair manuals, tools, and spares. Does anyone on staff have experience fixing computers or will this be a time-consuming learning experience?

More and more organizations are, properly, training people in basic and advanced first aid and use of Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs). A few also invite the local fire brigade in to teach people how to use fire extinguishers. How many, though, actually make sure personnel know where the AEDs and fire extinguishers are located. Few, however, make certain the IT folks have repair skills and experience? How many have someone on staff who knows more about electricity that flipping a switch? How long will it take to get a qualified person on site – assuming there is a contract in place for expedited response.

Things to check as the plan develops and during, exercises. What was may not be now.

By the way, most electronic gear have known, albeit not always advertised, Mean Time Between (or Before) Failure (MTBF) and Mean Time To Repair (MTTR) information. MTTR “assumes” a trained repair person.

WARRANTY My vehicle is under warranty – 5 years/50k miles for everything and 10 years, 100k miles for the “drive train” (engine and transmission). The “catch” is that I need to maintain the car with regular maintenance, mostly oil and filter changes.

As with most insurance policies – and this is, essentially, an insurance policy – require that the insured does something to keep the insurance in force, beyond just paying the premium.

Knowing what is expected is in the “fine print,” the agate type. (Agate to a printer is six and a half point type; classified section size type.)

Practitioners need to either read, themselves, the fine print and relay the information to management or assure that someone read the policies and summarize for management.

In order to collect on business interruption insurance, the insured has to provide an abundance of paperwork proving that over the last time period (specified in the policy) that the organization made a profit of “n” local currency or developed “n” new products or whatever the organization does to justify its existence.

The organization may be required to prove that it did everything possible to avoid or at least mitigate the threat covered by insurance. I mitigate engine damage by having the oil and oil filter changed at roughly 3.5k miles; I installed a permanent air filter that needs cleaning once every 50k miles. Other than that, I follow “the book’s” recommended maintenance – and I keep the receipts to prove it.

BOTTOM LINE A practitioner who is willing to “think outside the box,” or perhaps come up with “off the wall” ideas can see risk management in almost everything. This ability pays off when talking to non-practitioners, people who have a “different” vocabulary and different interests. Talking about thermostats to someone who works with heating or cooling devices is akin to talking about lures to rod-n-reel fishermen or horsepower and gear ratios to truckers.

To an experienced and open-minded practitioner, nothing is outside the box, not even a malfunctioning thermostat replaced under warranty.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

ERM/BC/COOP: Is it truly true?

Another case for enterprise risk management

An article on Mondaq's Consumer Law page ( notes "The past several years have seen an increase in the amount of litigation involving the labeling, marketing and advertising of food and beverages. Typically, the suits are filed under state consumer fraud statutes and allege that consumers would not have purchased the product or paid the price that they did had they known the truth behind the representations made. As a result of this litigation, a body of law regarding consumer protection claims premised on food mislabeling has begun to develop.

As if proving the point, an articles in the Detroit (MI) News, headlined "McDonald's settles Dearborn lawsuit over Islamic diet rules" ( notes that "McDonald's and one of its franchise owners agreed to pay $700,000 to members of the Muslim community to settle allegations a Detroit-area restaurant falsely advertised its food as being prepared according to Islamic dietary law."

The Mondaq article reports that "The Dannon Company agreed to pay $45 million to settle a class action pertaining to its labeling of Activia yogurt. In related litigation, Dannon agreed to pay $21 million to settle claims brought by attorneys general from 39 states." The article went on to cite several other misleading label issues.

THE QUESTION: Could a risk management practitioner have prevented damages to the corporate bottom line and image?

The answer is "Maybe."

    * IF the practitioner had access to the executive suite.

    * IF the practitioner worked in partnership with the organizations' legal, PR, and associated departments.

    * IF the practitioner recognized the issue; for example, the practitioner would have to be at least aware of hallal (Muslim dietary laws) requirements; in the case of McDonalds, it would help if the practitioner was aware of a similar issue in India ( and, closer to home, in King County (Seattle) WA (

In the above instances, food product labeling cost the organizations millions of dollars and a severe hit to their image, albeit probably only a temporary hit.

False labeling and false advertising are hardly limited to the food industry.

In an article titled "Insurance Coverage For False Advertising Claims" by McCarter & English, LLP partner J. Wylie Donald at ( discussing an academic issue: "Law schools, graduate schools and trade schools are under fire for supposed false advertising in connection with their employment data. Unable to find work, recent graduates are filing (or preparing to file) suit, claiming that they were induced to enroll by intentional or negligent misrepresentations regarding the value of their degree and the career opportunities that awaited them - allegedly despite the economic downturn."

Banks and insurance companies also are frequent targets of false advertising suits. Clothing manufacturers and retailers are targets of false advertising claims, as in

"Eleven retailers face potential civil and criminal penalties for real fur sold as faux,"

"Bestul: Scent Lok Found Guilty of False Advertising,"

Even people may be sued for false advertising.

In an article headlined "Lance Armstrong and his publishers being sued by California men claiming books cyclist wrote were fraudulent" ( Daily news of New York reports that "Two California men sued Armstrong and his publishers on Tuesday, claiming the disgraced athlete committed fraud and false advertising when he claimed in his best-selling memoirs that he did not use banned drugs when he returned to the Tour de France after battling cancer."

All is not lost

Attorney Donald recommends that "Those in charge of the risk management functions of any trade, professional or academic institution should always be assessing whether their insurance matches their risks given the current litigation and regulatory climate. (Emphasis mine) A new risk has emerged: alleged placement data reporting misrepresentation. Prudence dictates that relevant policies be identified and applied. Questions about coverage should be resolved. At renewal, this risk needs to be explored further and addressed.

These cases are not just about money. They are also about something more. Protection of an institution's reputation is, rightfully, one of the highest priorities. It is fundamental to attracting students, faculty and philanthropic donations, whether from alumni or from others."

While Donald advises that "The time to act is now by taking a fresh look at relevant insurance policies to see what it covers, and by asking the right questions of insurance brokers and advisers" I would suggest that while insurance is a necessity, it is better - and in the long run less expensive - to avoid "falsie" issues in the first place.

As insurance claims are filed, insurance premiums increase (for the insured and, usually, for all others in the same "class"); executives are forced to take time away from their "real" jobs to give depositions (best case) or appear in court (worst case). Finally, the insurance may not cover all the damages and the organization may have to sue insurer to pay the claim.

Look at Lanham Act

The law firm of Neal & McDevitt LLC put together a file that seems to be a PDF version of a PowerPoint (or similar) presentation. The presentation, titled "Recent Trends in False Advertising Law" ( provides an interesting look at recent cases in a variety of industries.

Another false advertising sites of interest: Winston & Strawn’s Advertising and Promotions Law practice,

AN ASIDE: The Lanham Act requires that bloggers disclose any “material connection” to an advertiser (via financial ties, freebies, etc.). I have no direct connection to any of the organizations mentioned above.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Not BC and maybe not PC

The US government boggles the mind.

It is SUPPOSED to be "for the people, of the people, and by the people."

It seems that "the people" are the only ones left out of the government.

Our politicians have, with few exceptions, become extremists; compromise won't be considered; forget about acting on a compromise opportunity.

As a nation we are not just "broke" financially, we are in hock - to governments that are our enemies, specifically China. We are told by the intelligentsia to pay down our personal debt; get rid of interest payments. Good advice; true advice. But the government - the one that fails to recognize "the people" - promotes additional spending and additional borrowing. The debt "ceiling" at the end of 2012 stood at $16.4 trillion. TRILLION. That, in US English (vs. British English) is 1,ooo billions. 10 to the ninth power.


In the UK, a trillion is a "milliard."

One of the problems is that in order to pay down the debt, the national "belt" must be tightened. What better place to tighten than within the (Washington DC) "beltway." At rush hour it's a speedway at 10 mph - maximum.

So where does the money go?

Everyone will tell us the money goes to entitlements, and the "entitlements" targeted by most politicians seem to be Social Security and Medicare.

Seems to me I paid into both those programs, programs made compulsory by the Federal government. The Social Security fund was supposed to be inviolate; dedicated solely to Social Security. Somewhere along the line the politicians figured out a way to "divert" money from the "inviolate" fund.

Head Start IS an "entitlement" program. Likewise farm subsidies. Ditto subsidized housing. There are many, many more true "entitlement" programs. The only thing "wrong" about Head Start is that it should have been time limited. It was established in 1965 - more than 45 years ago - "to help disadvantaged groups, compensating for inequality in social or economic conditions." If we need Head Start today it obviously didn't and isn't working as intended.

The biggest drains on the budget include:

  • Loans-to-gifts to foreign nations, many of which are anti-American
  • Payments to the very much anti-US UN
  • Billeting military personnel overseas - do England, France, and Germany REALLY need a US military presence? We DO need Marine guards - locked, loaded, and authorized to fire - at all US embassies and consulates; at the same time, we need to tell the locals they can patrol outside the gates, but if they fail to provide protection at the level our people on the ground - not the fools at State in DC - demand, then the Marines will do the job.
  • Interfering in civil wars; return to the provisions of the Monroe Doctrine; what business does the US have in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, etc.? In a word: None.
    • OK, if the US is hunting terrorists and the terrorists are being protected by a country's government, do two things: one penalize that country's government by cutting off all aid and, two, use whatever measures to destroy the enemy - drones, SEALS, whatever, and damn any interference.

  • Congress can stop finding officials portraits currently costing $20k to nearly $50k for agency heads. Imagine what a presidential portrait costs!
  • Expanding ground and air forces. We finally have reached the "ballistic" age where we have missiles and anti-missiles than could, if properly sited and manned, protect our nation. There always will be a requirement for ground troops, but at a lower personnel level. The missile-equipped Navy can show the flag overseas.

Those are just the proverbial "tip of the iceberg."

For all the above, nothing will happen until the politicians - so called liberals and so called conservatives - decide to put the country ahead of their egos and party banners.

The problems do not all lie with Republicans or with Democrats. Obama inherited many of the problems; all he has done is exacerbate them.

For what it is worth, I consider myself a fiscal conservative and social liberal. There are ways to reduce poverty - we know that "the poor always will be with us" - and these ways have a positive Return On Investment (ROI).