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Return visit: in a recovering city, risk managers gather to confront industry challenges.

Key Points

* RIMS decided to keep its annual conference in New Orleans at a time when many doubted the city would recover.

* During the conference, RIMS will participate in a clean-up effort and raise funds for New Orleans.

* Hot topic sessions will focus on New Orleans' struggles, insurance recovery and catastrophes.

The decision to host the premier conference for risk and insurance professionals in New Orleans this year was made several years before the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. But the decision to stick to that location was made less than six months after the catastrophic event, at a time when few believed the Crescent City would ever rise again.

Sure, the images of flooded parishes and looted business districts, and the turmoil at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where thousands of people sought refuge from the storm, were enough to make anyone doubt whether New Orleans could continue to be a viable convention city as it had been for decades.

However, the leaders of the Risk and Insurance Management Society had to see New Orleans for themselves--television images simply weren't enough. What else would you expect from risk managers? RIMS, after all, had a long history with New Orleans, said the organization's president, Michael Liebowitz. The conference was born there in 1963, and 2007 would mark the seventh year that its members have gathered in that city.

And so, along with members of the conference planning committee, Liebowitz visited New Orleans in January 2006. He toured the hotels, convention center, business district, French Quarter, and "all of the areas where [RIMS] membership go to and the places where our partners host their entertainment and educational sessions."

"We wanted to get a 30,000-foot view of exactly how bad it was. Like everyone else, I'm watching CNN and reading in the paper, and getting the impression that there was total devastation down there. When we arrived, I was very surprised as to what I saw," he said.

Certainly, the business district of New Orleans didn't go unscathed, Liebowitz said. "But I didn't see total devastation. I saw a convention center that had been cleaned up and was well under way to being rehabilitated and renovated from the inside out."

The hotels were up and operational, he said. "We went through their disaster recovery plans. Some hotels had FEMA people living in them; some hotels were housing their own staff because they needed to keep their staff. But they didn't sustain the amount of damage that was being portrayed on the video clips that everybody was seeing."

But, Licbowitz and his team didn't leave New Orleans without a reality check. On the outskirts of the city, in one of the parishes that bound the city, they saw extensive damage caused by the hurricane. "Houses were totally gone, water marks 12 to 14 feet up on the side of homes. It left me in a state of emotional depression," he said.

It was this devastation, "coupled with the long history that RIMS has with New Orleans, coupled with the fact that we do represent risk management and the instance industry, that we decided we need to do something to help the city, and that we'd be doing a disservice ff we pulled the conference from New Orleans? said Hebowitz. "We knew what kind of economic impact this conference has on the city."

Support for New Orleans

RIMS decided that the first day of the conference, which runs from April 29 to May 3, will be set aside as RIMS Community Service Day, where attendees will be paired with Beacon of Hope Resource Center to paint homes, clean and clear yards of overgrown weeds, dead shrubbery and trees in the Lakeview district of New Orleans. They also organized the first ever RIMS Comedy Benefit, featuring comedian and television personality Dennis Miller. That event will be held May 2, and proceeds will go toward the purchase of a fire truck and assistance to the city's strategic recovery plan.

RIMS is expecting attendance at this year's conference, marking the organization's 45th anniversary, to exceed last year's in Hawaii, and approach the record attendance in Philadelphia in 1995. The annual conference and exhibition attracts about 10,000 senior-level risk and insurance professionals, brokers, insurers and solution providers, RIMS said.

"I went to the conference in Hawaii last year. The support for bringing the conference to New Orleans this year was overwhelming from the attendees," said Cheryl Harper, operations manager for Catholic Mutual Group in New Orleans, and head of the local RIMS Chapter. "They were all excited about helping in the recovery effort."

For many attendees, the RIMS conference offers a rare networking opportunity. "It'd be difficult anywhere in the world to find 12,000 of the most prestigious individuals in the insurance community as well as the risk management community to get together in one single place," said Lance Ewing, a former president of RIMS and vice president of risk management at Harrah's Entertainment, which suffered significant losses as a result of the hurricane.

This year, several sessions will highlight New Orleans' struggles. For example, Harrah's New Orleans is one of two off-site locations where special sessions will be held focusing on how the facility bounced back after Hurricane Katrina. The other location is the New Orleans Museum of Art.

David B. Goodwin, an attorney with the law firm of Heller Ehrman, who has been a panelist at RIMS conferences at least nine times and is scheduled to speak this year on a panel discussion focusing on insurance recovery in the Guff Coast, said these discussions are relevant because this year and 2008 are likely to be the years in which the largest outstanding claims [from the storms] are resolved for Gulf Coast policyholders. "Every court decision and every settlement will matter for the next two years as huge amounts of insurance proceeds remain at stake; so risk managers, brokers, and their representatives will need to proceed carefully but aggressively to protect their rights."

Among the hot topics scheduled is a discussion on the challenges of catastrophe modeling and climate change. Another session will focus on compliance issues challenging global companies. David Maurstad, director of FEMA's mitigation division and federal insurance administration, will share the lessons learned from recent storms at a luncheon April 30.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Property/Casualty
Author:Dankwa, David
Publication:Best's Review
Date:Apr 1, 2007
Previous Article:New rules.
Next Article:Help, not hope: managing catastrophe exposures has become more about preparing for the worst, and less about hoping for the best.

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