"One of These Days" - It's Happening Now
Jul 12, 2018

If you're older than dirt, like your faithful scribe, or you like to watch antique reruns from the early days of black and white TV, you probably remember "The Honeymooners" and Ralph Cramden's oft-repeated threat to his long-suffering wife, Alice - "One of these days, Alice..." Well, along the gulf coast of Texas and at various places around the US coastline, "one of these days" is happening before our eyes.

We have all become used to the dire forecasts from various groups of scientists telling us that our coastal zones are slowly being inundated as sea levels rise. Most reports show a rise of a little less than 8 inches in the last century. That looks like a "one of these days" concern to most of us. We'll have to deal with it - eventually. But, according to a new study from Zurich Insurance, one of these days has already arrived for Houston and surrounding communities.

The report, "Houston and Hurricane Harvey: A Call to Action," finds Houston's geography, regulatory environment, rapid growth and development, and overlapping government jurisdictions each played a role in the massive flooding caused by Harvey. Moreover, the old concept of the "100 year flood" no longer applies. Another catastrophic flood may be just around the corner.

In the words of the excellent summary in the Houston Chronicle, "Leaders and risk managers should stop relying solely on past storm events to gauge future risk, and instead incorporate forward-looking scenarios that account for, for instance, increasingly intense storms and sea level rise."

In a separate study, The Union of Concerned Scientists used federal data from a high sea level rise scenario projected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and combined it with property data from the online real estate company Zillow to quantify the level of risk across the lower 48 states. Guess what? That 30 year mortgage you were thinking about is already underwater (literally) for some 311,000 homes in the US which will likely be inundated well before that loan will be paid off. In other words, sea level rise is here, right now. Properties from the Jersey shore to the shores of Lake Union in Seattle may already be effectively unsellable, based on projected sea levels in the next 30 years.

What about your waterfront exposures? Are you looking at having a beachfront warehouse or an office accessible only by water taxi, say, 10 or 20 years from now? Check out these studies. Do they have any relevance for the exposures you manage? That's the problem with the future - eventually, it arrives.


So How's Telemedicine Doing?

CNBC recently checked the vitals for telemedicine. Verdict? It's not on life support but it's not thriving either. Is this another wave of the future that never made it to the beach? According to the CNBC report, telemedicine has an image problem.

First on the list, a recent poll showed that 82% of Americans had never heard of telemedicine. This is a problem almost always faced by new products in the marketplace and it usually abates in time. Other issues may not. In the group health world, families are concerned about the additional expense and how a tele-visit with a doctor fits into their deductible and coinsurance terms. This is not an issue in workers' comp per se, but it appears to be slowing down the overall growth and public acceptance of telemedicine.

Another concern commonly expressed by those who have heard about the service is the quality of the doctors who staff this type of service. A 2016 research study in which the researchers posed as patients using telemedicine turned up a high rate of misdiagnosis, unnecessary prescriptions, and in a couple of cases, doctors not licensed in the proper state. Perhaps the most fundamental issue is the desire of real patients to talk to real doctors, not screens, in person. Sick people have an almost visceral need for personal involvement and reassurance from their provider, qualities that don't translate well on Skype or ooVoo.

The CNBC report concludes with the thought that telemedicine is here to stay, but possibly for some applications and not others, and that it still has to mature. The reporter notes that the real tech heavyweights like Apple and Google haven't become seriously involved thus far, limiting the application and visibility of the technology. If they do, the day may not be far off when your watch can take your temperature and other vitals while you talk to a doc you know who has your medical history and any recent imaging right in front of him. Now that just might be a game changer.


The City That Waits to Die

In 1971 Time-Life Films released "The City That Waits to Die," probably the most important film ever made on the normally abstruse subject of seismology. But this was not esoteric science. It was the story of San Francisco's wait, counting the borrowed days and years, for the next Big One. It was widely shown on TV; it provoked any number of articles and books - and it scared the hell out of all of us living in San Francisco at that time.

Today Frisco is still waiting, but a new analysis from the US Geological Survey reported in the New York Times adds a new twist. Some 39 major high rises in the city, including hotels you may have stayed in and well-known office buildings your company may have people working in, have a potentially fatal structural flaw which makes them likely to fail catastrophically in the next major shake.

While the report in question looks only at specific buildings of a certain type of construction in one city, the warning bell should be heard loud and clear. The buildings cited, like the Embarcadero Center, the Bank of America building, the downtown Marriott and Hilton hotels, are relatively modern buildings. Not the kind we expect Mother Nature to bring down on our heads. The construction in question is known in technical lingo as welded steel moment-frame buildings, meaning the columns and beams that make up the skeleton of the building are welded together rather than bolted or riveted. This technique was widely used in constructing both high rise and more modest commercial buildings up to 1994 throughout the US.

Do you have any of this type of building in your portfolio? Remember, while San Francisco is the poster child for dramatic earth movements, many US cities sit on similar faults. The entire west coast is riddled with faults capable of 8.0 or higher quakes, as are the Salt Lake Valley, the Midwest around New Madrid, and various spots along the east coast which have serious seismic histories. Google "earthquake risk in New Jersey" and see what you find. Hint: it was a seismically happening place on November 29, 1783. And therefore may well be again.

Some cities in California are beginning to mandate retrofits for the type of welded steel construction in question. What's going on where your people work every day? Have you checked recently? Don't wait for a city to die.


Comp Meets FMLA Meets HR Policy

An item from the National Workers' Compensation Defense Network (reported by WorkersCompensation.com) reminds us why we need to look at all aspects of an absence event regardless of causation.

This little story about an injured employee on comp indemnity with two weeks of FMLA remaining when he gets a conditional return to work cert from his doctor is a case all of our friends in comp program management and HR should note in detail. Turns out that dog-eared HR company policy manual in your desk drawer means what it says. In this case, the injured employee figured that, since he had two more weeks of earned FMLA time in the can, he didn't have to notify his employer that he would not be returning to work, despite his conditional release.

Yup, he was within his FMLA and comp rights to make that decision, but he did not, under either FMLA or comp, get the right to ignore the employer's employee policy that required him to provide notification on a timely basis of that decision. He was fired for his failure to call in his decision to take those two extra weeks when the HR manual clearly required him to do so. The court said, in effect, that the policy manual is binding and the firing was upheld. The injury came under comp, the claimant invoked his FMLA rights, but the decision came down to the humble HR policy manual given to every employee. We like to say that every argument has two sides, but in this case, there were three.


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