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Tom Starner

Tom Starner is a freelance business writer and editor. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

Communication Continuity

Configuring Disaster Planning

A "mesh" network provides communication when most access is wiped out.
By: | June 23, 2014 • 4 min read
Mesh

When Hurricane Sandy struck in October 2012, some folks living in Red Hook in Brooklyn, N.Y., benefited from a little-used technology called mesh to keep the lines of communication open. When the storm caused regular Internet and cell phone networks to go down, a mesh network remained up and running.

Mesh networks were also used by two Australians in the wake of the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti in 2010, when they launched the Serval Project as a way to keep the lines of emergency communications open when cellular and Wi-Fi networks are knocked out.

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In that case, Android phones running a special app connected directly with each other to create a “peer-to-peer” network that allowed communication.

“A communications disaster can be completely avoided by having a mesh network ready as a backup that can be executed in a matter of minutes,” said Bob Schena, CEO and co-founder of Rajant Corp., a provider of mesh networking solutions in Malvern, Pa.

In layman’s terms, a mesh is a stand-alone communications network that relies on smart phones or other devices — often, basic routers — to “talk” directly to each other. These small networks may be linked to the Internet via satellite, but that’s not necessary to provide local communications during natural or man-made disasters.

Such a tool should have a role in a company’s disaster plan or claims operations, said Robert Morris, a risk control technology specialist at OneBeacon Technology Insurance, a member of OneBeacon Insurance Group. Morris said today’s mesh networks could include in a disaster recovery plan.

He said communities, first responders or companies could use the Internet to set up a satellite link with a single link on the ground and then configure a mesh Wi-Fi network that allows for local Internet access.

On a larger scale, Morris said, one can set up a long-distance point-to-point link using licensed bands to a remote bandwidth location. As this is usually designed for the signal to travel a long distance, the access points must be mounted at a decent height (15 feet to 20 feet). If the Internet backbone or access is down, then the mesh won’t provide Internet access, but still can be used to set up a Wi-Fi-based network allowing for local communication.

By establishing a mesh network with satellite connectivity as part of its disaster plan, Morris said, a company could enable its workers to access the Internet for information, email and social media.

“Mesh provides a local distribution layer and can support links of a few blocks up to a few miles,” he said, noting that mesh technology is mature and can leverage whatever bandwidth sources are available, and distribute them quickly and simply with minimal training.

“If you add the capability to a disaster plan, of course, it also is important to maintain and test the mesh network equipment, to ensure it can provide the necessary level of connectivity if needed,” he said.

Morris said the main challenges with mesh technology are finding power sources and available mounting locations. He noted that generators and batteries as well as solar and microwind solutions, can be used to provide power.

Schena, of Rajant Corp., said that, while his company has not worked within the insurance industry (it primarily serves mining, telecom, the military and other heavy industrial clients), it has set up many post-disaster mesh networks.

For example, after Hurricane Katrina, Rajant participated in the relief networks by sending several hundred thousand dollars in equipment and personnel to set up multiple networks. This enabled EMS, state highway patrols and fire departments to send and receive emails, and share vital information long before communications and power were restored to the area.

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Founded in 2001, following the World Trade Center attacks, Rajant also responded when a tsunami hit Southeast Asia in 2004, quickly setting up a mesh network in a refugee center.

Schena said mesh networks could transition very easily to any company’s disaster planning strategy

“Risk management and insurance are verticals we have thought about but have not pursued yet,” he said. “But it’s very easy kit for most any company to put in place. They could probably plug it into an emergency lighting system, fire it up and get a network going.

“With what we know about our technology, there is no reason a company could not have a low-cost backup data system ready to go,” he said. “They could design it so when power went out, it could still be used within an office or building in any location.”

Tom Starner is a freelance business writer and editor. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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NFL Draft Value

Loss of Value Policies Face First Test

Loss of value claims by NFL draft prospects should expect challenges in collecting.
By: | June 6, 2014 • 4 min read
NFL

Top NFL prospects have much to lose should a college-borne injury cause their projected spot in the league’s annual draft to take a significant tumble.

If you combine that possibility with the commercial insurance marketplace, the result is the Loss of Value policy — a one-time coverage product that could climb into the millions and is created specifically to protect elite athletes from lost wages.

While loss of value coverage is not new, so far it has been profitable from an underwriting perspective because the first claim has yet to be filed.

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That will soon change. Morgan Breslin and Marquise Lee, both ex-USC football stars, recently announced they would file claims against their loss of value policies.

Lee, a wide receiver, was projected to be selected in the top-20 or higher draft slot before suffering an MCL tear in his knee that he believes lowered his draft attractiveness. He wound up being drafted 39th (second round) by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Breslin, who had been projected as a late first-round talent before suffering a serious hip injury that required surgery, went undrafted but did sign a free-agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers.

Setting a Precedent

According to Noel Paul, an insurance recovery lawyer at Reed Smith LLP, in Chicago, the Lee and Breslin claims will set a precedent for future claims in this specialty coverage.

“Top prospects that suffer similar fates should keep a number of thoughts in mind when filing their claims for loss of value,” Paul said. “As always, the main issue is how difficult will it be to collect. That’s going to set the tone for future claims.”

According to media reports, Lee’s policy limit is up to $5 million, which is in excess of the NCAA’s disability policy, also $5 million. However, Lee can’t collect on the NCAA policy because that would require “total disability,” not loss of value.

By falling from, say, a top 20 spot to 39, Lee could end up losing about $5 million based on previous contracts for players drafted at similar spots. Loss of value coverage was created to close that gap should an injury prove to be the deciding factor — certainly not a given considering there may be other reasons why someone could incrementally lose their draft status.

Policy Exclusions

“Depending on the wording of his policy,” Paul said, “Lee likely will have the burden of showing that he fell in the draft because of the injury he sustained during the 2013 season, and not for other reasons.”

For example, Noel said, the insurer conceivably could point to comments by draft analysts that Lee was a “less polished” receiver than others in his class, or that his performance in 2013 suffered from the loss of other top players on his team through graduation, as much as because of his leg injury.

Of course, Noel noted, Lee’s insurer will be mindful that the results of the claim could be discovered and publicized, and that denial of coverage could squelch interest in an increasingly popular, and profitable, coverage area. On the flip side, a grant of coverage could create false expectations for other athletes submitting a similar claim.

“College athletic departments, agents, insurers and elite players and their families will be paying close attention to the results of Lee’s claim,” Paul said.

Paul predicted that Breslin may have an easier time because he wasn’t expected to go as high in the draft as Lee. Also, Breslin’s policy is capped at $1 million, according to news reports. Finally, the fact he went undrafted is a major change in his status, compared the 15-20 draft slots Lee dropped.

Jeffery Meyer, a partner at Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck, in Woodbury, N.Y., formerly worked for the National Football League Players Association, where he was involved with the collective bargaining agreement’s injury grievance procedure.

Meyer questioned whether a claim against a loss of value policy would include other forms of loss resulting from the drop in the draft, for example, income lost due to possible endorsement deals.

“The NFL union contract makes it fairly easy to determine loss of value in terms of draft slots, but what about outside income?” Meyer asked. “How will carriers value these policies and determine from a risk analysis what a policy is worth, and how to build everything into it?”

Meyer said he believes the decision on whether to pay out on a claim could make for interesting television, possibly even a “media circus.”

Claim Determination

Like Paul, he said the main claim question is determining how much loss of income is due to the injury and how much might be due to other factors that are not part of the coverage.

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“Lee’s situation is not like Breslin’s, which is pretty clear-cut,” he said. “From my experience in dealing with carriers in the labor and employment field, the sooner there is a resolution, the better. Lee will be the test case and carriers will always have the ability to adjust their underwriting guidelines and premiums year-to-year.”

Paul added that whatever the outcome, it’s going to be interesting in future scenarios when loss of value claims are made by elite athletes.

“There can be some fascinating questions surrounding the string of causation that will need to be answered for each claim,” he said.

Tom Starner is a freelance business writer and editor. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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Brokers

Construction on the Upswing

State by state jurisdictional concerns mark the recovering construction industry.
By: | June 2, 2014 • 2 min read
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With the construction industry undergoing a solid rebound from the disaster brought on by the great recession of 2008-2009, it’s no surprise that the demand for P&C coverage is going along for the ride.

However, two brokers who specialize in the construction industry (both of whom were Power Broker® winners in 2014), said it’s not necessarily business as usual in this post-recession world.

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Aon’s Matthew Walsh, managing director in the Chicago office, who serves the construction industry, said Aon has seen an appreciable uptick in projects nationwide, as well as outside the United States.

Segments within the construction industry that are on the upswing include federal and state government building projects, some private sector building, and a growth in public-private partnerships (P3s), which are typically funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private sector companies.

Walsh warned, however, that as the speed of the recovery increases, so do the challenges on a state-by-state jurisdictional basis from a liability standpoint.

“Syncing up the jurisdictions with new contracts is critical,” he said.

“As the velocity of the recovery increases, there also is an increase in the factors that come to bear on case law, both from a statutory and contractual perspective.”

Because of that, Walsh said, contractors are focusing even more on bringing a solid, quality labor force on board for projects, and that in turn increases the focus on subcontractors and their workforces.

The quality of the workforce has an impact both on liability and workers’ comp, as trained workers are less likely to be injured, more likely to be aware of safety issues, and more likely to provide high-quality work, lessening potential construction faults.

Keith Jurss, senior vice president, professional liability for Willis’ national construction practice, added that his firm is also seeing commensurate growth in construction coverage.

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But this time around, Willis is being asked to look at programs within so-called “project” business, where owners and contractors join together to insure much larger efforts than prior to the recession.

“A $200 million construction project used to be really big,” he said. “Today, we are seeing billion-dollar projects on a regular basis, and the size continues to go up.”

The result is more joint venturing, which requires complex “project” coverages that consolidate many policies into a single coverage program.

Tom Starner is a freelance business writer and editor. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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