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Risk Scenario

A Paramount Parable

Talent shortages and bidding wars undermine a construction company’s ability to stay competitive.
By: | March 25, 2014 • 8 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

Home for the Holidays

Neal Chambers surveyed the holiday turkeys on display at his local grocer on Nov. 23 and mused. Fresh or frozen? Tom or hen? Free range or kosher? Locally produced or from the foothills of the Smoky or the Sierra Mountains?

Scenario_ParamountParable

Chambers threw thrift to the wind and plunked down $52 for a 16-pound organic bird from Upstate New York.

What the heck? After four brutally slow years, the construction company he managed risk for was showing signs of reemergence.

True, the company’s estimators were not happy. Where once they needed to bid 10 jobs to land one, each job now took 30 or 40 bids to land.

Neal’s company, Paramount Construction Co., based in Des Moines, Iowa, worked with larger companies historically.

But in order to land projects, it was now moving down to the middle market and competing against smaller regional operators with local expertise. This was not an easy road to hoe.

But Paramount was doing what it felt it needed to do to compete successfully.

At the office holiday party on Dec. 19, held at the River Bluff Country Club, Neal could see signs that the C-suites were feeling a little better about things. Nice carving station, good wine in the glasses and some generous door prizes. He took in a deep breath and let it out.

Things had been tough for a while. He’d been working hard. He’d been worried.

“Go ahead, have a drink,” he told himself. “It’s free and now is as good a time as any.”

Scenario Partner

Scenario Partner

Neal had one glass of wine in him and was waiting his turn to fill his plate at the sushi appetizer table when he saw one of the vice presidents, Tom Murphy, lift his phone to his ear.

As he listened to the caller, Murphy turned and looked at Neal. With his other hand, he gestured to Neal to join him. Murphy’s hand was free because he did not drink at company functions … ever.

“It’s Constantine,” Murphy said in a whisper when Neal got closer. “Something’s up. He tried to reach you but…”

Murphy shrugged non-judgmentally.

Constantine, head of operations. Good guy. No nonsense.

“This is Neal Chambers,” Neal said into Murphy’s phone.

“Neal, it’s Jonny Constantine. We’ve got a bit of a situation.”

“Shoot,” Neal said.

Constantine exhaled audibly into the phone. Neal could tell that Constantine was a little upset.

Neal shot a look of worry at Murphy.

“Look, we just had an accident with an excavator operator on the site here in Mille Lacs. We’ve got one seriously injured employee and some structural damage to a neighboring building.”

“How bad is the injury?” Neal said.

“It’s not pretty. I think this poor kid is going to lose his left leg below the knee,” Constantine said.

“And the building?”

“Well. The wall on the demo wasn’t supported right and the operator knocked it into this neighboring wall. It was a pretty big bump.”

Neal hung up with Constantine and gave Murphy his phone back.

As he turned his own phone on to check messages, Neal Chambers felt any holiday warmth drain out of him. The wine that had been so enjoyable 20 minutes ago now struck him like a cheap depressant.

2014 was supposed to be Paramount’s breakout year. But now Chambers had a significant workers’ compensation and general liability claim to worry about.

Looking around the brightly lit room at his fellow employees, Neal Chambers had an uneasy feeling that 2014 wasn’t going to be that great after all.

Poll Question

How significantly did your company reduce staffing during the Great Recession?

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No Bench Strength

What worried Neal Chambers were the personnel cuts Paramount undertook to survive during the brutal commercial construction downturn that seized the country during the Great Recession.

Scenario_ParamountParable

The most worrisome cuts came in the area of safety, where some highly paid talent had been laid off. But there were also cuts in estimating, where other senior personnel with beefier paychecks left the company.

You couldn’t put the cart before the horse. Although things were turning around, Paramount was not yet at a place where it could hire big ticket talent to fill the gaps. Not yet.

Yet the company was trying to grow again and take on more projects. The combination worried Neal Chambers.

The accident with the excavator in Mille Lacs wasn’t catastrophic. But it was the beginning of a series of workplace accidents that plagued the company through the first six months of 2014.

Neal’s conversations with finance added to his anxiety.

“We’re just not making the money on these projects I thought we were going to be,” said Tom Murphy’s elder brother Pat Murphy, the company CFO.

Bidding for projects in unfamiliar territories and on unfamiliar scales, Paramount’s overworked estimators were missing the mark time and again.

The combination of an increased injury frequency rate and thinner margins was not making a good impression on Paramount’s surety and insurance underwriters.

Both Pat and Neal feared that year-end premium increases could be in the works.

Paramount’s revenue shortfalls created friction with subcontractors.

Jonny Constantine got into several heated arguments with subcontractors, alleging that they were botching projects by not moving more efficiently.

There were now a handful of legal proceedings underway. In those cases, Paramount was alleging that subcontractors violated the terms of their contracts by not completing the work in time, or completing it in substandard fashion.

Win or lose, those lawsuits meant one thing to Neal Chambers and Pat Murphy. They meant more costs, more margin erosion.

“We’re in a tight spot,” Neal Chambers said.

“I know we are,” Pat said, somewhat impatiently.

“The thing is, I don’t know what we can do between now and 2015 renewals to make a better impression,” Neal said.

“It’s almost like a roll of the dice,” he added. “I don’t know what else we can get out of the safety department in terms of management.”

“We need better talent and more of it,” Pat said.

The question was where.

Poll Question

How serious is the talent access issue for your company right now?

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A Horse With No Name

The answer to Neal’s question, as it turned out, was “nowhere.”

Scenario_ParamountParable

The talent crunch that Paramount was experiencing, and which was causing it so much pain, was not isolated to Paramount. But some of its competitors moved more quickly than Paramount in acquiring and retaining the talent to help them take full advantage of the upturn.

Others moved even less effectively than Paramount. But in a competitive economy, being in the middle was no place to be.

As 2014 moved from the second quarter to the third and fourth, adding to Paramount’s workers’ compensation woes and its sinking profit margins came yet another issue.

That issue was increasing commodities prices. Paramount’s overworked estimators, working in the unfamiliar middle market, failed to take into account a gradual increase in the cost of steel, copper wiring and other key construction materials.

There simply was no place to turn to hire the sort of experience in safety or in estimating that could put Paramount back on track.

As Paramount’s executives looked forward to their year-end renewals for their insurance programs, the company was looking at unpalatable premium increases.

“You’re looking at a 30 percent mark-up with your workers’ compensation premiums and at least a 25 percent increase in the amount of collateral you’re going to have to put up in workers’ compensation and in surety,” said the company’s broker, Ed Scarborough. “You’re also looking at an increase in your general liability.”

The construction market continued to recover. But Paramount now needed to play defense.

Faced with insurance and surety increases and declining margins, Paramount had no choice but to do what it didn’t want to do. Already bereft and hamstrung due to a lack of talent, Paramount undertook more layoffs.

One of the first to go was Neal Chambers.

In November of 2014, Neal Chambers and his daughter Annabelle went shopping for a turkey. Annabelle was fourteen and well versed in sustainable agriculture practices at school.

“We’re getting an organic turkey, right?” she asked her father.

“No, Annabelle, I’m afraid not,” Neal said.

Neal reached into the meat freezer and pulled out a frozen Honeybreast turkey and threw it into his shopping cart with a disheartening “clang.”

Poll Question

How challenging were collateral requirements at your last renewal?

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Bar-Lessons-Learned---Partner's-Content-V1b

Risk & Insurance partnered with Liberty Mutual Insurance to produce this scenario. Below are Liberty Mutual Insurance’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. These lessons learned are not the editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.

1. Value is replacing price: It’s no longer enough to be the lowest bidder. Contractors must now prove to clients that they have the capacity to deliver a project that is the most cost-effective in the long term. That means not only delivering a quality product, but having the risk management program and coverage in place to mitigate potential finger pointing and costly litigation down the road.

2. Keep an eye on commodities: Nowhere are the realities of the global economy more evident than in the area of commodities. Demand cycles for copper, steel, coal and other materials in developing or maturing economies are going to have an impact on prices here at home. Models that take into account commodities fluctuations will be increasingly important. In addition, any new rating programs based on Construction Value should be carefully evaluated compared to a payroll based program.

3. Talent rules: Qualified estimators and safety officers left the construction industry in droves during the downturn. Making sure the talent is in place to take advantage of the upturn in the rebounding commercial construction business is an important consideration. Don’t overlook the added value of a well-documented quality assurance program.

4. Understand new geographies: Competing in this new market may mean having to enter new geographic areas to find business. Trying to compete in New York state without understanding its Byzantine labor laws would be a mistake. So would entering into any new geography without an understanding of local regulations and how they could impact costs. Conversely, demonstrating local experience to a client would be a key selling point here.

5. Delivery methods matter: New markets mean new delivery methods. Whether it is design-build, identifying a construction manager at risk, or the complexities of public-private or international partnerships, insurance and risk mitigation are going to have to be adequate to cover these trending delivery methods. Effective communication amongst all parties including contractual relationships continues to be a vital aspect of any project.



Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at dreynolds@lrp.com.
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Risk Scenario

Minnick Engineering 911

A fired employee exacts revenge on his employer, battering not only bodies but also coverage limits.
By: | February 25, 2014 • 10 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

The Crackup

To a disinterested observer, the sight of a middle-aged civil engineer using the company parking lot on a spring afternoon as a dressing room would be, at best, an example of bad taste.

Scenario_Minnick911

But former Minnick Engineering employee Bill Hayes wasn’t getting ready for a game that afternoon. No, he had mayhem on his mind.

Hayes, terminated just two hours previously, got his jersey on and grabbed a metal softball bat from the back of his SUV.

Hayes paused, arched his back and let out a wounded scream. Then he charged the front door of the civil engineering company.

Matthew Forrester, just two years out of college, was the first Minnick employee to see Hayes coming.

“Stop Bill, don’t do it!” Forrester yelled and picked up a plastic chair in an attempt to slow Hayes down.

With one swipe of the bat, Hayes knocked the chair out of Forrester’s grasp and shattered Forrester’s left forearm.

Forrester’s scream of pain alerted a handful of employees, including Linda Minnick, the daughter of the company founder and current CEO, who was in the process of interviewing a job candidate in a nearby conference room.

Linda jumped up, the shocked job candidate right behind her, and tried to get to the conference door before Hayes did. But Hayes, a former college middle linebacker, was too strong and too quick.

Scenario_Logo_XL

Scenario Partner

He stuck the bat in the narrowing door crack, then used it to violently thrust the door back open. Hayes got in three swings before the job candidate chased him out of the room.

The attack left Linda Minnick with some cracked ribs and the job prospect with a shattered jaw.

“Who you gonna’ fire next, Linda?” Hayes yelled as he ran deeper into the building. Some employees ran for cover and others set off after Hayes.

Linda Minnick had terminated Bill Hayes a scant 127 minutes previously, but it had been a long time coming.

The interview with the young job prospect filled her with optimism — at least until Bill Hayes roared back into the building and carried out his act of revenge.

In pain but trying to focus, Linda Minnick looked out the window to see a Channel 4 television crew rolling into the company parking lot.

“How did they get here so fast?” she said to no one in particular, as an administrative assistant knelt down next to the stricken job applicant, who was sitting in a nearby chair in severe pain.
Right behind the news truck was a police cruiser.

“What?” Minnick said again, to no one. In the space of the last two minutes, she felt that she was becoming mentally unhinged.

Poll Question

Does your company have a clear, accessible plan in place for mitigating possible workplace violence?

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The History

The shock of the attack wasn’t the only cause of Linda Minnick’s confusion.

Scenario_Minnick911

When the Springfield Township Police escorted Bill Hayes out of Minnick Engineering, this time for the last time, he was in handcuffs. Channel 4 was there to record the whole thing.

The television crew was there, courtesy of Hayes himself. Before his onslaught, Hayes had called his cousin Tommy, a Channel 4 cameraman, and told him he should come to the Minnick offices that afternoon, that he was going to “see some things.”

Linda was weak and in shock. The pain of her cracked ribs felt like someone was jabbing a knife into her lung. She could only sit and watch the police sergeant shove Bill Hayes’ head down into the cruiser.

But just before Hayes was shoved into the car, he caught Linda’s eye and smiled a demented smile.

A shiver went through Linda as she watched the patrol car roll away.

“This is all my fault,” she said to herself.

Linda’s memory provided it for her all too clearly. Five years ago, Bill Hayes punched an office wall during a meeting that was called to deconstruct some engineering errors in a public sector project.

Then, three years later, Mrs. Yost, a kindly woman who worked in sales administration, was working late one night and saw Bill Hayes urinating in a potted plant by the copy machine.

It was a case of “He said, she said.”

Hayes denied doing it. Mrs. Yost, who was 67 and close to retirement, became emotional when questioned about the incident and seemed to want to put it out of her mind. Again, no action was taken against Hayes.

Minnick was always a family-run operation- handling employee situations like the one Hayes presented was way beyond the realm of what Linda was prepared for.

The day of Hayes’ termination she had finally had enough of his inconsistent performance and took that step without thinking further on the potential reaction that it may have elicited.

Minnick was ill prepared for this tragedy. She knew that now as surely as she felt the stabbing pain in her side where her ribs were cracked.

A paramedic ran up to Linda Minnick.

“See to him first,” Minnick said, nodding to the seriously injured engineering graduate sitting in a nearby chair.

The initial toll from Hayes attack was staggering enough. There was the first wave of injuries to Linda Minnick, Matthew Forrester and the job applicant, Henry Neal, whose jaw injury required extensive and expensive reconstructive surgery.

But Hayes had also injured three more people, two of them seriously, before the police got to him. One injured party was the employee of a contractor, Warren B. White Custodial Services. Hayes had shattered that unfortunate man’s knee with his prized metal softball bat.

The six and ten o’clock local news featured footage of Bill Hayes being led out of the Minnick Engineering offices in handcuffs. Watching the coverage with her husband, Linda Minnick could only hope the story didn’t go national.

Poll Question

What is the extent of your risk management network regarding the disciplining and termination of difficult employees?

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The Cover

From a coverage standpoint, Minnick Engineering was as vulnerable as its employees, prospective employees and contractors were the day Bill Hayes did what he did.

Scenario_Minnick911

Warren B. White Custodial Services and the family of Henry Neal sued Minnick Engineering, alleging that the company had inadequate physical defenses in place in the event of an act of workplace violence.

Their lawsuits were successful, arguing as they did that the young Harry Neal suffered substantial emotional, not to mention physical trauma, getting hit in the face with a baseball bat at his very first job interview.

The janitor, who supported a wife and four children, also provided a sympathetic portrait for a jury. Linda was deposed as part of the legal proceedings. Under questioning, she admitted what the plaintiffs’ attorneys uncovered in their research.

Hayes presented a potential threat that hadn’t been adequately addressed by company leadership.

There was workers’ compensation coverage for the injuries to Forrester and the two other employees. But everything else hit the company’s general liability policy.

The litigation expenses alone in the Henry Neal case and the separate Warren B. White action amounted to more than $400,000.

Then came the medical and the emotional pain and suffering, which amounted to $1.2 million.

Those amounts tore right through the company’s self-insured retention of $200,000 and kept on going through its $1 million primary layer and into the $5M umbrella layer. Linda’s background was in engineering, not finance. Risk management was something she was sensitive to but now she was getting a real education in it.

There had been nowhere for the company’s general liability policy to run and hide in the aftermath of the Bill Hayes case. The broker trying to place the company’s coverage the following year was really up against it.

The company’s lack of a formal crisis management plan including methodology to deal with workplace violence was front and center with the underwriters.

“But we need coverage,” said Vince Liriano, the COO who handled insurance for the company. Minnick Engineering didn’t have a risk manager as such.

“Well, we’re going to need some premium increases, and larger retentions,” the underwriter said.

Leaving the renewal meeting, Linda felt sick to her stomach.

The only carrier that would talk to them wanted to triple the self-insured retention on the account and wanted a 40 percent premium increase.

There were two images Linda could not get out of her mind. The enraged, demented face of Bill Hayes forcing open that conference door, and the amount of money she and Vince Liriano had just agreed to as a self-insured retention.

The day Linda took over the reins of her father’s company seven years ago was the proudest day of her life. Now, a job doing traffic engineering studies in any other town but this one looked like a dream job.

Poll Question

Do you have kidnap ransom and extortion coverage outside of your general liability policy?

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Bar-Lessons-Learned---Partner's-Content-V1b

Risk & Insurance partnered with XL Group to produce this scenario. Below are XL Group’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. These lessons learned are not the editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.

1. Security assessments: Pre-incident security assessment and consulting, available through qualified Security Consultants, subsidized by an allowance provided by the Insurer, with Kidnap Ransom & Extortion coverage, could have gone a long way in preventing the injuries and emotional trauma that buffets Minnick Engineering in this scenario. Such a Consultant assessment would have resulted in creation of a formal Crisis Management Plan that would have included premises security recommendations, such as double door implementation and locking mechanisms that may have prevented this attack. That consulting could also include training for employees in how to prevent, diffuse and respond to a workplace violence event.

2. Kidnap, ransom and extortion coverage: The actions that took place in this scenario would have triggered coverage under the definition of Assault in the XL Kidnap Ransom & Extortion policy. This coverage, in addition to providing the Security Consultant pre-incident training, would have mitigated the expenses that accrued to Minnick Engineering’s general liability and umbrella policies. Assault limits are generally available up to $2.5M Personal Accident, Legal Liability, Expenses and Consultant Expenses are all included in cover.

3. Consider medical and legal costs: In this scenario, medical and legal costs ended up constituting the lion’s share of losses. In addition to the physical injuries to the outside contractor and the young job prospect, there is also psychological damage and counseling costs to consider. A KRE policy would not only reimburse an insured for physical and mental medical costs, it would also cover the legal liability in cases where the insured is sued by the victims and those costs assigned to the insured.

4. Spread risk management responsibilities: One of the weak points in Minnick Engineering’s risk management structure was that the burden of determining what should be done with a potentially dangerous employee was siloed. Pre-incident counseling, which the Security Consultants provided by coverage under KRE insurance, could have offered valuable training to key executives who might not have had a protocol in place to handle a potential workplace violence situation. Additionally, a holistic Crisis Management plan could have been crafted, providing clear and concise direction to the senior team on prevention and management of a wide variety of situations that could harm a company’s personnel, property and reputation.

5. Consider your portfolio: Just as a key executive should not work in isolation when it comes to making risk management decisions, neither should a single insurance policy be left to take the brunt of all possible risks. Getting renewals for Minnick Engineering’s general liability policy became a nightmare after the company was hit by a workplace violence event. A KRE policy could have handled many of the expenses in this case and spared the more expensive general liability policy.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at dreynolds@lrp.com.
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Sponsored: Lexington Insurance

What Is Insurance Innovation?

When it comes to E&S insurance, innovation is best defined as equal parts creativity and speed.
By: | April 7, 2014 • 4 min read

SponsoredContent_LexingtonTruly innovative insurance solutions are delivered in real time, as the needs of businesses change and the nature of risk evolves.

Lexington Insurance exemplifies this approach to innovation. Creative products driven by speed to market are at the core of the insurer’s culture, reputation and strategic direction, according to Matthew Power, executive vice president and head of strategic development at Lexington, an AIG Company and the leading U.S.-based surplus lines insurer.

“The excess and surplus lines sector is in a growth mode due, in no small part, to the speed at which our insureds’ underlying business models are changing,” Power said. “Tomorrow’s winning companies are those being built upon true breakthrough innovation, with a strong focus on agility and speed to market.”

To boost its innovation potential, for example, Lexington has launched a new crowdsourcing strategy. The company’s “Innovation Boot Camps” bring people together from the U.S., Canada, Bermuda and London in a series of engagements focused on identifying potential waves of change and market needs on the coverage horizon.

“Employees work in teams to determine how insurance can play a vital role in increasing the success odds of new markets and customers,” Power said. “That means anticipating needs and quickly delivering programs to meet them.”

An example: Working in tandem with the AIG Science team – another collaboration focused on innovation – Lexington is looking to offer an advanced high-tech seating system in the truck cabs of some of its long-haul trucking customers. The goal is to reduce driver injury and fatigue-based accidents.

SponsoredContent_Lexington“Our professionals serving the healthcare market average more than twenty years of industry experience. That includes attorneys and clinicians combining in a defense-oriented claims approach and collaborating with insureds in this fast-moving market segment. At Lexington, our relentless focus on innovation enables us to take on the risk so our clients can take on the opportunities.”
– Matthew Power, Executive Vice President and Head of Regional Development, Lexington Insurance Company

Power explained that exciting growth areas such as robotics, nanotechnology and driverless cars, among others, require highly customized commercial insurance solutions that often can be delivered only by excess and surplus lines underwriters.

“Being non-admitted, our freedom of rate and form allows us to be nimble, and that’s very important to our clients,” he said. “We have an established track record of reacting quickly to trends and market needs.”

Lexington is a leading provider of personal lines coverage for the excess and surplus lines industry and, as Power explains, the company’s suite of product offerings has continued to evolve in the wake of changing customer needs. “Our personal lines team has developed a robust product offering that considers issues like sustainable building, energy efficiency, and cyber liability.”

Most recently the company launched Evacuation Response, a specialty coverage designed to reimburse Lexington personal lines customers for costs associated with government mandated evacuations. “These evacuation scenarios have becoming increasingly commonplace in the wake of recent extreme weather events, and this coverage protects insured families against the associated costs of transportation and temporary housing.

The company also has followed the emerging cap and trade legislation in California, which has created an active carbon trading market throughout the state. “Our new Carbon ODS product provides real property protection for sequestered ozone depleting substances, while our CarbonCover Design Confirm product insures those engineering firms actively verifying and valuing active trades.” Lexington has also begun to insure new Carbon Registries as they are established in markets across the country.

Lexington has also developed a number of new product offerings within the Healthcare space. The Affordable Care Act has brought an increased focus on the continuum of care and clinical patient safety. In response, Lexington has created special programs for a wide range of entities, as the fast-changing healthcare industry includes a range of specialized services, including home healthcare, imaging centers (X-ray, MRI, PET–CT scans), EMT/ambulances, medical laboratories, outpatient primary care/urgent care centers, ambulatory surgery centers and Medical rehabilitation facilities.

“The excess and surplus lines sector is in growth mode due, in no small part, to the speed at which our insureds’ underlying business models are changing,” Power said.

Apart from its coverage flexibility, Lexington offers this segment monthly webcasts, bi-monthly conference calls and newsletters on key risk issues and educational topics. It also provides on-site risk consultation (for qualifying accounts), access to RiskTool, Lexington’s web-based healthcare risk management and patient safety resource, and a technical staff consisting of more than 60 members dedicated solely to healthcare-related claims.

“Our professionals serving the healthcare market average more than twenty years of industry experience,” Power said. “That includes attorneys and clinicians combining in a defense-oriented claims approach and collaborating with insureds in this fast-moving market segment.”

Power concluded, “At Lexington, our relentless focus on innovation enables us to take on the risk so our clients can take on the opportunities.”

This article was produced by Lexington Insurance Company and not the Risk & Insurance® editorial team.


Lexington Insurance Company, an AIG Company, is the leading U.S.-based surplus lines insurer.
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