Tsunami Strikes Samoan Islands

Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in American Samoa after a tsunami, triggered by a 8.3 magnitude earthquake, struck the area. News reports claim more than 100 people have been killed, including 77 people in Samoa, more than 25 in American Samoa and at least six in Tonga. The death toll is likely to rise as several more are missing. American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono has said the first wave struck too quickly for a full evacuation. Others were killed by the second deadly wave.

Officials at the Samoa Meteorology Division said many of those who died were killed by a second wave after they went to gather fish that had been washed up after the first. Sirens reportedly blared out across the Samoan capital, Apia, again late on Tuesday but the warning was thought to be a false alarm.

The area has seen its share of tsunami destruction, especially since the earthquake and tsunami of 2004, which killed more than 225,000 around the Indian Ocean. Following this tragic event, the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System was launched. However, Jonathan Bathgate, a seismologist from Geoscience Australia thinks that Samoa’s system is probably outdated.

From Time:

“Yes, the region was better prepared as a whole. But Samoa falls under the jurisdiction of the Pacific Ocean Tsunami Warning System,” says Jonathan Bathgate, a seismologist from government agency Geoscience Australia. “They are a 50-year-old organization, and their system hasn’t changed much in recent years.”

Some Samoans are criticizing the effectiveness of the warning system, claiming it failed them and their loved ones.

To view locations of natural disasters worldwide, check out  this world map that is updated in real time.

This image simulates a tsunami washing over a coastal village.

This image simulates a tsunami washing over a coastal village.

OSHA Addressing H1N1 Ahead of Fall Return

The flu season is expected to peak in October, just one day away. Because of this, OSHA is holding a forum on preparing your workplace for the expected outbreak of the H1N1 virus. “Workplace Preparedness: How Small Businesses Can Prepare for H1N1 Influenza” will be held tomorrow, September 30th from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm in the Department of Labor’s Frances Perkins Building auditorium in Washington. As the news release states:

Expert panelists will discuss the differences between seasonal and pandemic influenza and explore work practices that employers can adopt to prevent the spread of the virus. Panelists will also examine strategies for assessing workplace exposure, communicating risks to workers and planning for a more severe influenza pandemic. Additionally, participants will receive guidance on continuing operations if a business experiences staff absenteeism.

In the news release, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA Jordan Barab said “The H1N1 virus could have a major impact on the nation during the flu season. Planning is critical, and this forum underscores the importance of employers taking the necessary steps to protect workers from this threat.”

Interested in attending? Contact Russell Jones at jones.russell@dol.gov or 202.693.2532. If you can’t attend, but want more information on pandemic preparedness, check out OSHA’s pandemic page, which provides general pandemic information, links to publications addressing workplace preparedness and FAQ’s on the subject.

How are you preparing? We look forward to reading your responses.

The Flu Tackles College Football Teams Nationwide

This college football season may see more upsets than usual — it may also see more blame placed on the flu. Earlier this month, outbreaks were reported at numerous universities — all in time for the beginning of the football season.

These schools, and hundreds of others, are not out of the weeds just yet. The height of flu season is the month of October — a month that may see third stringers running plays instead of warming the bench.


Regulation of the Insurance Industry

I was lucky enough to attend a conference on the regulation of the insurance industry, held yesterday at NYU’s Stern School of Business.

What was most interesting during this meet-up of industry minds, was the discussion between Roger Ferguson and Eric Dinallo. For a quick background, Ferguson is president and CEO of TIAA-CREF and a member of Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Ferguson also has experience working with SwissRe and the U.S. Federal Reserve System.

Dinallo recently served as the superintendent of the New York state insurance department. He has also worked with U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and has testified to in front of Congress 11 times — calling for the regulation of the credit default swaps (CDS) that were integral to the creation of the financial crisis.

The two met for an early morning, head-to-head discussion of the federal regulator option with their moderator, John H. Biggs. Ferguson began the discussion, stating his views on the oft-discussed Optional Federal Charter (OFC) proposal that would allow insurance companies to choose a single, federal regulator instead of what some see as an onerous, 50-state regulatory scheme.

“I think the reality is that insurance and reinsurance are the key shock absorbers in this country,” said Ferguson. “We at TIAA-CREF should have the creation of an Optional Federal Charter. We think it should be optional for many reasons, one being that international insurers would have the benefit of a regulator  — it’s the argument for consistency of treatment — there needs to be consistency across the various segments of financial services. Also, dual regulation, as we have in financial services, could be applied to insurance.”

In response to that, Dinallo fired back with his own thoughts on the OFC. “Insurance performed extremely well under the crisis — I think the industry should be proud,” he said. “There might be areas where OFC may be a good idea, such as reinsurance and monolines. However, I think the optional part of the federal charter is a disaster. It’s like AIG having the Office of Thrift Supervision supervise them even though 99% of their business wasn’t in thrift. I don’t agree that the federal charter should be optional, unless Tim Geithner wants a stack of auto insurance complaints on his desk.”

Also on hand were Viral V. Acharya, professor of finance at the Stern School of Business, Matthew Richardson, professor of applied economics at Stern, and Stephen Ryan, professor of accounting at Stern. These three, along with John H. Biggs, former chairman, president and CEO of TIAA-CREF and current professor of finance at Stern, published a white paper entitled On the Financial Regulation of Insurance Companies. Within it, the four academics discuss numerous proposals for regulation of the industry, including the OFC.

So, what do you think — the optional federal charter … needed or not?


Eric Dinallo, former superintendent of the New York state insurance department, has mixed views on the optional federal charter.