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In the 1993 comedy, “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray portrays a cynical weatherman who is fated to relive the same day over and over. He eventually learns from the experience and becomes a better person.

Experiencing risk is a bit like that. If we fail to learn from the risks of the past, we are likely to repeat them – or the consequences will be more severe when those risks come back around.

According to tradition, the first Groundhog Day was celebrated Feb. 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pa., the same town where Bill Murray got trapped with his TV film crew reporting on Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticating groundhog. Other towns have groundhogs that forecast too, but Phil is considered the original. The idea behind Groundhog Day is it’s the time of year when the groundhog emerges from hibernation. If he sees his shadow, winter continues for six more weeks. On the other hand, if the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, then spring will arrive early.

Let’s put that into a risk context. A shadow could represent something ominous, a big exposure that could result in a major loss if it isn’t addressed. In mid-winter, we all want spring to come soon, and we all want to avoid big losses. So how to ensure that we avoid seeing shadows on Groundhog Day? We have to do some hard looking ahead of time, understand the risks and manage them. If we don’t, those shadows will keep coming back.

Almost every risk can teach us lessons about how to mitigate or try to prevent it from recurring. Take, for example, one type of hazard: fire.

A fascinating – and horrifying – account of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire from the National Fire Protection Association shows that we’ve fortunately come a long way in fire safety. The factory fire tragically claimed 146 lives, but some good came out of it. The fire led directly to advancements in fire safety as well as labor reforms and launched the workers compensation insurance system.

Yet, fires and deaths resulting from them still occur. According to the NFPA, in 2013, a structure fire was reported in the United States every 65 seconds. The 487,500 structure fires that year killed 2,855 civilians, injured 14,075, and caused more than $9.5 billion in property damage. Can people and businesses learn more, to prevent fires?

Many other perils happen that suggest that we aren’t learning quickly enough to prevent them. Flooding, for example, is a universal problem. Many towns in flood-prone areas face the decision to rebuild or relocate, and quite a few have moved to avoid costly future recoveries. If you’re in harm’s way repeatedly, it makes sense to think long and hard about whether to remain there. Sometimes the wise choice is to go where the risks aren’t, or aren’t as great.

Imagine you’re Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day,” and you woke up with a chance to do things over. If we could do that, we could prevent a lot of bad things from occurring, or act differently and achieve a better outcome. Let’s plan for a happy Groundhog Day.

 

Regis Coccia is an insurance journalist and content strategist. His columns on insurance and risk topics appear periodically on Fast Fast Forward.

The views expressed in this column are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of XL Group.

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