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Inside Risk with Gina Kirchner, Navy Pier Inc.

Navy Pier's director of risk management explains what it takes to manage nearly nine million annual visitors to its attractions, including its iconic Ferris wheel.

August 27, 2013 Photo

Located on Lake Michigan near downtown Chicago, Navy Pier has been a Chicago landmark since it first opened in 1916. Director of Risk Management and CLM Fellow Gina Kirchner explains what it takes to manage nearly nine million annual visitors across 50 acres of parks, promenades, and attractions—including its iconic Ferris wheel.

Q. What is your approach to risk management?

A. My approach to risk management is not a particular management system or methodology and is truly dependent upon the specific needs of our organization. I believe the approach adopted by a specific organization is valuable because it provides the framework for embedding the risk management process and effectively managing risks at all levels of an organization. My approach includes such things as policies, objectives, relationships, resources, and processes that are used to design, implement, monitor, and continually improve risk management throughout our organization. I believe that the success of a risk management program is largely dependent upon the effectiveness of the organizational approach.

Q. Describe your day-to-day life.

A. Like so many other risk managers, there really isn’t a typical day. My day begins at 7:00 a.m. with a review of claims and incident reports from the previous day. It also includes reviewing certificates of insurance and various contract agreements for upcoming activities at Navy Pier to ensure that the types and limits of coverage are appropriate for that specific activity and provide minimal exposure for us. Because Navy Pier is the most popular tourist destination in the Midwest, the various departments also keep me extremely busy because they are always coming up with new and exciting ideas to continue to bring visitors to our facility all year long.

Q. What risks are unique to Navy Pier?

A. We take great pride in providing our visitors with a great experience every time they come to Navy Pier because our brand is our reputation. With that being said, the 150-foot high Ferris wheel is definitely a unique risk because almost every visitor who comes to Navy Pier takes a ride. In addition to the Ferris wheel, we have the Wave Swinger, the Musical Carousel, and the Links 18-hole miniature golf course that makes up our Pier Park operations.

Other risks that are unique to Navy Pier would be our Tall Ships and Winter Wonderfest events. Tall Ships brings ships from various parts of the world right to our pier, where they are docked and can be toured. This event is held at Navy Pier every three years and brings over 1 million visitors during a six-day period. Winter Wonderfest is another very popular event. It is a 170,000-square-foot holiday indoor playground that provides entertainment for the entire family. It includes indoor ice skating, rides, attractions, and an indoor Ferris wheel.  

Q. Any risk-related successes?

A. Since Navy Pier Inc. became a not-for-profit company in July 2011, our workers’ compensation claims activity has decreased significantly. We take safety in the workplace extremely seriously and have worked diligently with the resources we have available to conduct training and to implement certain procedures and protocols to ensure we continue to see a decrease in our claims activity. We have found that being proactive and doing the right things to prevent employees from being injured has helped us control our losses and reduce frequency and severity.    

Q. What kinds of claims do you typically encounter?

A. Being a unique facility, Navy Pier can experience some very unique claims activity. However, we also have the typical workers’ compensation and slip and fall claims that you can expect from having more than 9 million people visit our facility every year. 

Q. How do you use predictive analytics?

A. Predictive analytics play a very significant role in managing risk at Navy Pier, specifically with how our insurance program is structured. We are constantly evaluating our exposures and ensuring that the insurance program we have in place provides coverage for the potential exposures we face on a daily basis. I believe if you track and review your claims data—no matter what the line of coverage may be—it can only help to improve the overall performance of the company, which can ultimately have a significant impact on its bottom line. It also helps to have worked in this capacity for the past 14 years because I know when our claims activity will most likely be at its busiest and to do more to eliminate the risk of those claims than trying to predict them.

About The Authors
Eric Gilkey

Eric Gilkey is vice president of content at the CLM, and serves as executive editor of CLM magazine, the flagship publication of the CLM.  eric.gilkey@theclm.org

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