I can tolerate many things, but not being misled. When the untruth is blatantly obvious and patently insulting, it tends to really piss me off. And the whopper I received from the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) last week was a truly fine example of this. RIMS, as everybody knows, operates the biggest risk management conference around. It’s annual soirée, held at different locales each year, draws well over 10,000 people. They are supposed to be experts at all things risk; but this last year has left me wondering if they follow their own recommendations for dealing with negative events.

As a media outlet, we’ve happily run many press releases RIMS has sent us over the years. Communications Manager Josh Salter has sent dozens of them to me, and they all reside within the confines of our CompNewsNetwork. You can find one here. And here. Or here, here, here, here and here. There are almost 100 of them. Most promote the annual conference, but some support other RIMS events or their work with the Spencer Foundation.

With the exception of one year, I’ve attended all annual RIMS conferences held since 2000. We exhibited at several, and I was a paid attendee for many. Due to the growth of my blog, for the last couple years they graciously provided me a Press Pass for the event. This has worked well, since I appreciate saving my company a little money, and we write about the events and happenings that go on at RIMS. I’ve written 18 articles about RIMS and their events.

But it seems a poorly handled accident last year at RIMS San Diego has changed that a bit.

This year, for reasons related to that accident that I will explain in a moment, I expected RIMS to reject my request for a Press Pass. While my expectations did in fact prove accurate, I was stunned at the stated reason for the denial. The email from Josh Salter (whom I’ve met personally), which you may view below, told me, “Unfortunately, after thorough review, we either cannot connect you with this media outlet, are not familiar with the outlet or need more information about your planned coverage of the event.”

Not familiar with the outlet? Did they look here? Or here? Or here? Or here? Or here? Additionally, being told by a person with whom I’ve communicated numerous times over the years that they cannot “connect me” to the organization is simply laughable. Except that, when it comes to risk management, stonewalling and a complete lack of transparency is absolutely no laughing matter.

As I indicated, I believe this all stems from an accident at last year’s RIMS conference. RIMS held a big opening reception on a closed street within the historic Gaslamp District in San Diego. Someone had arranged for a fireworks display to be launched off of a rooftop just above the attendees below. Something went wrong, and the rack fell over, launching pyrotechnics into the crowd. People were injured and hospitalized as a result. A video of the incident is below.

Many of us questioned the wisdom of fireworks being deployed over such a constrained area. Our true frustration, however, was at RIMS apparent response to the incident. Essentially, there wasn’t one. They were stone cold silent about what had happened, and there was a palpable feeling they were trying to quash the story. I know of two people who were approached during the conference and told to stop tweeting about the accident. The entire fiasco had about as a Nixonian feel as you could get, and ran completely opposite of the transparency and openness that you would expect of modern risk management techniques. To my knowledge, RIMS has never issued a statement explaining the accident, or what steps were taken to insure it does not happen again.

I believe my sin was that I wrote about the event, and was publicly critical of the response. That article is located here. I violated the Nixonian code, and for that I am now apparently dead to them. Really. My company and I have, if the email is to be believed, been purged of existence in their memories, reminiscent of any number of scenes in the movie “Men in Black”.

Either that or they lied. Dementia or dishonesty. Neither is a backstory I would want to depend on as the foundation for action.

It probably didn’t help that I also wrote a critical piece about RIMS plan to start charging speakers for the privilege of presenting. I still wonder if that will be disclosed to session attendees.

Certainly, RIMS has the right to grant or deny these passes to whomever they please (or apparently whoever pleases them), but that is not the point. The concern for RIMS members should be, is leadership at that organization practicing what they preach? Are they open and transparent, or is their response to negative info simply to shut it down wherever possible?

Personally, I have been torn this year, as the IAIABC scheduled their Spring Forum in Kansas City for the exact dates that RIMS will be held later next month. It will be impossible to be at both, and serving on an RTW committee at IAIABC, I feel a strong need to be there and contribute. Still, RIMS is a large gathering where much will be happening. I am not sure where I will end up this April, but this latest interaction certainly could influence my decision.

Meanwhile, if you are a member of RIMS, the method in which last year’s incident was managed and the type of response I received last week should concern you. You should have questions. And your leadership should have answers. Truthful, transparent answers.

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