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Brett E. Dahl's risk management team increases emphasis on loss prevention

Efforts empower state agencies to mitigate core exposures

Brett E. Dahl's risk management team increases emphasis on loss prevention

When Brett E. Dahl became director of Montana's Tort Claims Division in 1990, its primary function was to investigate, evaluate, resolve and litigate tort claims against the state involving personal injury or property damage.

“What they weren't emphasizing enough was prevention, being proactive and having comprehensive insurance programs and solutions in place,” said Mr. Dahl.

So he made it his “mandate” to build a “state-of-of-the-art, world-class” risk management program with an emphasis on prevention, changing the division's name to reflect its new mission.

And he succeeded in shifting the focus of the Helena, Mont.-based department, which was renamed the Risk Management and Tort Defense Division shortly after Mr. Dahl's arrival, through the widespread implementation of training programs that addressed the “core risks” affecting all 57 state agencies, 10 university system campuses, 5,000 state-owned properties and 22,000 state and university employees.

“I'm a risk manager, but I can't manage 57 agencies and 10 universities' different risks because they're all so diverse,” he said. “What we can do is help them with core risks,” which Mr. Dahl defines as “the risks that all the agencies have, like driving. They all drive vehicles. So we've put together all kinds of training programs to help them because that's a common risk they all share.”

In addition to the specific training programs, the division has three two-person teams made up of one claims specialist and one loss prevention specialist who regularly go out into the field to identify and address risks and also help the agencies and universities learn how to mitigate and prevent losses from occurring.


These training programs, which were developed by loss prevention training and development specialist John Duezabou, a member of Mr. Dahl's team, include winter and distracted driving safety, violence at work prevention, student activities and university liability, property loss management and managing contract risk.

“We do a lot of consulting in that area to make sure that our contracts have appropriate boilerplate language so that risk is appropriately managed and transferred and we're not left hanging with contractor liability,” Mr. Dahl said.

In addition, the Risk Management and Tort Defense Division supports and is developing an incentive program to encourage all state and university employees to complete the “Securing the Human” online security awareness program from the SANS Institute, a Bethesda, Md.-based research and education organization formed in 1989 to support information technology security professionals around the world that focuses on changing human behavior to prevent data breaches through a variety of training and testing tactics (see related story).

“A lot of what loss prevention and risk management involves is behavior modification,” Mr. Dahl said. “You want people to think in a different way. There has to be a personal paradigm shift in the way they think about driving our vehicles, for example, especially in winter, which is why we've developed the winter driving course.”


In addition, “there's distracted driving. When you're driving from Helena to Billings, there's only a few towns ... and there's wildlife — there's a lot of animals in Montana. The stretch of highway from Helena to Kalispell is particularly dangerous,” he said.

Since the winter and distracted driving programs have been implemented, the total number of claims against the state involving motor vehicle accidents dropped to 146 last year from 399 12 years ago, Mr. Dahl said.

The program won second place in the Outstanding Award for Product Category in 2007 from the Public Risk Management Association, according to PRIMA.

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