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Anyone who has been to New Orleans recently has seen a resilient community that is continuing to rebuild.
The RIMS 2007 Annual Conference & Exhibition was there two weeks ago, and it was good to see the commercial insurance industry supporting recovery efforts. In an April column, I commended the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. for sticking with its plans to hold the conference in New Orleans. Having attended RIMS and seen the positive impact it had on the community, I hope that other industries will respond similarly.
Many parts of New Orleans were flooded after Hurricane Katrina, unfortunately in lower-income, residential areas. Areas frequented by tourists, namely the French Quarter and much of the Garden District, were not damaged. In fact, if one didn't know about the deluge, it would be hard to tell by walking around the French Quarter.
As in any urban area, the city has problems unrelated to natural catastrophes. Crime and corruption are just two examples. But the elements that have made New Orleans one of America's most enchanting cities and popular tourist destinations remain: music, the arts, architecture and inventive cuisine.
During the RIMS conference, the society held a fund-raiser with comedian Dennis Miller. RIMS announced a donation of $50,000 and a matching-funds program to help New Orleans' recovery. RIMS is continuing to accept donations online at www.RIMS.org/comedybenefit. In addition, several major industry companies sponsored service projects or contributed to groups leading local recovery efforts. Among them:
Aon Corp. and RIMS organized a cleanup of City Park, transporting about 400 volunteers to the site. Aon also sponsored a local high school marching band and purchased uniforms and instruments.
Noting New Orleans' jazz heritage, Marsh Inc. donated $50,000 to the Tipitina's Foundation, which supports local musicians and efforts to keep arts programs in community schools. Marsh also gave financial support to Instruments A Comin', a program that supplies musical instruments and other equipment to schools.
XL Capital Ltd. and its XL Foundation unit teamed with the American Red Cross to create disaster preparedness kits for New Orleans families returning to their homes.
Other insurance industry charitable foundations have donated millions of dollars to local causes.
RIMS estimated that attendance at the conference exceeded 9,000, down from the more than 10,000 who went to New Orleans when RIMS last held its conference there, in 2002. It's likely that some chose not to go because of concerns or misgivings about New Orleans post-Katrina.
Some people perceive crime to be worse in New Orleans. Others point to widely reported racist comments by Mayor Ray Nagin early this year as reasons never to go back.
Crime has always been a factor in New Orleans, as it is in any urban environment. A local resident told me the perception of increased crime is an illusion: the number of incidents is about the same, but the overall population is much smaller since the storm. In per capita terms, the crime rate appears sharply higher. In any event, the tourist areas remain well policed.
Anyone considering a visit to New Orleans should go. See the effects of Katrina and ask how, nearly two years after the worst insured catastrophe in history, a city can rebuild when only 40% of its population remains. It takes courage and a phenomenal act of will to say, "We're going to rebuild and make New Orleans better than it was before." Yet that's the attitude of most who call New Orleans home.
The city wouldn't be even that far on the road to recovery without the billions of dollars paid so far by insurers. To complete the journey, the community will need help from the rest of us.