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Teamwork is central element of loss prevention efforts

Posted On: Apr. 19, 2009 12:00 AM CST

Teamwork is central element of loss prevention efforts

The Nittany Lions football team isn't the only Pennsylvania State University team in Beaver Stadium on game days.

You'll find Penn State Risk Officer Gary W. Langsdale there as well, and he won't be there just to watch the game and he won't be there alone. He's there with university police, emergency medical services and fire personnel and athletic department personnel, making sure that the game and everything surrounding the game in University Park, Pa., goes off without a hitch. If there is a hitch, they make sure it's dealt with quickly.

"Everyone is concerned about the university's reputation and rightly so, because it's all a matter of public perception," said Mr. Langsdale. "What is Penn State compared to other universities? It's important that people do the right thing so we don't land on the front page of the paper in the wrong way. I would prefer to be on the front page of the sports section in some cases, or on the front page of the science section or the living section because of accomplishments that have been done. Everybody wants that and everybody works real hard to do it."

It is that attitude, and the accomplishments that flow from it, that have earned Mr. Langsdale a place on Business Insurance's 2009 Risk Management Honor Roll.

It's not just the flagship campus at University Park that's covered by the risk management program. Penn State has 20 additional academic campuses across the state as well as the school's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, which is more than 100 miles away in Hershey, Pa. The program also covers the state agricultural extension service--which has a presence in each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties--and the University Park Airport at State College, which is the sixth-busiest commercial airport in the state.

Since coming to Penn State in 2003 after more than two decades in private-sector risk management, Mr. Langsdale has worked to upgrade the school's risk management process through enterprise risk management. He's moved the university from a reactive insurance-based program to a prevention-focused strategic program, which makes increasing use of the school's captive insurer. Throughout the process, he's worked to get everyone at the school to buy into the risk management process.

"What Gary's brought to the table is a very collaborative approach to the whole risk management process here at the university," said Joe Doncsecz, Penn State's corporate controller. "He's done a great job of proactively involving everyone. He's raised awareness of the risk considerations in everyday business processes."

"Enterprise risk management is part of the five-year strategic plan for finance and business at the university," Mr. Doncsecz said. "One of the objectives under that strategy is to really place everyday tools in the hands of everybody across the institution, so people are risk-aware and make risk-adjusted decisions in their everyday lives."

"He's not the kind of guy that wants all the credit," said Frank Altiere, president of Blue Bell, Pa.-based PMA Management Corp., the third-party administrator for Penn State's workers compensation program. "He's constantly always digging in and saying, 'Why don't we look at it a different way next time? How can we make it better?' He will go to football games on Saturday, but not to watch the game--he'll join the security guards and walk behind the scenes. He wants improvement. He wants to hear what the risk management team has to say. He's open to ideas."

Managing the risk of home-game football demonstrates those qualities. The stadium has 107,000 seats, and sometimes announced attendance reaches 110,000. State College, Pa., which includes University Park, temporarily becomes the third-largest city in the state.

"Anytime you've got 110,000 people crowded into one space, there are some obvious risks and some not-so-obvious risks," Mr. Langsdale said.

"This is part of the teamwork," said Mr. Langsdale, who works with the associate athletic director for facilities, who runs game-day operations at the stadium.

"I'm there with him and so are the police and, of course, EMS," he said. "There's a little command post at the stadium that coordinates everything. It all comes together very seamlessly with this team. It's not just me. I'm just a small part of it."

"It's all about trying to plan and trying to deal with that many people. It's a crowd," Mr. Langsdale said.

Overall, his "biggest accomplishment is the way that people at Penn State manage risks without being asked at all. It's a team effort; it's not just my efforts and it's not just this department's effort. There's a tremendous amount of teamwork and cooperation that goes on with the environmental health and safety professionals, with the director of risk management and her staff at the medical center, the workers compensation staff, the occupational medicine people--those are the technicians who know about risk and about safety," Mr. Langsdale said.

"But really, one of the things I was pleased at and what we've tried to work on hard is to get everybody to think about risk in proactive way," he said. "For the most part, everybody wants to do the right thing. For the most part means that there are some people for whom the right thing might look a little different than it would to us before they've given it some thought.

"What I'm most proud of is the way that everybody at the university works together to manage the risks. It isn't because I'm standing over them with the power of the jawbone, because that's all I've got, the power of the jawbone. It's that everybody is motivated to manage their risks, to have a great accomplishment and to do things safely and in a secure way. At a university, reputation is very important. I don't think that reputation is a risk. Reputation is the result of other risks, well-managed or not," he said.