The Cambridge Dictionary defines a slow burner as something that gradually becomes interesting, enjoyable, successful. If we talk about risks, these aren't exactly the adjectives we'd choose – quite the contrary. But the concept of a risk gradually developing under the radar before it emerges as an obvious danger is a convincing way to illustrate what we have witnessed during the past year.   

The last months – due to COVID-19, but not only – have shown how dangerous it can be if  attention spans are too short. Too short in relation to the time or the breadth of the emerging or potential risk. Some risks had been understood and mitigated at a certain point in time. Over time or due to circumstances they were forgotten.

Let's take the explosion in Beirut. Dangerous cargo had been stored for years in a port warehouse deemed only temporary. Are similar scenarios thinkable elsewhere? Risky assets such as explosives or poison might be stored in secure places in the outskirts of a city or even far away from any population. But over time residential areas spread out, enclosing such facilities, and regulatory attention lags. The dangerous assets might even be forgotten or not properly secured. An accident in such a facility can have a devastating impact.

Previously assessed and controlled risks can also emerge in service facilities and production sites shut down due to COVID-19. As business returns to normal, we must be careful not to overlook the consequences. With many risk engineers unable to carry out site visits, there's been an increase in missed check-ups and delays in repair and maintenance. This can have very real implications: under-supervised oil refineries, mines or chemical plants are at a higher risk of fires, explosions or spills.

As re/insurers we must not only look out for new emerging risks, but also keep a sharp eye on known and previously addressed risks that can still slowly re-emerge – because we don't pay attention. With our annual SONAR publication, we hope to contribute to a constant dialogue on emerging risks by looking beyond the obvious.


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