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Columbia Business Monthly

How two statewide insurance programs protect businesses, residents and the community

By Heather Ricard

Water lines, sewer service, police and fire protection, trash collection—these are all services that people tend to take for granted, but they are critically necessary for any community's residents and businesses to be successful. Beyond these necessities, city and town governments provide services such as parks, recreation and cultural opportunities that make people want to live in a community and create business opportunities. 

These things are what make cities and towns so critical to the economic success of their larger regions. When municipalities work to protect their employees and assets—everything from water mains to garbage trucks to recreation complexes—through insurance and risk management practices, they are also protecting their residents, businesses and community. 

Two of the key services that the Municipal Association of South Carolina provides to participating members are the S.C. Municipal Insurance Trust and S.C. Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund. These are self-funded insurance programs, or risk pools, designed to stabilize insurance costs and keep governmental functions working without interruption. 

Governmental entities created these pools to fulfill a strong need for insurance faced by municipalities after private coverage became more difficult to obtain in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, cities faced rate increases from providers that often ran into double digits. Our funds for workers' compensation, as well as property and casualty coverage, are member-owned and operated, with coverage specifically tailored to municipalities. 

Part of the way we stabilize insurance costs is by placing a strong focus on loss control—efforts made from the management level down to make losses of property or life, as well as injuries, as small as possible. 

We provide many opportunities for ongoing education and training for our members. The online courses available cover a large number of risk management topics —not just occupational safety, but also legal and human resources risks—while there are also many in-person courses available through our Risk Management Institute. 

One of the offerings that has become the most widely known is the response to resistance simulator, which places police officers into situations where they must make split-second decisions about the level of force to use in a dangerous encounter. The simulator is now being used to train more than 1,000 officers a year. 

Many who think of municipal jobs involving danger would think of police and fire, but working on a garbage truck or as part of a public works crew involves danger as well. Our trainings also include many topics to help out a full range of municipal employees, like defensive driving and working in confined spaces, like sewers or storm drains. 

SCMIT and SCMIRF have offered grants to assist with the purchase of equipment that makes working as a public servant safer as well, while also helping to reduce the liability associated with high-risk activities. These grants are geared towards police, fire and public works departments, and cover items such as soft body armor, body cameras and turn out gear. 

Both SCMIT and SCMIRF also offer their members model operational policies that departments can adopt as best practices for risk management. 

The SCMIT and SCMIRF programs are continuing to meet the expectations and needs for which they were originally formed. These programs have helped to insulate cities and towns from the volatility of the insurance markets and are successful today thanks to the continued support of members around South Carolina. Because of these programs, our municipalities are in a better position to provide the services that help their local communities—and the entire state—to thrive.