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Terrorism is a global menace that spreads like a virus along social networks. On March 15, 2019, Brenton Tarrant killed 51 Muslims attending Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Terrorism is the language of being noticed. Shortly before his rampage, he emailed his white supremacist manifesto, The Great Replacement, to the New Zealand Prime Minister’s office and media outlets, and shared a link with 8chan, a counter-culture website associated with political extremism.

Ever since the Christchurch mass shooting, 8chan users have commented regularly on their desire to beat Tarrant’s high score of victims. On Saturday, August 3, 2019, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius posted a four-page document, The Inconvenient Truth, on 8chan, which has since gone offline.  

This expressed support for the Christchurch shootings, and blamed immigrants and first-generation Americans for taking away jobs. He also called for the deportation of immigrants. Such a white supremacist tirade is not unusual on 8chan. However, shortly after this posting, he headed for the Walmart near the Cielo Vista Mall, El Paso, Texas, and opened fire in the parking lot and store with an assault rifle. Mid-morning on Saturday, Walmart was busy with shoppers. His twenty-minute shooting spree left 20 dead with 26 people hospitalized. He then surrendered to police officers. 

Terrorism in El Paso
El Paso residents queue to give blood after the city’s mass shooting on August 3, 2019: Image credit: Twitter/@Carolyn_payn

The alleged terrorist came from Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb about 650 miles from El Paso (pop. ~680,000), which is part of the largest bilingual, bi-national population in North America. This was a targeted attack in response to what he perceived as the Hispanic invasion of Texas. The gun laws in the Lone Star State respect historical traditions. An assault rifle ordered online from Texas was used in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, just 13 hours later. This resulted in 9 deaths and 26 injured. The shooter, 24-year-old Connor Betts, was killed by police officers who arrived swiftly at the scene in the historic Oregon district of Dayton. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses the terminology ‘active shooter’ to define an individual actively engaged in killing, or attempting to kill, people in a confined and populated area through the use of firearms. A mass shooting event is one where there are at least four victims. There have been 251 U.S. mass shootings already in 2019. Specific insurance products have been created to protect entities against the property and liability risks that might arise from an active shooter incident. These products close insurance gaps left by existing policies. 

Insurance policies available in the market cover liability, business interruption, crisis management and extra expenses tied to shootings, providing substantial victim death benefits with additional medical expense benefits. Coverage may extend beyond firearms to include a wide range of attack modes, such as knife, vehicle and even bomb attacks. Insurance coverage is highly dependent on industry loss experience. Limits for litigation costs, for example, have increased greatly after the Las Vegas shooting of October 1, 2017. 

Terrorism may also be covered by some active shooter policies. Terrorists follow the path of least resistance in their attack planning. In the case of Patrick Crusius, a lone wolf in a personal as well as terrorist sense, an assault rifle was the obvious weapon of choice. An improvised explosive device might not have claimed as many victims. Furthermore, he chose the optimal target for someone who probably would not survive the day. The ten-hour drive from Allen, Texas, took him to El Paso on the Rio Grande, the closest major Mexican frontier town.

In the aftermath of the Walmart shooting, security will be tightened in El Paso, and Tijuana, and economic resilience will be enhanced through the provision of additional terrorism insurance coverage.  

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Gordon Woo
Catastrophist, RMS

Gordon is a catastrophe-risk expert, with 30 years’ experience in catastrophe science, covering both natural and man-made hazards. Gordon is the chief architect of the RMS terrorism risk model, which he started work on a year after joining RMS in December 2000. For his thought leadership in terrorism risk modeling, he was named by Treasury & Risk magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in finance in 2004. He has since lectured on terrorism at the NATO Center of Excellence for the Defense against Terrorism, and testified before the U.S. Congress on terrorism-risk modeling.

As an acknowledged, international expert on catastrophes, Gordon is the author of two acclaimed books: “The Mathematics of Natural Catastrophes” (1999) and “Calculating Catastrophe” (2011). Dr. Woo graduated as the best mathematician of his year at Cambridge University and he completed his doctorate at MIT as a Kennedy Scholar and was a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows. He also has an Master of Science in computer science from Cambridge University.

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