Monthly Archives: December 2014

New Year’s Eve and the Times Square Ball

The earliest known New Year’s celebration was in Mesopotamia about 4000 years ago; unfortunately, the guest list has been lost so we don’t have any idea of who came. Historians think it would have been celebrated in mid-March around the time of the vernal equinox. New Year’s didn’t get moved to January till about 150 B.C. when the Romans changed the calendar, created January as a month and decided to start their civil year – the time at which newly elected senators were installed – in January.

There was probably a good seasonal reason for having the new year start in the spring since that would have signaled the beginning of the agricultural year. The change to January really underscored the civil nature of the holiday.  Charles Lamb, a 19th-century essayist, wrote a defining piece about New Year’s. He wrote that every man has two birthdays in every year that set him thinking about his mortality. One was his birthday, which Lamb described as being mostly for children; the other was New Year’s.”… the birth of a New Year is of an interest too wide to be pretermitted (disregard intentionally or allow to pass unnoticed) by king or cobbler. No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left.”

It appears our 19th-century ancestors, and maybe folks long before that, were pretty much party animals around the new year. Throughout the 19th century the crowds used to gather in lower Manhattan at Trinity Church to celebrate and listen to the tolling of the bells. Huge crowds would come—up to 15,000 people some years—the tolling of the bells and to welcome the New Year. A New York Times article from 1897 reports: “The crowds came from every section of the city, and among the thousands, who cheered or tooted tin horns, as the chimes were rung out on the night, were many from New Jersey, Long Island, and even Staten Island.”

The traditional celebration at Trinity Church hit a bit of a bump in 1894 when  Rector Dr. Morgan Dix ordered that the bell-ringing cease.  That was not a particularly popular decision and it was protested by the locals and local newspapers; a year later the bells returned, but the damage was done. 

The New York Times moved from Lower Manhattan to Times Square and, in 1904, the New Year’s Eve celebration moved with it.  New Year’s 1904 commemorated the official opening of the new headquarters of The New York Times. The paper had lobbied the city to rename Longacre Square to Times Square and the paper’s owner, Alfred Ochs, spared no expense to ensure a terrific party.  A street festival ran all day and ended with a fireworks display set off from the base of the Times tower.  At midnight the sounds of cheering, rattles and noisemakers from over 200,000 attendees could be heard miles up the Hudson River.

The night was such a huge success that Times Square instantly replaced Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church as the place to go in New York City to ring in the New Year. Two years later, New York City banned the fireworks display, no doubt worried about the insurance implications and the likelihood of fire. That did not deter Alfred Ochs. Ochs and the Times had a seven-hundred-pound, illuminated, iron and wood ball constructed that they lowered from the Times tower flagpole at exactly midnight to mark the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908.

The Times Square event would prove so popular that it sparked the beginnings of similar celebrations that have literally gone worldwide. In New York, the event now draws about 1 million people a year and presents a huge security issue for the New York police force.

Our on the Peninsula we will not draw a million people but we can hope to have a good time and a safe holiday at venues from Port Townsend’s First Night to events in Sequim and Port Angeles.  Here at Homer Smith Insurance we wish everyone a safe and healthy New Year.

New Years Eve Around The Corner – Stay Safe

With the New Year on the horizon it’s time for a holiday season reminder to be particularly careful when driving around our area. Washington State’s Target Zero plan for reducing auto fatalities is virtually certain to involve emphasis patrols for speeding and drunk driving – two major risk factors for auto fatalities in Washington state and nationwide. The State Patrol has already begun DUI emphasis patrols in Eastern Washington and will continue through January 2 of next year. And why not, these patrols appear to be effective since Washington fatalities are down. Here on the Peninsula we had only 11 fatalities in 2011 and only five of those were considered alcohol-related.

The period between Christmas and New Year’s always shows an increase in traffic fatalities nationwide.  But, New Year’s is not the most dangerous time to be on the road; that record belongs to Thanksgiving.  That may relate to the number of passenger miles driven on this holiday that traditionally involves a great deal of travel.  In fact, when you look at the top five dangerous days to be on the road they correlate well with the amount of travel.  They are:

  1. 1. Thanksgiving Day
  2. 2. Labor Day
  3. 3. July 4th
  4. 4. Memorial Day
  5. 5. Christmas Day

New Year’s does have the distinction of having the highest proportion of alcohol related fatalities.

The fatality rate may not be a complete surprise. New Year’s is a complicated holiday. While it traditionally involves partying there seems to be a general sense that it is a time for friends and family. Seven percent of Americans say they don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve at all and 62% say they stay home. The vast majority 90% claim they spend New Year’s Eve with friends and family.

There are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday in relative safety and they don’t necessarily involve not joining in the celebration. Here on the Peninsula the Jefferson County Historical Society has been orchestrating a family-friendly, alcohol free celebration called First Night for five years.  This is a party that begins and ends early enough for everyone to get home before the late-night revelers are on the road. It’s a good way to start your new year.

The Peninsula Home Fund – A Fundraiser Benefitting Our Community

The Peninsula Home Fund is a local institution that will enter its 27th season in 2015.  Although many of the donations come in around the holidays, the fund accepts donations year round.  This fund helps teens, families and the elderly to get through an emergency situation” in the words of a Peninsula Daily News article. The fund grew slowly through the 1990’s and in the year 2000 raised $42,703. The money raised through the Home Fund is administered by OlyCAP and helps individuals and families across the peninsula, or as the News is fond of putting it, “from Port Townsend to Forks, from Quilcene and Brinnon to Sequim and LaPush.”  Homer Smith Insurance has been a strong, local supporter of OlyCAP for decades, and appreciates the the Peninsula Daily News fundraising efforts for this organization. The fund has continued to grow, setting new records every year and hitting the $150,000 range around 2006. Last year the fund set its current record of $268,389; odds are that record will be broken again this year. The Home Fund and its series of uplifting stories have become a PDN staple in November and December and they do a great job of showcasing how even small amounts of support can leverage changes in people’s lives. Administration of the Peninsula Home Fund has fallen to OlyCAP since the inception of the fund. Within OlyCAP, the fund is unique because it is one of only a few programs that is locally funded and not hedged by state or federal rules. The fund represents discretionary dollars that can be used to provide assistance for all sorts of basic needs that may not fall under other programs. Common uses include assistance with rent, utilities, energy, prescriptions, gas and public transportation but there are many other uses. One use that seems to be growing is the provision of prescription eyeglasses.  Funds can also be combined creatively with other funding sources to solve a particular problem. For example, a person who had received rental assistance from one program might get help for moving expenses from the Home Fund to enable them to solve their housing situation. Home Funds dollars are managed within OlyCAP by a combination of staff and volunteers, which helps keep administrative expenses low. Home Fund volunteers are a small but dedicated group who care deeply about the work they are doing. One volunteer, Rich Ciccarone, was interviewed by the PDN several years ago and spoke movingly about his experience as a volunteer. The use of volunteer program administrators gives the Home Fund a unique local character and obviously deepens the relationship between the volunteer and the community; Rich is now Chairman of OlyCAP’s Board of Directors. More than 3200 individuals, couples and families (many of them with children) in Jefferson and Clallam counties were helped in 2013 by the Home Fund, offering them a “hand up, not a handout.” This period from the end of November to early January is the major fundraising period, although the fund itself never closes.  Even though the fund is at record highs, it continues to be based mostly on small donations and any amount is always welcome. You can donate to this unique peninsula institution through the Peninsula Daily News or online THROUGH THIS LINK.

Insuring Nonprofits

We work with a lot of nonprofit organizations here and there are frequent questions about the types of coverage needed and few simple answers.  Nationally, most claims involving nonprofit organizations are accidents and injuries related to automobiles or slips, trips and falls at nonprofit locations and special events. While these represent the great majority of claims in numbers – up to 90% – they account for only about 65 percent of dollars paid in claims.  It is allegations of professional errors and omissions, improper employment practices, wrongful termination, abuse and harassment that are difficult to resolve and expensive to defend that account for the 35% remaining claims dollars paid.  In addition, the specifics of each organization’s mission and their operational activities will create different types of risk.  For example, if the organization owns vehicles that are driven by volunteers, they need to address liability both for the nonprofit and for the volunteer; if they perform any professional services they may need to consider errors and omissions coverage.  

Nonprofit managers need to take a fairly sophisticated look at their risks to do the best job of organizing their insurance portfolio.  The State of Washington provides some limited protection for volunteers in nonprofits under a “good Samaritan” law RCW 4.24.670 and this law should be taken into consideration because there are provisions impacting the amount of liability insurance to carry based on annual budget.  Washington insurance for worker’s compensation is also managed through the Department of Labor and Industries and is a given in this state unless the nonprofit is large enough to consider self-insuring.

Nonprofit managers should consider their need for the following types of policies:

A Commercial general liability (CGL) policy to address risk of accidents claims involving bodily injury or property damage. Slips, trips and falls are the most common claims covered by CGL policies.

Directors’ and Officers’ Liability insurance (D&O) to address risks arising from management decisions.  This can cover management decisions by volunteer (e.g. Board of Directors) and staff leaders of a nonprofit. Wrongful employment practices – discrimination in hiring or firing – and harassment of one form or another are common claim filed under a D&O policy.  In the case of Boards, there may be some limited protection offered under a homeowner’s personal policy, and more if the individual has a personal “umbrella” policy.  A risk manager – and board members – should consider the options here carefully.

If the nonprofit owns a property or rents and has significant equipment, property insurance coverage is important.  Claims under these policies cover repair or replacement of essential property, such as office repair and replacement of equipment used in programs.

Any nonprofit that owns its own automobiles or has volunteers who use their own vehicles in service of the organization should take the time to consult with their insurance agent or broker.  Commercial auto, automobile liability and non-owned auto insurance address different aspects of the use of owned, rented and borrowed vehicles.  In addition, an insurer may impose specific requirements to continue some types of coverage; non-owned vehicles coverage, for example may require submission of driver information on a regular basis.

There are other coverage’s that can be obtained for specialized circumstances, such as policies that address risks of fraud or embezzlement which may be important to an organization that handles a lot of cash and data security coverage that addresses the loss of data or equipment that is not generally covered in regular property insurance policies.  A nonprofit that is funded through sales of goods or services may need to consider business interruption insurance to cover expenses such as renting temporary office space and equipment if some event makes it impossible to carry on the normal business of the nonprofit.

Pearl Harbor – Day of Infamy

More than 16,000,000 Americans served in the Second World War, and only about 1.7 million are alive today, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  It is unclear how many veterans who survived the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor are still living.  We remember our veterans on December 7 and thank them for their service.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor is famously remembered as a surprise attack and one that precipitated the US entry into World War II. It may surprise many to know that while the attack was a surprise on that particular day, there was as much as two decades of animosity between Japan and the United States leading up to December 7. President Franklin D Roosevelt and his advisers believed that a Japanese attack on the United States was possible; they just didn’t know where or when.

Japan had overrun Manchuria and nearly 1930’s and by the late 30’s was threatening China and Southeast Asia. By early 1941, the US, Netherlands and Great Britain froze Japanese assets in their respective countries and imposed economic restrictions that cut off much of the raw materials to Japan needed for war production.  This effectively forced Japan into choosing between abandoning its expansion efforts or redoubling its efforts to seize other areas rich in raw materials. Japan chose the latter course.

There were rumblings of a possible attack on the US by Japan by October 1941, but these were discounted in Washigton because the Japanese were believed not to have the equipment necessary to mount an attack and because they were believed to be overextended in pursuing their actions in China and Southeast Asia. For their part, the Japanese army believed that all that stood between them and victory was the US Pacific fleet.  The attack on Pearl Harbor was supposed to be a preventive measure used to scare the United States and keep us from interfering with Japans’ plans. The attack was a strategic victory for the Japanese, but they used huge amounts of resources for this one operation.

A main target of the Japanese attack were the US battleships station in Pearl Harbor; for these were destroyed,  the USS Arizona, the USS Nevada, the USS Oklahoma, and the USS West Virginia. The Japanese attack sank or damaged 188 aircraft, eight U.S. Navy battleships, three destroyers, three cruisers, and one minelayer. There were three aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl Harbor as well but they were at sea on training maneuvers on December 7. The Pacific fleet was rendered temporarily useless, 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded during, the attack. Japan’s lost about 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men.

Following the attack, Roosevelt asked Congress to approve a resolution declaring a state of war between the United States and Japan. In a show of unity we could only wish for today, the Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. There was only one nay vote. Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana was a pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entry into World War I.

The rest, as they say, was history. Those three aircraft carriers that had escaped destruction at Pearl Harbor spearheaded the victory over the Japanese Navy in the Battle of Midway six months later. That action began to reverse the tide of World War II in the Pacific.

The USS Arizona is now a National Memorial President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation to create a national memorial funded in part through the efforts of Elvis Presley.  Elvis had recently finished two-years in the U.S. Army and performed a benefit concert that raised over $50,000—more than 10 percent of the Memorial’s final cost.

Note: the attached photo from the Naval Archives public domain, via Pingnews, photo credit unknown.

Peter Pan-themed Skit Performed by Port Townsend Rotary as Fundraiser for Polio Eradication

Recently several fine actors who are also members of the Port Townsend Rotary Club entertained their fellow Rotarians by performing a musical skit with a Peter Pan theme. The words and message were rearranged to support their goal of raising raising money to help eradicate polio. Thanks in part to the talented actors, it appears the Rotary Club is well on it’s way to meeting their fundraising goal for the Polio Plus program again this year. The proceeds will be forwarded to Rotary International.

Although the Rotary club chose a fun-spirited fundraising theme, polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure for polio, but there are safe and effective vaccines. The strategy to eradicate polio is therefore based on preventing infection by immunizing every child until transmission stops and the world is polio-free.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments and spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Its goal is to eradicate polio worldwide. The following information comes from their website at

The development of effective vaccines to prevent paralytic polio was one of the major medical breakthroughs of the 20th century. With the development and evaluation of bivalent oral polio vaccine in 2009, there are now five different vaccines available to stop polio transmission.

If enough people in a community are immunized, the virus will be deprived of susceptible hosts and will die out. High levels of vaccination coverage must be maintained to stop transmission and prevent outbreaks occurring.

Over $10 billion in financial contributions has been invested in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative since its launch in 1988. These contributions have reduced the incidence of polio by 99% and laid the foundations for an infrastructure to be used beyond polio eradication. Rotary International has contributed $1 billion to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

The Port Townsend Rotary is a great group of people who have fun together while working to support and contribute to many important causes. Homer Smith Insurance has been involved with the Club for decades. In this latest fundraiser, Homer Smith III seemed to have no problem dressing up in his Superman pajamas to play the part of Peter Pan’s younger brother. The Port Townsend Rotary Club has recently raised over $4000 for Rotary International’s Polio Plus program.

For a look at the actors and highlights of some of the past Port Townsend Rotary Club’s skits, click on the link below!


Flu and You

When we saw the headlines that said three deaths from influenza in Washington State, it seemed like time to send out a reminder for our friends here to get their flu shots.  It is particularly important for those of us on the Peninsula to pay attention to the flu and to getting our flu shots.  Ninety percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older and we have plenty of residents here who fit that category. In Jefferson County over 26% of the population is in the 65 and older category. Sequim, in Clallam County, has a median age of 57.9 so there is clearly a large part of the population in the senior category and port Townsend has a median age of 53.

There is no denying that getting a flu shot is a good idea and even though the flu season has clearly started, it is not too late to get the vaccine and have some insurance against the flu. It is not just that a flu shot protects you; in fact, flu shots appear to be only about 60% effective in preventing flu. What is important is that enough of us in the community out here on the Peninsula get immunized to help slow the transmission of flu and prevent its spread in the community. You can think about flu a bit like a game of checkers. It jumps from person to person in the same way a marker jumps in checkers. If everything is lined up just right, the market keeps on jumping. It needs an open space or two markers protecting each other to stop. In an unvaccinated population, the flu virus can jump rapidly from person to person, not stopping until it either runs out of people to infect or runs into people who can’t be infected.  Getting your influenza vaccination is like putting two checkers together on the board; they can’t be jumped.

When enough people are immunized, it makes it difficult for the flu virus to jump from one person to another. The community gets what epidemiologists call “herd immunity.” It doesn’t mean that the flu is not circulating; it simply means that it can’t circulate as easily.

Another reason to get a flu shot is a lot more personal. Even if the flu vaccine is not completely effective, it appears that the body’s immune response is stimulated to action by the vaccine so that if you do get the flu after receiving the vaccine is typically less severe.

Every year, before the flu season begins, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control look at their data on the strains of influenza that are circulating around the world. There are several different types and literally hundreds of strains of influenza. Some are more serious than others. The scientists try to predict which of these types and strains of flu will affect us in the United States in a given year and create a vaccine that will protect against the top three risks. This year it looks like they pretty well nailed it, so getting your flu shot is likely to be a big help both to you and to our community.

There are some people who should not get flu shots, or at least not without consulting a physician. These include people with a severe allergy to chicken eggs or who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination and people with a history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome.  Anyone with an illness with a fever should wait until they recover to get vaccinated. These people who shouldn’t be vaccinated are the people who depend most upon the rest of us for getting our flu shots to help protect them from an outbreak of flu in our community.

Beyond vaccination there are other things you can do to help prevent the spread of flu.  Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick and when you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.   That means staying home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or cough into your sleeve – it may prevent spraying droplets to those around you.  And, wash your hands frequently, which will help protect you and others from germs.