Magazine article Risk Management

Keeping the Desert Dry

Magazine article Risk Management

Keeping the Desert Dry

Article excerpt

Palm Springs is among a growing number of municipalities at the forefront of privatization. While the city still manages its police and fire departments, its wastewater treatment facility and airport, Palm Springs has leased the management of its convention center and parks maintenance services to outside groups.

"A number of cities are privatizing services," says Nancy Jo McIntosh risk manager for Palm Springs "but this presents an interesting challenge to risk management. We instill in city employees that each one of them has an opportunity to be proactive in loss control prevention and risk mitigation. In privatized enterprises, the employees and services aren't under our direct supervision, so it's harder to have an impact. The relationship is only as good as the communication."

Two years ago, the city also privatized its gem of a public golf course, Tahquitz Creek, leasing the business to Arnold Palmer. Indeed, golf is big business in this part of the world. Palm Springs and its environs -- the Coachella Valley -- have 91 golf courses in only 194 square miles. More than one million of the three million annual visitors come to this desert-golf fantasyland each year to enjoy the arid conditions and a unique approach to the game that requires target precision and gives new meaning to the word "rough." If you hit out-of-bounds on desert courses, for instance, you run the risk of going head to head with lizards, poisonous snakes and other varieties of wildlife drawn to these man-made oases.

In addition to these hazards, Tahquitz Creek Golf Course also presents an interesting risk management challenge. You see, part of the course is in a flood zone, which might sound strange to someone unfamiliar with desert life. A flood zone, in desert terms, is created by heavy rains that can't be absorbed by desert sand. "It creates river-like runoff that can be very hazardous," says Ms. McIntosh, a resident of these parts for more than 20 years. "We've had to close streets because of the heavy flow of water; currents have swept cars and people away."

In 1993, when the city planned to expand Tahquitz Creek by another 18 holes, approval from several agencies, including Riverside County Flood Control and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was necessary because of the extensive drainage from over 1,300 square miles of mountains and high-elevation lands channeling runoff through the golf course. The city brought in engineering specialists to help design erosion protection, but FEMA did not approve the comprehensive mitigation techniques the city proposed at that time. …

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