Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Case Studies in Recovery – Implementing FEMA’s Section 428 Public Assistance Alternative Procedures Program

This is the first post in a series dedicated to exploring topics in disaster recovery relevant to communities recovering from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Hagerty’s Director of Recovery, Mark O’Mara, discusses FEMA’s Section 428 program and its practical application. You can learn more about how Hagerty Consulting can help you structure your recovery here. 

Mark O'Mara
Mark O’Mara – Hagerty Consulting’s Director of Recovery and a Subject Matter Expert on the Section 428 pilot program.

If utilized strategically, FEMA’s Section 428 Public Assistance (PA) Alternative Procedures Program for Permanent Work (Section 428) can be a valuable tool for a faster, more flexible, and less costly disaster recovery while also improving long-term resilience and mitigation against future disasters.  As the Project Manager for multiple clients recovering from one of the largest and most destructive hurricanes in history, I have led the development of over $600M in 428 PAAP grants including one of the largest single capped grants made through the program to date. In this post, I will discuss some background on Section 428, present a case study from our client, and introduce a comparison of utilizing standard PA versus Section 428 in practical application.

What is Section 428?

Congress authorized Section 428 in 2013.  The pilot had four goals, specifically:

  1. Reduced cost to FEMA in providing PA recovery aid,
  2. Increased grant flexibility,
  3. Expedited grant funding, and
  4. Timely completion of recovery projects.

Section 428 provides disaster-affected communities the option to use capped grants to restore disaster damaged facilities. The capped grants are based on cost estimates to complete scopes of work (SOWs) that would be eligible under the standard PA program. Under the standard PA program, communities are limited in recovery design flexibility and can only restore damaged facilities based on pre-storm design, capacity, and function.

If communities determine that restoring damaged facilities to their pre-disaster design does not best serve the public interest, the standard PA program imposes somewhat restrictive rules.  By contrast, under Section 428, communities are incentivized to use capped funding flexibly to innovate by building back in a cost-effective, and resilient way that better meets the needs of the whole community.

Supporting Our Clients to Increase Resilience

Hagerty recently supported a client  in its hurricane recovery efforts by  developing a capped grant made through Section 428 to repair a damaged coastal boardwalk and protect the local community behind the boardwalk from future disasters. Through Section 428, FEMA awarded our client $480 million to restore and mitigate the boardwalk. This grant was based on a mutually agreed upon cost estimate and was comprised of three components:

  1. $263 million for in-kind repair: The in-kind repair SOW was to restore three miles of damaged boardwalk to pre-storm conditions using similar construction materials and method.
  2. $199 million for hazard mitigation: Certain cost-effective measures were eligible to protect the boardwalk against future disaster damage including strengthening the foundation by replacing pile caps, extending piles for elevation, and installing a wall to retain sand.
  3. $18 million for costs to administer the grant: FEMA awarded our client four percent of the $462 total grant for Direct Administrative Costs.

Under the standard PA program regulations, the boardwalk would have been restored the same way it was first built in the 1920s.  Specifically, the damaged boardwalk decking was originally made of exotic tropical hardwoods. Today, this timber is now expensive, difficult to source, and is not a sustainable resource. Restoring the boardwalk to its 1920s design would be time consuming, costly, and no more resilient than it was before the storm. However, by developing the project under Section 428, our client instead replaced the boardwalk decking with easier to install, more environmentally sustainable, more resilient precast concrete panels saving significant material and labor costs.

Understanding the Application of Section 428 vs. Standard PA

We helped our client realize significant benefits by restoring a boardwalk using Section 428, including greater resilience, lower cost, and increased flood protection for the roughly 100,000 citizens living behind the boardwalk.

To better understand how the project would be developed under Section 428 versus standard PA program rules, the following table compares* the approved SOW under standard PA for this project with the actual SOW completed under Section 428:

Original PW SOW (Standard PA)

Completed SOW (Section 428)



 Replace only three miles of damaged exotic tropical hardwood (ipe and cumaru) Boardwalk decking and substructure with the same hardwood.   

  • The tropical hardwood would be used to replace three miles of decking, joist framing, structural beams, and cross-bracing.
  • This tropical hardwood is found in the Brazilian rainforest.  Therefore, completing this SOW would be expensive.  Suppliers of this hardwood indicated that it would be very time consuming – if not impossible – to source the size timbers required for the substructure.
Replaced all five miles of Boardwalk decking with pre-cast concrete panels and substructure with concrete/steel – cheaper and quicker than installing hardwood.

  • Pre-cast concrete and steel were used to replace all five miles of Boardwalk decking, joist framing, structural beams, and cross-bracing with concrete and steel.
  • Cheaper material and labor costs resulted in savings the client used to replace all five miles of Boardwalk decking with concrete to make it stronger and more resilient to future floods.


Replace all pile caps across the        five-mile long Boardwalk. 

  • As part of boardwalk elevation across the five-mile boardwalk (see SOW #3), FEMA approved replacement of all concrete pile caps.
Replaced all pile caps across the five-mile long Boardwalk. 

  • As part of Boardwalk elevation across the five-mile boardwalk, FEMA approved replacement of all concrete pile caps.


Retrofit existing piles by adding pile extensions to elevate the boardwalk decking, stairs, and ramps three feet above base flood elevation (BFE).

  • FEMA determined that the piles were not damaged by the hurricane and therefore not eligible for repair or replacement.  However, the approved hazard mitigation proposal (HMP) included elevation.  To achieve this elevation, FEMA approved extensions to existing piles.
  • This SOW would have only lasted for the piles’ remaining 20-year useful life, and it would have been very expensive.  Each pile would have required inspections and/or testing to assess their structural integrity given the new pile extensions and weight of concrete decking.  Also, each extension would require costly and on-site custom concrete casting.
Replaced piles with new, taller piles to elevate the Boardwalk decking, stairs, and ramps three feet above BFE – the same elevation as the original SOW.

  • The client’s value engineering showed it was stronger, faster, and cheaper to replace existing piles to elevate the boardwalk rather than retrofit them with pile extensions.
  • The completed SOW both replaced the piles to increase their useful life to about 75 years and elevated the boardwalk three feet above BFE.  In contrast, the original SOW would have lasted for only the piles’ remaining 20-year useful life.
  • Replacing the piles with pre-cast concrete and steel piles was cheaper than it would have been to inspect and custom cast pile extensions.
Incorporate additional hazard mitigation measures, which include the following:

  • Build a concrete wall to retain sand underneath the entire boardwalk length.
  • Reinforce dune by filling sand between the dune and the new wall to retain sand to increase resiliency.
  • Establish planted sand dunes along the beach.
  • Install tie down clips/strapping.
 Incorporated additional hazard mitigation measures, which include the following:

  • Built a concrete wall to retain sand underneath the entire boardwalk length.
  • Reinforced the dune by filling sand between the dune and the new wall to retain sand, although the actual amount of sand required exceeded the original estimate – an overrun absorbed by cost savings realized elsewhere.
  • Established planted sand dunes along the beach.
  • Installed tie down clips/strapping.

Section 428 allows communities to use funds flexibly to rebuild disaster damaged facilities in more resilient ways. While the program gives local jurisdictions more control over how recovery funds are spent, but there is still risks associated with accepting a capped grant. If your jurisdiction can accept the risk and employ smart methods like those outlined in the article, the 428 program may be an appropriate option for your jurisdiction.

Mark O’Mara is Hagerty Consulting’s Director of Recovery. He brings to Hagerty more than a decade of recovery, programmatic, and technical experience with disaster declarations including hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding. Mark came to Hagerty by way of the Gulf Coast. Armed with a degree in Architecture from the University of Tennessee, USGBC LEED Building Design and Construction accreditation, and a specialty in Federal grant policies, Mark has responded to the country’s largest disasters since 2004. He has personally overseen the development, execution, and/or closeout of over $15 billion of federal grant projects. Originally from Denver, Mark works in Manhattan where he gets to see the progress of the Hurricane Sandy Recovery every day. You can learn more about our Disaster Recovery practice here