Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Carver Struve

Carver Struve serves as a Senior Mitigation Manager in Hagerty Consulting, Inc.’s (Hagerty’s) Recovery division and as a Hazard Mitigation Task Force Lead. The Disaster Discourse Team conducted an interview with Carver to learn more about his professional background and the valuable expertise he brings to the Hagerty Team.

How did you first become involved in the fields of Disaster Recovery and Emergency Management, and what led you to Hagerty?

My background is in urban planning, and, early in my career, I became involved in providing technical assistance to communities under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). From there, I became the State Hazard Mitigation Officer (SHMO) in Maryland (MD), and as a SMHO, I worked for a number of years with the MD Hazard Mitigation Plan, which helped me to understand how mitigation projects worked from cradle to grave and the importance of integrating mitigation plans into the recovery process.

As my hazard mitigation career grew, I served at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headquarters working with remote sensing (both satellite and airborne asset data) for disaster response and recovery. One of the things I learned from working at NASA is the importance of understanding a geographic area’s hazard profile. Once you understand how certain elements all fit together to create a region’s hazard profile, you can make better mitigation decisions and forecast areas where mitigation actions should be focused.

Through NASA, I provided assistance to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the California National Guard (Cal Guard) during the Camp Fire and, in the process, found Hagerty.

What do you find most rewarding about working in the field of Emergency Management?

It’s a matter of being of service. Whether as a civil servant or a contractor, I am able to give back to the community. Working in emergency management allows me to apply my abilities in a way that, I hope, is going to make the world a better place by building it up and helping communities adapt to changing conditions. These disaster events are getting larger and larger and affecting more people. At the end of the day, my goal is to feel good about my answer to the question “how are you impacting people’s lives?”

I recently discovered that my grandfather helped kick-start the Soil Conservation Service in Nebraska during the Dust Bowl. I found old newspaper articles that discussed him doing outreach and communication on soil conservation, which was a solution to an environmental disaster. It was a technical, political, and governmental solution that enabled people to come together and undo the damage that had been done during the Dust Bowl. I found it interesting that I naturally gravitated to this field of hazard mitigation not knowing that he had done this work year before.

What lessons did you learn about the working relationships between local, state, and federal partners? How do you see these relationships changing, such as some of the new programmatic changes to push responsibilities “downward” from federal to state and local levels?

Two strong lessons that I learned:

  • Relationships are everything in emergency management. If you don’t have strong relationships and trust between levels of government, you’re going to have a harder time succeeding.
  • Understanding those relationships and their roles is critical to success. The model of roles and relationships between federal, state, and local governments is like that of a lever. The lever could be sketched with the federal government on one end, the local government on the other end, and the state government in the center as the fulcrum. The federal government will provide the bulk of the funding and high-level guidance for these programs; the state acts as the conduit and even the interpreter of this information; and the local government is where the work really occurs.

Without proper support in place, Instead of simply pushing responsibility downward, we should be focused on increasing capacity across the board because of the increasing frequency of major disasters. Without increasing capacity, we run the risk of burning out resources all the way down the line to the point where some at the local level may believe that mitigation is not worth it. If the federal mitigation programs are too complex, if the administrative requirements are too burdensome , or if eligibility is not clearly communicated, the local government may expend a lot of political capital for a mitigation project that ultimately fails. When this happens, the local government may be reluctant to attempt mitigation projects in the future.

To keep this burnout from happening, it’s necessary to make sure that the whole program (and chain of governmental relationships that support a program) is adequately resourced. Moreover, it’s critical to provide state and local governments with the latitude to make decisions in ways that fit their needs better, or the program won’t succeed. The relationships between these levels of governments are complicated, and I’m really grateful for my years of experience in state government working with federal and local partners to have a better understanding of how this relationship works. I bring this knowledge to my work at Hagerty.

As a mitigation expert, how do you recommend minimizing risks to events like wildfires in a place like California?

It’s very challenging since many of the mitigation projects funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) may not be completed before the 2019 fire season began. As a result, the state and local governments must not shift out of mitigation mode and into preparedness mode. Preparedness means being aware of the risk, taking actions to reduce likelihood of ignition, making sure that firefighters are prepared, and ensuring that people who live in high-risk areas know their risk and have a plan to escape if disaster strikes.

For individuals and communities, wildfire risk reduction mitigation projects need to happen. These projects can include fuel load reduction, removing or thinning out vegetation, and creating defensible space. Defensible space is essentially a 100-foot barrier around a building or facility where there is no combustible material. Focusing on these mitigation steps, particularly preparing for impacts of wildfires on vulnerable communities, is critical.

Carver Struve is Senior Mitigation Manager for Hagerty. He is a hazard mitigation expert with over 20 years of planning, emergency management, and program management experience. Before joining the Hagerty Team, he served as the State Hazard Mitigation Officer for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and Principal Planner for the State of Tennessee Local Planning Assistance Office. Carver earned a Master of Science degree in Planning from the University of Tennessee and is a Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM).