Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Hagerty’s Brock Long Calls for Comprehensive Mitigation Strategy

Imagine that you are the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Hurricane Maria has just devastated the United States (US) territory of Puerto Rico. There are two military airplanes cleared to deliver supplies to the survivors. Only two. What do you fill the airplanes with?

Hagerty Consulting, Inc.’s (Hagerty’s) Executive Chairman, and former FEMA Administrator, Brock Long posed this question to the captive audience at the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) National Disaster Resilience Conference in Clearwater, FL on November 20, 2019 during an interview with former CNN correspondent, John Zarrella, on the topic of “Resilience Leadership through Emergency Management 2.0.

John Zarrella (left) interviewing Brock Long (right) at FLASH’s National Disaster Resilience Conference

Most audience members exclaimed, “Water! Food! Medicine!” Mr. Long admits that he similarly prioritized water, food, and medicine; however, he quickly found that “communications personnel should be on these first flights” to ensure that supplies reach the survivors. Mr. Long further elaborated, “What we at FEMA didn’t realize at the time was that by not including the communications personnel [cellular phone company responders] on those first flights, FEMA had a large quantity of supplies, but no way of communicating to the survivors where it was located.” FEMA continued to mobilize food supplies without realizing that the root cause of the problem was not a lack of food supplies on the island, but rather the breakdown of communications infrastructure supporting food distribution operations. This very experience is why Brock helped FEMA to create the FEMA Community Lifelines. The Lifelines construct simplifies the approach to response and recovery by highlighting the integral components that any community needs to regain its footing post-disaster. As Mr. Long stated, “Mitigation is the cornerstone of Emergency Management,” and applying the Lifelines lens to mitigation can help communities identify critical assets whose risk of damage during a disaster needs to be mitigated.

Source: FEMA.gov

Use of Lifelines to Identify Vulnerabilities to Mitigate

The FEMA Community Lifelines construct can also be used to think about disasters before they happen and for activities like hazard mitigation. Lifelines offers a unified approach to reshape potentially disjointed or redundant coordination efforts across various federal, state, local, tribal, private, and non-profit entities during the response to an event. Applying this approach to mitigation and other pre-disaster efforts would involve a whole community approach to identifying vulnerabilities in lifelines that should be mitigated. For example, a community may identify a power plant at risk of flooding that can be mitigated by elevating key electrical components to ensure continuous power supply during a flood event.

Coordination of Mitigation Funding

The complexities of recovering from a disaster can prove to be a daunting task, especially for smaller communities. Therefore, it is critical that grant managers find ways to coordinate efforts among funding streams and simplify the processes to obtain funding for the communities they are serving. Increased coordination at the local, state, and federal level to align, layer, and maximize funding resources is imperative to successful mitigation. A comprehensive database that includes all mitigation funding opportunities would be a highly valued tool in recovery efforts.

FEMA reports that $8.2 billion is available across the nation in funding through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) alone from 1989-present. There are also mitigation opportunities available through Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), just to name a few. The Disaster Reform and Recovery Act (DRRA) created a new Pre-Disaster Mitigation funding program, entitled Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC). Given the new mitigation funding sources available and the complexities of implementing mitigation projects, Mr. Long’s call for a whole community look at mitigation, and for identification of streamlined approaches to implementation, is especially timely and pertinent.

Hagerty is here to help. Our professionals are experts in navigating the post disaster funding world. We are available to talk about your recovery needs, including how to get the right people in the room and access all funding available through federal grant programs. To learn more, contact Hagerty’s Mitigation Team.

Katie Grasty is the Deputy Director of Mitigation for Hagerty Consulting. Katie has over 10 years of experience with federal grant management with FEMA and USDOT. Prior to Hagerty, Katie was the senior program lead for Hazard Mitigation with FEMA Region 9 where she managed over $2 billion in federal funds for flood, fire, and earthquake risk reduction projects. Katie earned a Masters in Environmental Management from Duke University and a Bachelor of Science in Geography from Radford University.