Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Chris Thomas and Madeline Tormey

Over the past year, Hagerty has helped more than 25 state and local governments, as well as over 100 hospitals and healthcare systems respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the month, we will highlight several Hagerty team members who are helping our clients navigate the complexities of the continuing public health crisis by sharing how they have addressed unique response challenges, maximized federal reimbursement opportunities, and tackled recovery challenges your community may be facing.

How did your career path lead you to Hagerty?

Chris: After nearly a decade in the United States (US) Air Force as a Pilot and Mobilization / Readiness Chief, I joined the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as the Public Assistance (PA) Infrastructure Branch Director for the National Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) West. I responded to floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and National Special Security Events (NSSEs), including the response to Ebola at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I also helped communities recover from hurricanes, mudslides, and severe winter storms. It was during my time as the Hurricane Sandy Infrastructure Branch Director and Special Advisor to the Sandy Recovery Office Executive Director that I first worked alongside Hagerty. The professionalism and knowledge of the people at Hagerty was impressive and Hagerty’s mission presented an opportunity to use my experiences to help communities prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against the risks of natural and man-made disaster in ways that I could not through federal service.

Madeline: Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to meet Steve Hagerty through a mutual professor of ours at Syracuse University. After sharing that I was looking for opportunities to “do good” in the world, and that I was interested in moving to New York City (NYC), he set up an interview for me with the NYC team to learn about the world of emergency management … the rest is history!

How have you been supporting clients in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Chris: I have been helping State and local governments plan for COVID-19 community-based testing sites and stand-up Alternate Care Sites (ACS) to treat patient overflow from overwhelmed hospitals, prepare for and respond to natural disasters during a pandemic, track resources and supplies, and coordinate federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and other programs for disaster cost recovery.

Madeline: Like fellow professionals at Hagerty, our clients are living through a global pandemic for the very first time. Together, we are working to identify funding sources that can help their States recover from the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on their schools, hospitals, small businesses, economies, and general quality of life. What Hagerty provides is years of experience navigating federal funding programs and building cost strategies that meet our individual client needs. At the end of the day, we want our State partners feeling confident that, as a team, we have done what we can to support their communities through this trying time.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and/ or addressed while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Chris: The biggest challenge I have faced while responding to the pandemic has been planning for unknown factors and constantly changing circumstances involved with the magnitude of this pandemic. We have addressed this by creating plans that are broad enough to accommodate multiple scenarios and contingency plans that can apply to specific scenarios. For instance, we created a standard operating procedure for walk-up testing sites that could be used regardless of the site location and layout of the ingress/egress routes.

Madeline: Our role as professionals in this industry is to help our clients get to the other side of difficult, often devastating times. Navigating that is most always a challenge, but without fail equally rewarding. Unlike most other disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new, and extremely influential, stakeholders to the emergency management (EM) playing field. Federal agencies are entering the world of cost recovery to provide financial support, and with that comes a slew of new policies, reporting requirements, and processes. So that we can best support our clients, we are always striving to become early experts on these ever-changing rules and regulations. Keeping up can be tiring, but the long-term benefit is well worth the challenge.

What lesson(s) have you learned – professionally and personally – supporting our clients’ response to the pandemic?

Chris: Planning for uncertain eventualities, such as hospitalization rates and access to vaccines, requires exhaustive forward-thinking and meticulous attention to detail. Planning during the response further strains the capacity of organizations to manage a disaster. Despite the amazing knowledge and abilities of emergency managers across the nation, every jurisdiction and organization needs help dealing with this pandemic amongst other disasters, and the duration of this pandemic has added to the pressure of sustaining normal operations. Personally, I have increased my use of technology to become more efficient to better handle the length of this response and connect with my teammates, including video meetings to better allow remote work to be viable, productive, and even connect socially in ways that I used to do before the pandemic.

Madeline: Of many things, this pandemic has proven how much we, as people, unite when we share the same pain. Because COVID-19 has challenged each of us personally, I have found it exceptionally easy to connect with my clients on one common goal: do everything we can to help our families, friends, and community recover from this virus. From this experience, I have learned the value that building true relationships with our partners can bring to our professional lives.

What long-term impacts do you believe the COVID-19 pandemic will have on States and recipients?

Chris: State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial (SLTT) governments and non-profit organizations should prepare for changes to how federal programs will be implemented in the future. This pandemic comes on the heels of years of increases in the number and magnitude of natural disasters and, during the pandemic, a hurricane season that generated 30 named storms and six major hurricanes. Governments and non-profits should look at hazard mitigation opportunities, such as the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, and prepare for the federal government to change how and when the federal government will enact its disaster programs – including the possibility that the threshold for receiving a Presidentially declared disaster might make it more difficult to get access to federal assistance. Leveraging emergency management experts now to help prepare for the response to and recovery from disasters and other threats will limit risk as the number and magnitude of disasters and threats to cybersecurity is likely to increase in the future.

Madeline: For many States around the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced as one of, if not the, largest disaster in recent history. Because of that, our State partners are provided the opportunity to rethink their emergency response plans and redesign their recovery programs. These efforts will not only mitigate potential audit risk, but also lay the groundwork for future disasters. We often refer to past disasters as “legacy”, but I think the COVID-19 pandemic has potential to go down in history as the true legacy disaster of our time. I often ask my clients how they want their States recovery remembered. 

Chris Thomas has almost two decades of experience as a leader of large, complex projects. His emphasis is on implementing disaster emergency plans, providing analyses of PA policy, and supporting grants management. He has gained deep COVID-19 cost recovery experience with Hagerty while managing recent recovery operations.

Madeline Tormey is a data analytics and performance improvement specialist with over four years of experience in the government and public sector space. Ms. Tormey has experience conducting research and survey construction; structuring and analyzing data; creating and organizing reports; and performing quantitative and qualitative analysis.