Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Jason Ressler, Justin Killingsworth, and Mikaela Shannon

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. This month, following the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) recent Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 final subapplications selection announcement for the Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) and Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant programs, and in anticipation of the release of the FY 2023 FMA and BRIC program Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFOs), we are highlighting some of Hagerty’s Mitigation experts to discuss their career paths and professional experiences. Additionally, our professionals will share their perspectives on how communities can leverage Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) funding opportunities to increase resilience and mitigate the effects of future disasters.

1. Tell us about yourself and how your career path led you to Hagerty.

Jason Ressler: I started off my career as a consultant engineer working on stormwater, potable water, wastewater, and other municipal projects. After a few years of engineering, I started consulting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as part of its Hazard Mitigation Technical Assistance Program (HMTAP). This experience broadened my understanding of FEMA’s mitigation programs and led me to embrace mitigation as a potential career path. In 2018, Hurricane Michael hit my wife’s hometown, and I had the opportunity to start working with Hagerty Consulting. While working with clients in the Florida Panhandle, we developed innovative projects to make communities more resilient. I use engineering principles and knowledge of FEMA policy to help communities translate projects that can reduce the risks of natural disasters into FEMA mitigation grants.

Justin Killingsworth: My emergency management career, specifically Hazard Mitigation, began in 2014, volunteering with FEMA Corps and supporting the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in New York and New Jersey. Just over a year later, I was hired by FEMA Region 2, working directly with local communities to ensure compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and local, state, and federal floodplain management regulations. In 2017, I joined the National Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) as its Hazard Mitigation Branch Director, working directly with State Hazard Mitigation Officers during response and early recovery missions in North Carolina, Missouri, Oregon, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

In late 2018, I moved to the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration’s  (FIMA) headquarters, supporting national field coordination, readiness, and disaster policy development for the Hazard Mitigation program. While having experience in these various positions, I realized that something critical was missing: the implementation of these Mitigation programs from the non-federal side. In 2019, I joined the Hagerty Mitigation Team and immediately knew I made the right decision. Hagerty has provided me the opportunity to provide direct support to local and state governments, helping them navigate these federal programs.

Mikaela Shannon: My school education pursuing an environmental resources engineering degree led me to an internship with Hagerty Consulting in 2019, which led me to a full-time position in 2020. Two projects from my education led me to this career path in Mitigation. The projects required a review and analysis of the carbon footprint of certain facilities, a report on the solutions to reduce the carbon footprint, and the evaluation of the technical and economic feasibility of maximizing energy production at a local emergency operation center (EOC) by expanding solar power.

Once I was hired as an intern, I worked with Jason Ressler, Manager of the Mitigation Division, who taught me FEMA’s Section 404 Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and Section 406 Public Assistance (PA) Mitigation. During the internship, I supported clients and utilized my skillsets to develop and present climate-resilience projects and proposals that incorporated environmental solutions. From the experience supporting clients and the mentorship and education from Jason, I knew this was my career path to impact communities positively.

2. What do you find most rewarding about working in the field of emergency management and, specifically, mitigation?

Jason Ressler: Living through a natural disaster can be incredibly traumatizing, the impacts of which can be seen and felt for many years after a disaster. It is the greatest joy of this profession to come in after a disaster and help bear the burden the survivors feel. Mitigation, specifically, can be the silver lining of a terrible event, as its funding is used not just to repair what was broken but to give confidence that a similar disaster will have a much smaller impact in the future.

Justin Killingsworth: The most rewarding aspect is helping local jurisdictions scope mitigation projects that will have significant risk reduction impacts in their communities. Discussing their risks, proposed mitigation actions, and advising them on the appropriate program, eligibility, feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and competitiveness. Additionally, the educational component is quite rewarding, developing resources and materials that reduce the complexity of applying for these funding opportunities.

Mikaela Shannon: The reward of emergency management, specifically Mitigation, is providing guidance, expertise, and solutions to a community that leads in substantial funds from grants that will increase the resiliency of their infrastructure and protect the community from future disaster events. Some of the impactful mitigation projects are complex and require additional information in the narratives and supporting documentation. Finding solutions through our expertise and developing supporting documentation utilizing toolsets like ArcGIS, Excel, etc., for impactful complex projects to meet FEMA requirements (eligibility, feasibility, and cost-effectiveness) and provide informative subapplications is most rewarding. Especially when these efforts are providing funds to subapplicants that are socially vulnerable and critically need the grant funds to either restore and recover from past disasters or maintain operations from future disasters.

 3. In anticipation of the release of these two HMA funding opportunities, what should emergency management professionals know?

Jason Ressler: BRIC and FMA are rare opportunities to make a significant impact on the communities that we live in and work with. Don’t settle for a small project when a big project could be a substantial investment in the level of protection for your community. FEMA is looking for projects where the federal dollar will make the most difference and create generational change.

Justin Killingsworth: The BRIC program will likely see a significant decrease in funding from last year, possibly even falling to first-year numbers. That means this year will be more competitive than ever. Local jurisdictions should evaluate their proposed mitigation projects and determine the competitiveness level on the national scale. While the NOFO has yet to be released, entities can review last year’s technical and qualitative criteria in order to gauge the projects’ competitiveness. While the BRIC program may be seeing a decrease, the FMA program is an excellent avenue if the project benefits NFIP-insured properties.

Mikaela Shannon: Funding through the two HMA funding opportunities, BRIC and FMA, requires strategic narratives and supporting documentation that follows the FEMA NOFO criterion, priorities, and FEMA subapplication development guidance. When submitting a subapplication for FEMA grants, it is critical to provide clear narratives and supporting documentation to assist in FEMA’s review. This should include details about the mitigation action, the location of the project, and the area that will benefit from it. FEMA offers technical and qualitative guidance to help state, local, and tribal agencies to create competitive subapplications. It is important to note that not all projects are eligible or competitive for these grants. Be sure to submit projects that meet the criteria and priorities outlined in the grants’ NOFO to maximize your chances of success and optimize your efforts in the subapplication development and request for information process.

 4. How can communities best utilize available federal mitigation funding to strengthen their community’s climate resilience?

Jason Ressler: When planning or designing a project to mitigate the impacts of natural hazards, always aim for the highest level of protection. While we cannot predict the impacts of climate change in future decades, implementing a higher level of protection could negate some climate impacts. If we are able to somehow temper the impacts of climate change over the next few years, we will be left with a more resilient and more impactful project.

Justin Killingsworth: When developing mitigation strategies, local jurisdictions must seek out and integrate the best available climate change data to thoroughly understand current and future conditions. If incorporated at the earliest stage, the project will not only have a level of protection increase but also provide a long-term risk reduction measure. Additionally, mitigation alternatives should always consider the utilization of green infrastructure, nature-based, and renewable energy sources, where possible, to further promote community-wide resilience.

Mikaela Shannon: Research available mitigation grants and resources for the list of projects that the community is supporting to strengthen their community’s climate resilience. There are a number of agencies that have available funding for mitigation, revitalization, housing, environmental adaptation, etc. With a comprehensive list of projects through community engagement and/or vulnerability studies, identify which grant best fits each project. This will help in maximizing each funding source and utilizing the best available one.

 5. What are you passionate about outside of work?

Jason Ressler: My wife and I welcomed our first child into the world six months ago, and he has become my passion. I also try to play golf.

Justin Killingsworth: I am passionate about being the best dad and husband that I can be.

Mikaela Shannon: Outside of work, I am passionate about nature hiking, architecture, real estate, and quality time with my family.

To learn more about Hagerty’s work supporting resilient communities, visit our Mitigation and Resilience page.

Jason Ressler is Hagerty’s Mitigation Division Manager and an experienced engineer with expert knowledge in water resource and floodplain management. Since joining Hagerty in 2019, Jason has assisted with post-disaster mitigation work for a multitude of public and private contracts. Jason is a member of the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) and is experienced in delivering funding and planning for resilience projects regarding stormwater management, water treatment, and hydrologic modeling for infrastructure.

Justin Killingsworth is a Senior Managing Associate and emergency management manager with eight years of experience in various roles ranging from response operations to long-term recovery. Jusin serves as a Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant manager for more than 26 active grants at Hagerty. Prior to joining the firm, Justin led mitigation programs with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), developing key partnerships, strategic resource allocation, and implementing partnership priorities.

Mikaela Shannon is a Managing Associate and dedicated Environmental Engineer with extensive experience in disaster recovery and mitigation programs. In her role at Hagerty, Mikaela serves as the Deputy Mitigation Lead supporting Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) efforts. Prior to Hagerty, Mikaela performed a Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA) and other analyses to construct a $1.2 million solar energy installation for an Emergency Operations Center (EOC).