Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Mark O’Mara

Mark serves as the Director of Recovery at Hagerty Consulting, Inc (Hagerty). He has worked with the Recovery Division since 2013 and has over a decade of experience leading and supporting a variety of disaster recovery programs.  Mark is an expert in developing, managing, and leading the formulation and administration of grant programs funded through the FEMA Public Assistance (PA), HUD Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), FHWA/FTA – Emergency Relief (ER), and other State and local grant programs.

How did you first become involved in Disaster Recovery and Emergency Management?

Like many in this industry, I never planned to have a career in disaster recovery and emergency management. Throughout my childhood, architecture and design was always my calling.  I received my Bachelor of Architecture in 2004 and went to work designing and building because I wanted to make a tangible difference in the built fabric of our world.

However, less than a year later, Hurricane Katrina quickly helped me hone this mission.  I realized that while design and construction are themselves inspiring fields, they could be applied in a way that could help those most in need.  I was drawn to how public service could bring my skills to bear after disasters by helping communities rebuild bigger, better, and stronger. I packed my bags to head south and tried to help in every way possible including volunteering, supporting local architecture and engineering (A/E) firms, FEMA, etc. This is where I was introduced to the many facets of a recovery including the federal funding programs like FEMA Public Assistance and HUD CDBG-DR.

What do you find most rewarding about working in the Recovery Division at Hagerty?

At the end of the day, we are helping people in their time of need. We often support clients and communities who have lost almost everything: jobs, homes, schools, and sometimes loved ones. Their entire way of life has been uprooted and forever changed.  My goal is to help restore and improve what was lost; to utilize catastrophic loss as an opportunity to advance.

How does the Recovery Division contribute to the “One Hagerty” vision?

Hagerty helps our clients prepare for and recover from disasters – both man-made and natural. Our “One Hagerty” approach promotes synergy and comprehensive solutions throughout both our Preparedness and Recovery divisions. We have a second to none cadre of professionals who have a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of a disaster; both in the pre-storm “blue sky” days as well as the post-incident ground zero operations.  Having that holistic perspective of how better preparedness can help better recoveries allows us to deliver for our clients in ways that would not be achievable otherwise.

Our clients expect that they are well positioned and prepared for a recovery long before the incident occurs.  For example, some post-disaster federal funding programs require pre-storm planning in order to “unlock” funding opportunities.  A well-known example of that is the development of an updated and compliant hazard mitigation plan. Without that plan, Section 404 FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding is not available after a disaster.

What challenges you most about being the Project Manager of the NYC Sandy Recovery project?

The New York City Hurricane Sandy recovery project is one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my professional career. NYC is vastly different from any other municipality in the country and as such we were forced to rethink many aspects of the recovery process.  Some examples of these differences include magnitude of loss, population density of affected areas, macro and micro construction factors that complicated recovery cost estimating and other project implementation considerations.

Due to these exceptional realities, overseeing this project demands an innovative thought process – which is Hagerty’s competitive advantage. It requires us to collaboratively partner with our Local, State and Federal counterparts to think outside of the box (while staying compliant within complex regulations) and demonstrate how these ideas will not only benefit the City, but also the State and Federal governments involved. Through this project, Hagerty Consulting has successfully and positively influenced not only local recovery operations and policy, but national policies and statutes as well. These impacts on national policy include the new Section 324 Management Costs Initiative, elements of the Disaster Recovery and Reform Act (DRRA) based on best practices with which we were intimately involved and the Section 428 Alternative Procedures program, which Hagerty Consulting has led and managed over ~$6B of funding through.

We’ve talked a lot about your experience working with large clients, like New York City, can you talk about the impact Hagerty has on smaller clients?

Hagerty offers a lot of quantitative and qualitative advantages to our clients. One of the most recent accomplishments for Hagerty Consulting was with our small seaside town client in South Carolina.  After Hurricane Matthew, the town’s landmark pier was severely damaged as a result of storm surge and high winds. FEMA’s original grant estimate was ~$90,000, an amount way too low to restore the pier to its pre-storm glory. The town was worried that they had not only lost the cultural symbol and icon of their community, but also one of the largest economic revenue drivers for the town.

When the town hired us to help, we were able to work with the State and FEMA to identify all eligible damages within a FEMA Public Assistance 428 Alternative Procedures (PAAP) grant. We were not only able to get the pier replaced in its entirety but were also able to add mitigation by applying cost effective design practices promoting resilience and sustainability. With our support and expertise, the town’s grant increased from ~$90,000 to just under ~$10 Million, allowing for a full replacement of the pier using concrete instead of wood and elevating the pier to decrease future storm surge damage.

What types of funding streams does Hagerty have experience working with?

Hagerty supports clients at the Local, State, and Federal level.  We support these clients in the management, administration, and overall implementation of over dozens of grant programs but the largest and most well-known include FEMA Public Assistance, HUD CDBG-DR, FHWA and FTA Emergency Relief grants. Hagerty Consulting has managed over $24 Billion of federal recovery grant funding across all major Federal recovery programs in support of every major disaster since 9/11.

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