Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Savita Goel and Harrison Newton

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. June marks the official start of summera season that promises higher temperatures, warmer seawater, and increased climate risks. While extreme weather events can impact communities at any time of the year, the summer season is historically prone to generate some of the nation’s most costly disasters, including crippling heat waves, hazardous wildfire activity, and devastating hurricanes. As communities face these hazards and brace for the hot and dry weather conditions of upcoming months, now is an important time to understand your risks and increase resilience against the summer threats you may face. Today, two of Hagerty’s disaster resilience experts discuss their career paths, professional experiences, and personal summer safety resilience measures.

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

Savita Goel: Prior to joining Hagerty, I began my career as a structural engineer in India. From there, I worked in Malaysia for a few years, where my desire to work on infrastructure development projects in an international environment began. As I look back today, I realize that I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to organically transition throughout my career – from engineering for new development projects to accepting an advisory/project management role supporting infrastructure projects and later evolving into a career in disaster risk management. In each of these roles, I was involved in engineering services for pre- and post-disaster management, including tasks such as insurance claim management, risk mitigation assessments for property insurance, and risk mitigation for utility infrastructure and healthcare portfolios.  

After the financial crisis of 2008, I decided to go to business school with the intention of focusing on corporate strategy. However, I realized I had a passion for finance, specifically project financing. At that time, Hagerty was recruiting members for its program conformance team (PCT), which was a very natural transition! 

Harrison Newton: I have always had a love for service. I enjoy work that allows me to feel as though I’m helping people, particularly by way of fostering a better understanding of our common stake in the community and how we can best use our resources. I started my career in public health, which was really the first field where I began to articulate modern resilience principles. Public health is not just about healthcare – it is often the result of the work done and investments made in other sectors and fields. I received my master’s degree at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and joined a regional non-profit that supported community clinics in preventing environmental toxin exposures in children and supporting neighborhood disaster readiness. To do this work well, I developed skills in reconciling medical priorities with doctors, housing specifications with city code enforcement agents, and policy with local and federal officials. 

Ultimately, this led me to a career in city government in the nation’s Capital, where I served as Chief of the Environmental Health Branch for the United States (US) Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE). There, I developed new systems for helping pediatricians, housing officials, and emergency management teams share information and work together to protect and respond to families after toxic exposures. I was placed in a number of positions with the same common denominator – working across sectors and silos to promote collective, strategic action. That culminated with my appointment as the District of Columbia’s (DC) first Deputy Chief Resilience Officer within the Office of the Mayor (EOM). After helping lead a 16-month development process for the “Resilient DC” plan and the formation of the DC Resilience Cabinet of city executives, I supported the plan’s implementation. 

I joined Hagerty because I wanted to work with unique communities across the country and believe emergency management is where we can often best catalyze the movement toward community resilience. 

2. What role do you play in supporting Hagerty’s response to disasters?

Savita Goel: In the Recovery Division at Hagerty, we help clients access post-disaster recovery assistance, which includes leveraging recovery grant programs such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Public Assistance (PA) grants program and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) and Community Development Block Grant Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) funds.  

In my role at Hagerty, I help support our clients by advising and assisting them as they navigate routine proceedings of FEMA PA grantsan often complicated and challenging process due to detailed disposition requirements, changing deadlines, and new and emerging policy updates and program changes, such as the Consensus-Based Codes, Specifications, and Standards for the PA Grants Program and the recent increase in FEMA’s new Small Project Threshold to $1 million. I also advise Hagerty’s internal teams with federal grant programs under the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA). 

Harrison Newton: In my work at Hagerty, I manage large projects that sit at the intersection of strategy, disaster risk, and community need. In supporting one of our city government clients, I co-developed and managed a program that helped more than 10,000 residents find employment after the COVID-19 pandemic, cleaning and repairing the city’s parks and community infrastructure. I have also helped lead a study of a coastal state’s use of federal recovery funds across more than a decade of disasters to identify best practices going forward. In this work, I most often play the role of plan or study architect and collaboration agent, defining the approach and goals for delivery that will meet the client’s needs and ensuring stakeholder support. 

I believe the difference between planning documents and strategies that transform communities and activate visions is the true involvement of the served community, the structured involvement of stakeholders across all sectors, and the smart use of data management to identify and develop actions. In the end, the focus of my work is activating groups with different interests to identify and pursue resilience. 

3. What do you find most rewarding about working in the field of emergency management?

Savita Goel: I believe that our life experiences always leave their traces in our memory and, over time, become part of our DNA. This is true for experiences at work as much as it is for our personal life experiences. As we work together to assist our clients in navigating challenging situations along the process of federal grants management, we regularly discuss the needs of a region and/or community with our clients. In order to assist our clients with their federal grants management, we must dedicate time to understanding how their sub-agencies operate. All of these experiences are different from the last one. I love the challenge of learning the nuances of an applicant’s needs and navigating federal grant policies. It is very rewarding to look back at instances when our advice to an applicant was instrumental in the success of their grant applications, especially for recovery grants such as FEMA PA.   

Harrison Newton: Emergency management is about helping people on their worst days. That is a common mission that unifies us. The more resilient we can make communities, the more we can ensure that the “worst day” is one that people can better endure and recover from. I think that is a worthy mission. 

4. What personal resilience measures do you take to prepare for severe summer weather?

Savita Goel: Despite working in resiliency, I did not have insurance for my apartment for years. After a friend brought it to my attention, I finally convinced myself to get the appropriate insurance for my apartment. In my daily personal activities, I make sure to plan all outdoor activities in advance, especially during the summer, to provide me with enough time to monitor weather forecasts and avoid potentially hazardous situations. Additionally, I avoid outdoor runs on hot and humid days, and if I must go out, I make sure to stay hydrated. 

Harrison Newton: I can never say enough about making sure you have reliable, redundant methods of communication. In today’s world, disasters can truly arrive quickly and unexpectedly, so I keep an amateur radio (HAM radio) and several walkie-talkies ready. Additionally, I keep a rainy-day fund to help with disaster expenditures. 

5. What are you passionate about outside of work? 

Savita Goel: I am passionate about exploring the outdoors and traveling as much as possible. There are so many places to explore, and the world around us is constantly changing. 

Harrison Newton: When not working on the next bold resilience strategy, you can find me playing the latest board game with friends or family. I particularly love collaborative games that challenge the group’s ability to work well together! 

To learn more about Hagerty’s work coordinating facilities and personnel to serve disaster-impacted communities, visit our Response page here.

Savita Goel is Hagerty’s Deputy Director of Infrastructure Resilience and an experienced engineer with more than two decades of experience serving clients from the public and private sector. For the last decade, Savita has been assisting clients with their Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance (PA) program grants management. Before joining Hagerty, Savita advised private sector clients on their risk management strategies, including risk assessment for insurance underwriting, critical infrastructure assets, and real estate investments.

Harrison Newton is a Senior Managing Associate at Hagerty Consulting. Prior to joining Hagerty, he spent nearly a decade in public service with Washington, DC. During his tenure with DC, he was responsible for establishing the District’s first Resilience Office, where he ultimately served as the Deputy Chief Resilience Officer responsible for promoting resiliency programs across various District departments and agencies. Additionally, Harrison also served as the Chief of the Environmental Health Branch at the District’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE).