Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Tanya Shannon

Tanya serves as a Senior Managing Associate in Hagerty Consulting, Inc.’s (Hagerty’s) Recovery Division.

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

I was a case manager in Sacramento working for a non-profit organization called Opening Doors that worked with survivors of human trafficking. I was helping men, women and children, who had recently escaped or been rescued by law enforcement, through their individual recovery. After several years working at Opening Doors, I realized that I was too personally involved with my clients and chose to leave social work. I really enjoyed working with people when the stakes were high – when we needed to put order to chaos. These people needed food, clothing and a plan for themselves.

Because I enjoyed that work so much, I chose to look into the world of Emergency Management. I was interested in going back to school, and I found that Florida State University (FSU) had a really great Master of Public Administration (MPA) program with a concentration in Emergency Management. I packed up the car, drove across the country to Tallahassee and fell in love with the field. The people working in this field are truly remarkable, and you’re able to help people when they need it the most. As much as I miss working directly with survivors, I feel like this field is one that I can work in for the rest of my life and be able to help communities as a whole.

Through my work at FSU, in partnership with the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), I did a lot of training and exercises. With the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), I worked largely at the beginning of the disaster operations collaborating with the Field Leadership of various disasters to set up the recovery operations. I found putting some order back in the chaos very rewarding. You get an adrenalin kick when you start to see the fruits of your labor, which pushes you through the 12-14-hour days months on end.

What do you find most rewarding about working in the field of Disaster Recovery?

The people working in this field are truly remarkable individuals. My coworkers are my family. It’s not just the people we are serving, but the people I am serving alongside that make this field so special. These people put their lives on hold to run towards the fires and hurricanes and are willing to go anywhere to serve.

When I joined Hagerty in Florida, I went to the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association and the entire night I was getting hugs from folks saying, “Welcome home.” These are people who had been working many hours since Michael hit, they are all tired, but they still take care of each other while taking care of the people impacted by the hurricane. It is an honor, and I have so much fun working with these people because they are all truly remarkable individuals.

From your time working at FEMA, can you highlight some of the key takeaways the Agency has learned from past disasters? Were trainings changed to reflect some of the lessons learned?

My time with FEMA was largely during the time that the new FEMA Public Assistance (PA) Delivery Model was coming into fruition. There was a team of really great individuals that built the foundation – I jumped in with them to figure out how to train this new model to the larger force of the PA cadre, states, tribes, territories, and local communities. With every disaster, we learned something new. We were learning as weeks and days went by, and rather than doing things the way they were done before, we had a “let’s improve it now” mindset.

FEMA is living the embodiment of continuous improvement and moves at a much quicker rate than the federal government usually operates. As PA was transitioning to adapt to changes and lessons learned, the rest of FEMA was following in our footsteps to do the same. FEMA is still learning continuous improvement, but as Brock Long says, we learn from every new disaster and in the wake of each disaster, we get a new piece of how to make the next recovery better.

How do you, as a Hagerty team member, plan to prepare for the upcoming Hurricane season?

Now that I am back working with our clients in Florida, it is important that we work to get them as far ahead in the recovery before Hurricane season starts on June 1st. Our clients are hurting, this area is very financially constrained, and they have catastrophic level of damages. Our goal is to work diligently and strategically but also to work quickly.

We want to make sure that our clients are mentally ready and in a good place so that if a future hurricane were to occur, they have a plan on what they would do in order to make that recovery run more smoothly. We’re working with them to build and expand upon the relationships they have with other agencies, which are so critical in this field. These small communities never had to have a relationship with Emergency Management professionals. With Emergency Management, it’s all about relationships. When the electricity and phones are out, knowing where those specific people are and what they can do to support your response and recovery is so critical.

What do you see for the future of Disaster Recovery and Emergency Management?

I hope to see a change. Floridians were hit in ’04 and ’05. There was a lot of turnover and new people working in the industry. We are seeing stronger hurricanes, more frequent disasters; I hope that the communities learn from these catastrophes. I hope the Emergency Management community continues to work diligently to remind the community at large the importance of preparedness and mitigation. If this is becoming our new normal – massive hurricanes, strong fires – I hope that the larger population learns from these disasters.

People just want to get back to normal – with that thinking, people are left alone. The media highlights damaged areas for just a few weeks, and then these communities are left alone to pull themselves up by their own boot straps. If this is our new normal, I think that there will be more of a public interest and investment.

We saw an example of that with the Disaster Recovery Reform Act that was passed in October 2018 which focused on Mitigation, on making things stronger. All of the folks here in the panhandle are determined to rebuild their community stronger and more resilient – they don’t want these types of damages ever again. FEMA is supportive of investing into these communities to make them prepared for the future. My fear is that communities who are going to be hit next are just focused on their normal and aren’t investing in preparedness and pre-disaster mitigation measures. My hope is that with Hagerty and working with different communities and reinvesting in the state of Florida, we are making sure that every community, even those not seriously impacted, hears, listens and starts preparing their communities for this upcoming Hurricane season.

Hagerty is Hiring! Hagerty is always looking for intellectually curious people with a commitment to the public sector to join our Team. We want to learn more about you. Please visit our career site here to view open opportunities and apply.