The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Marina Conner and Julia Davatzes

As extreme winter weather in recent weeks has demonstrated, critical infrastructure and energy systems are vulnerable to a host of challenges, including heavy snowfall, high wind speeds, and brutally cold temperatures. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), these conditions create a higher risk of power outages, health risks, and disruption of transportation and communication systems. Additionally, as temperatures increase, a sudden thaw of heavy snow and relentless rainfall can lead to severe flooding as the water levels of surrounding rivers and streams rise above normal. As a result, communities become faced with significant inconveniences and, if caught unprepared, potentially hazardous situations. This month, we are highlighting some of Hagerty’s Preparedness professionals to discuss their career paths, professional experiences, and perspective on how communities can strengthen infrastructure resilience and mitigate the effects of winter storms.

 

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

Marina Conner: Before joining Hagerty, I began my career in emergency management as a park ranger with the National Park Service (NPS). My first real exposure to emergency management was working through the Incident Command System (ICS) structure prepping for and responding to hurricanes. This work was really exciting to me, and I felt like I was truly making an impact in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I funneled that inspiration and decided to get as much exposure as possible while working on my master’s degree in Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management. After graduation, I worked in the Office of Emergency Management for the University of Rhode Island (URI). Our office covered everything from blizzards and hurricanes to the COVID-19 pandemic and large-scale music and sporting events. After a few years there, I found myself itching to expand my experience, especially in the way of energy and critical infrastructure resilience. The breadth of project opportunities at Hagerty really spoke to me and drew me to where I am today.
Julia Davatzes: My career in emergency management began at the University of Virginia (UVA), where I studied Civil and Environmental Engineering with a primary focus on learning about environmental hazards and impacts. I spent most of my time outside of class volunteering locally with nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels, which exposed me to the network of community organizations that work together to support individuals in need. I also lived in Charlottesville during the events of August 11 and 12, and looking back now, I watched a community experience what I now see as disaster recovery. After witnessing the importance of community-led recovery firsthand, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that combined my interests in hazards and building community. I found Hagerty in early 2020, and the rest is history.

 

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

Marina Conner: Whether we’re working with a local government agency, a regional utility, or a major corporation, the impacts of having actionable plans in place cascade well beyond those organizations’ scope. Having lived nearly all of my life in disaster-prone rural communities, I’ve seen the impacts firsthand of what disasters can do, especially to the most vulnerable in those communities. The work that I’m so fortunate to do helps organizations consider not just their own internal preparedness but how that preparedness can impact the communities that they serve or work in. Capturing those cascading impacts and assisting organizations to close the gaps that can leave the most vulnerable behind is what helps build resilient and safe communities.   

Julia Davatzes: A significant focus of my job is to guide communities to identify and consider the populations that are most at risk of hazards, which often overlays with historically underrepresented populations. We then encourage communities to identify and implement projects to better protect those individuals, increase their accessibility of programs, and improve the delivery of post-disaster services. It is a real privilege to help bring historically underrepresented populations to the forefront of the discussion and promote equity in pre-disaster planning in this way.

3. As critical infrastructure across the nation becomes increasingly vulnerable to environmental adversities, what do you believe are the most important steps to help improve resilience and mitigate risks of future disruptions?

Marina Conner: Interagency cooperation is key to improving resilience and mitigating future disruptions. No organization wants to find itself with its back against the wall on the other side of an emergency or incident, unsure of its next step to recovery. By working now to assess existing interdependencies with other organizations, government offices, and stakeholders, organizations can answer the question of “What do we do?” before the question is ever asked. Incorporating other organizations into emergency planning processes and training is also an excellent way to foster strong relationships between groups and increase overall resilience. Strong relationships amongst organizations, even those that are competitors, can help organizations recover more quickly and be overall more resilient. True resiliency has no losers, only winners, and has space at the table for everyone to win. 

Julia Davatzes: Two important steps to improving our infrastructure resilience are accurately understanding our risks and vulnerabilities and implementing a holistic strategy to address those risks. We must consider the future conditions of climate change-enhanced disasters as the conditions of now. The “100-year floods” are happening more often, and there is an opportunity to utilize more advanced risk modeling systems to determine resilient standards that infrastructure should withstand. Additionally, resilience does not exist in a vacuum. A project manager at Hagerty once told me that effective mitigation requires a layering of actions to build a culture of resilience. While the traditional mitigation methods of structural hardening and retrofits are important, public education programs, local ordinances, zoning requirements, and programmatic changes are just as valuable in improving resilience.

4. What are some simple precautions you take to personally prepare for severe winter storm weather?

Marina Conner: Even though I live in South Carolina, where severe winter weather isn’t super typical, living in Rhode Island gave me some perspective on winter storm prep. My biggest takeaway is that having well-invested infrastructure, including plows, salt trucks, and other equipment, can greatly reduce the severity of winter storms’ impact on a community. In South Carolina, the infrastructure is only needed every few years and generally isn’t available to prepare for a storm, so even a little snow or ice can feel like a blizzard did in Rhode Island! That being said, my personal prep list includes the following: 

  • Before a winter storm arrives, I prepare resources for everyone in my household, including measures for food, warmth, water, and general safety. This includes prep for my two dogs, who will need their own food, water, and blankets during the storm. Additionally, I make sure all pets have their collars on before the weather hits, and they stay on until the storm passes. I also have little lights that hang from their collars, and I turn them on so I can see them in the dark.  
  • Secondly, I set out flashlights and lanterns before the storm to prepare for possible power outages. These areas are usually: my nightstand, by my front and back door, on the kitchen counter, in the bathroom, and in the garage. There’s nothing worse than stumbling around a dark house trying to find a flashlight. 
  • Lastly, I salt early! Especially if ice is in the forecast, pre-treating sidewalks, driveways, and steps is a way to prevent injuring myself and others. I also ensure my vehicle is backed into my driveway and angled towards the road. This allows for easier control in slippery conditions. 

Julia Davatzes: I view winter storm preparations as being ready for “winter camping,” which means I pay attention to the news, prepare early, write down all important public safety and personal phone numbers, and keep an extra external battery charged. Additionally, I make sure to store a supply of potable water and easy-to-prepare food items (PB&Js sustained me through Winter Storm Uri).

5. What are you passionate about outside of work? 

Marina Conner: Outside of work, I’m big on gardening. I’m fortunate to have great year-round growing seasons where I live. I focus a lot of my garden on local, in-season produce, and I also try and grow everything from seed or scrap where possible. One of my dogs is big on carrots, so he’s really thankful that carrots are in season in the garden right now. I don’t think I’ve actually enjoyed one of my carrots yet this season! 

Julia Davatzes: I enjoy hiking, rock climbing, and spending time with friends. I have a weekly Sunday potluck with a group of friends that is often the highlight of my week! I’ve really loved getting to know Austin better over the last few years and am on a quest to experience all the live music I can and find the best breakfast tacos in the city. 

To learn more about Hagerty’s work supporting infrastructure resilience and emergency preparedness planning, visit our Preparedness page here


Marina Conner is a Managing Associate for Hagerty’s Preparedness division with seven-plus years of experience in preparedness and response programs. She holds a Master of Science (MS) degree in Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management from Arkansas State University (ASU) and has experience supporting a range of project subjects, including Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP), Crisis Communications, and Emergency Action Plans (EAP). 

Julia Davatzes is a Managing Associate for Hagerty’s Preparedness division with a background in civil and environmental engineering and demonstrated experience in local jurisdictional planning. In her role at Hagerty, she has supported plan development and implementation initiatives related to Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Sustainment, Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plans (HMP), and Disaster Recovery and Redevelopment Plans.  

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Jeff Bokser and Kara Koirtyohann

Family gatherings and celebrations with friends are joyous traditions for many during the holiday season. However, as the threat of COVID-19 lingers and cases of the flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) surge nationwide, it is important that we plan for safe gatherings with friends, family, and loved ones. This month, we are highlighting some of Hagerty’s healthcare subject matter experts (SMEs) to discuss their career paths, professional experiences, and perspective on how to safely navigate the holiday season.

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

Jeff Bokser: Before joining Hagerty Consulting, I built my career working in academic medical centers in New York and Connecticut, where I gained experience in leading healthcare operations, finance, crisis management, and disaster recovery. I started my career in a New York City (NYC) hospital in healthcare administration three months prior to September 11, 2001. I was quickly placed in the hospital command center and helped the hospital respond to the events and the aftermath of the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks. I have since led hospital staff in planning, executing, and responding to significant emergency events, including Ebola, Hurricane Sandy, the H1N1 pandemic, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), anthrax scares, mass-casualty surge incidents, and deploying disaster response teams and telemedicine nationally. This has prepared me for public health emergencies, and the response and recovery capabilities Hagerty is providing across the nation. 

Kara Koirtyohann: Prior to joining Hagerty, I worked as an architect, overseeing the design and construction of urban, institutional, commercial, and residential projects. During this time, I had the opportunity to manage the design of a local government library. This project, in particular, was a favorite of mine as the work was designed to meet the needs of a diverse community within the city’s infrastructure of public space. I found my way to Hagerty when I learned they were working with that local government, helping the city recover from a significant hurricane event, and looking for architects to work with the public departments, including the libraries, on long-term reconstruction. Since then, I have led wildfire and flooding recoveries, and as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, I pivoted to meet the needs of our healthcare and other private non-profit clients.

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

Jeff Bokser: I am inspired to work with a truly dedicated team at Hagerty Consulting that looks every day to make a difference in the lives of others. In addition, having the opportunity to work with healthcare organizations across the country, I am amazed by the heroic efforts and innovative solutions that healthcare workers have developed to meet the unique patient needs in all corners of our country. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to help people and organizations in the midst of a crisis and then months later look back and realize how the collective team’s effort played a role in helping people in their most difficult of times. 

Kara Koirtyohann: Every disaster is unique to the circumstances of its place, time, and context, which means that each disaster brings new challenges and problems to solve. In my work with clients, it is thrilling to get to work side-by-side with different cities, states, and private nonprofits across the country, to get to know the particulars of that organization, and to understand how we can best solve the specific problems they are recovering from, preparing for, or responding to. This might include interpreting and arguing new federal policies, assisting in developing local community priorities, or learning the operation of a client’s financial management system. Regardless, the work makes you want to bring your best, working with clients who are fully invested in their organization and knowing that our efforts to help them recover, prepare, and respond are truly appreciated.

As our nation faces a tripledemic threat of flu, RSV, and COVID-19 this winter, what do you believe are the most important steps to help clients in the healthcare industry?

Jeff Bokser: Hospitals across the country are at their highest capacity of patients in over a year. Pediatric hospitals are full, and patients are waiting hours in emergency departments for treatment. Some hospitals are postponing elective surgeries and reopening COVID-19 triage tents and surge space to care for the overflow of patients. Healthcare organizations are once again in crisis. What makes this crisis different from the surges seen during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is that most healthcare organizations have less staff than they did a year ago and, therefore, cannot operate as many beds. 

The next few months will be incredibly challenging for the healthcare industry. We need to reactivate some of the mechanisms which resulted in the federal and state governments providing staffing, medical supplies, and financial support to healthcare organizations. Some states have started to do this and declared a public health emergency for RSV and flu. A public health emergency already exists for COVID-19. Emergency preparedness activities required to respond to the tripledemic are not covered in patient reimbursement. Therefore, healthcare organizations should track their costs during this ongoing response in the event that future reimbursement is made available to offset unreimbursed expenses. Healthcare organizations that normally compete for business and patients must once again come together and share resources and “load balance” patient volume from one facility to another to match where resources may be available to best treat patients with RSV, flu, or COVID-19.

Kara Koirtyohann: Our healthcare systems are struggling to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, much less the new threats faced by an increased RSV and flu seasons. While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that certain regulatory flexibilities allowed for COVID-19 can also be applied to the flu and RSV, many systems are still seeing staff and bed shortages and skyrocketing contract labor costs. Compounded with the fact that existing healthcare-specific funding programs are drying up and new programs have been slow to materialize, our healthcare clients are looking to capture and maximize every available recovery fund. 

As we continue to navigate this continuously changing environment, our advice to clients is to always ensure all expenses are documented. Ideally, at this moment, costs for COVID-19, RSV, and flu should be identified and tracked separately where possible. Should new funding programs be introduced or policies changed on current programs, having these costs identified and tracked will best position them to align scope and recover costs as fully as possible. Secondly, I encourage healthcare systems to leverage their collective voice. Unlike our government clients, healthcare systems may not have a direct line to policymakers and need to band together to advocate for the resources they need. We have already worked with various state and national hospital groupings to identify current needs, processes, and opportunities for adaptation to assist in their advocacy. 

What are some simple precautions you take to personally prevent the spread of illnesses and ensure a healthy holiday season?

Jeff Bokser: This holiday season, and always, I never leave home without hand sanitizer in my pocket. Given the high level of respiratory viruses and increased levels of hospitalizations in my area, I try to avoid crowded indoor spaces with a lack of ventilation as much as possible. At the same time, I am living my life and going to important gatherings with family, friends, and colleagues to celebrate special occasions. I wear a mask when on public transportation or in crowded indoor spaces when I don’t know the vaccination status of others. If a family member in my household or I feel sick, we try to isolate and join events virtually. This holiday season, I think it is important to gather with friends and family. Most importantly, I feel strongly that the updated COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine are good matches for this year’s strains, and I know that being up to date on your vaccines is the best defense to enjoy a safe, healthy, and prosperous holiday season. 

Kara Koirtyohann: First and foremost, I make sure to stay up to date on vaccinations and booster shots. As COVID-19, flu, and RSV cases rise in my area, I will continue to mask up in crowded and public places, and I will be sure to stay home if I am feeling ill. For me, the holidays are about appreciating the gift of family and friends, including taking action to protect my health and the health of others.

What are you passionate about outside of work?

Jeff Bokser: In my free time, there is nothing more I enjoy doing than being with my family. My teenage daughters keep me active and current on pop culture and occasionally get me to learn a TikTok dance with them. I enjoy watching and cheering them on from the sidelines at their dance recitals as well as field hockey and lacrosse games. On weekends, during warmer weather, I enjoy handy work around the house and am continuously in pursuit of the “perfect” golf game. 

Kara Koirtyohann: I love all things culture, but I am particularly passionate about opportunities to escape the office and go into nature on a hike.

To learn more about Hagerty’s work supporting healthcare systems, visit our Public Health and Medical Support page here

______________________________________________________________________________________

Jeff Bokser is Hagerty Consulting’s Vice President of Healthcare Programs with strategic expertise in all aspects of healthcare operations, finance, organizational resiliency, institutional preparedness, and recovery. Jeff has over 20 years of experience as a senior leader at NewYork-Presbyterian and Yale New Haven Health and served as Incident Commander guiding 40,000+ employees through numerous internal and external emergency response and recovery operations.

Kara Koirtyohann is a Deputy Director of Recovery for Hagerty Consulting. At Hagerty, has supported clients on recovery projects in response to various federally declared major disaster incidents, including hurricanes, flooding, wildfire, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to working at Hagerty, she managed the design and construction of public and private institutional, commercial, and residential buildings and interiors from preliminary design through construction closeout.

Moore County: Preparing for and Responding to Attacks Against Critical Infrastructure

On Saturday, December 3, two electricity substations in Moore County, North Carolina were damaged by gunfire, leaving 45,000 customers without power. In response to the attacks, Moore County declared a state of emergency with a 9:00pm to 5:00am curfew until Friday, December 9. State authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are still investigating the incident.

While this risk is not new, it does appear to be growing. At least five physical attacks on substations have been reported in Oregon and Washington over the past month. Further, nine physical attacks and 60 acts of vandalism occurred between January and August of this year, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). Those numbers represent a 64 percent increase in the number of physical attacks and acts of vandalism as compared to 2015. This latest incident demonstrates that energy security is not just a global issue – emergency managers, utilities, and energy offices should take note.

Considering the Impacts

During these incidents, responding entities need to effectively coordinate with a wide variety of stakeholders and across various levels of management quickly and accurately. Whether it is prioritizing the restoration of critical facilities such as hospitals, 911 dispatch centers, and water treatment plants or supporting the life safety needs of those within your community with access and functional needs, knowing who you need to coordinate with and what information they need to quickly execute their operational responsibilities is vital.

For example, utility incident management professionals will be coordinating with their operational teams to identify restoration priorities while simultaneously working with local emergency management and public safety agencies to manage and mitigate downstream impacts. The speed with which power is safely restored and a community is back on its feet can be decided by the community’s level of preparedness.

How can you prepare?

Whether you are an emergency manager, a utility provider, or a state/local energy office, there are several steps you can take to help better prepare for an attack on energy infrastructure in your area:

  • Energy Security and Incident Response Planning: Emergency managers and energy offices do not own the grid, but they are often responsible for managing response efforts when things go wrong. Conversely, while utilities own the infrastructure, they often rely heavily on public and private sector partnerships to restore normal operations. Energy security and incident response planning efforts are an effective way to coordinate with utilities and public safety agencies to address cascading impacts and enhance relationships with critical partners ahead of an incident.
  • Training: Conducting regular training, across all levels of management, including field operations, incident management, and executive teams, ensures employees are comfortable with their role in a response environment. Conducting joint trainings with public and private partners at the regional, state, or local level can also improve mutual understanding, response procedures, and restoration priorities.
  • Exercises: Delivering annual exercises with both internal and external partners helps test capabilities and identify areas for improvement or additional training. Exercises provide an opportunity to test new functions, give inexperienced employees opportunities to practice, as well as build or renew relationships with your key stakeholders.
  • Risk Assessments: Developing risk assessments will help you identify your threats and vulnerabilities and determine the likelihood and consequence of them occurring. Additionally, it can help you anticipate what cascading impacts may occur that pose a risk to not only your organization but the wider community. Engaging internal and external stakeholders with public safety partners, including fusion centers, can help you better understand roles and responsibilities as well as what information needs to be shared to aid with decision-making. It is only through this collaboration that an entire community will be better prepared to respond to your next emergency.

Hagerty Can Help

Hagerty has worked with state and local government, public utilities, investor-owned utilities, and membership organizations to prepare for threats to the energy sector across North America, including cyber and physical attacks. Our expertise in both emergency management and the energy sector has allowed us to support our clients in building relationships with government and private industry partners, strengthening our clients’ readiness.

Our professionals are experienced in performing risk assessments, developing meaningful planning processes, and delivering training and exercises that strengthen organizational and regional resilience. From state energy security planning and utility exercise initiatives to intelligence and information-sharing exercises with fusion centers, Hagerty can help. Contact us below to learn how we can help you.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Agnieszka Krotzer is a Managing Associate in Hagerty’s Preparedness Division. In this role, she works with Hagerty’s clients on energy resilience, continuity planning, and security and threat management projects, with an emphasis on executive-level decision-making and effective stakeholder engagement across all of the projects she supports.

Patrick Van Horne is a Deputy Director for Preparedness at Hagerty Consulting. In this role, he supports government and private sector organizations across the country by helping them prepare for an uncertain future through adaptable crisis management planning, meaningful training and exercises, and thoughtful program and event assessments. Prior to Hagerty, Patrick was an emergency manager for Boulder County, Colorado, where he responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple wildfires, and a mass shooting. Additionally, he previously co-founded and ran an online education company, The CP Journal, and served, for nearly seven years, in the United States Marine Corps as an infantry officer. 


Getting a Flu Shot this year could save your life

Flu season is in full swing and the worst it has been in over 13 years. With Americans gathering this holiday season, numbers are only expected to rise.

It is not too late to get your flu shot! Although this year’s severe flu season arrived early, it usually peaks in February and can continue into May. During this National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), December 5-9, 2022, you can do your part to protect yourself, your family, and those most vulnerable in our communities by not only getting a flu shot, but also by talking about the importance and value of vaccination with others.

Here are some of the most important reasons why you should get your flu shot today:

  1. It can save your life. Over 33 states are currently experiencing high or very high flu activity, which in some cases is leading to an increase in hospitalizations and even deaths.
  2. It can prevent you from getting the flu altogether. The flu shot changes each year and this year, it has proven to be a good match thus far. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data indicate that the 2022-2023 flu vaccine formulations are a good match to protect against the currently circulating flu viruses.
  3. Getting the flu shot helps to protect yourself and those most vulnerable. This includes newborns, those 65 years and older, and those with compromised immune systems.
  4. Flu shots are free and readily available. Most local pharmacies and healthcare providers across the country are administering the vaccine at no charge.
  5. Flu shots can help you avoid illness resulting in disruptions to your daily routine. The flu accounts for 111 million lost workdays and nearly $7 billion in lost productivity and sick days annually.
  6. It can reduce your sickness if you have a breakthrough case. Vaccinations help protect from getting the flu but if you do get sick, the vaccine will reduce your severity of illness and avoid hospitalizations.
  7. It’s not just a shot, nasal mists are available too. If people are afraid of needles, there is a nasal spray that can be given to healthy individuals ages 2-49.

Getting the flu from the flu shot is a myth. The flu vaccine is not a live virus and therefore cannot give you the flu.

Spending time with family and friends is an important part of the holiday season. This is especially true coming out of previous years of the pandemic where many families and friends were unable to safely gather. With a quick trip to a local pharmacy, you can avoid the flu or at a minimum prevent severe illness and enjoy your holiday season.


Jeff Bokser is Hagerty Consulting’s Vice President of Healthcare Programs with strategic expertise in all aspects of healthcare operations, finance, organizational resiliency, institutional preparedness, and recovery. Jeff has over 20 years of experience as a senior leader at NewYork-Presbyterian and Yale New Haven Health and served as Incident Commander guiding 40,000+ employees through numerous internal and external emergency response and recovery operations.

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Honoring Hagerty’s Heroes

 

Each year on November 11, the Nation pauses to honor those who serve and have served in the United States (US) Armed Forces. Veterans Day is a time to thank them for the sacrifices they have made on our country’s behalf. Here at Hagerty, we are proud to work alongside veterans who lend their talent and energy to the ever-important task of helping our clients prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against disasters.

This year, a few of our veteran service team members paused to reflect on their personal experience in the military and how it prepared them for a career in emergency management.


Bryan Cochran  |  Navy 

What did you learn about yourself by serving in the military?
I learned that teamwork is the key to accomplishing anything worth doing.

How did your military career prepare you for a career in emergency management?
As a Special Operations Officer (SOO), I learned how to deal with uncertainty and constantly changing environments. Additionally, I was trained to prepare and plan for known hazards and to adapt and overcome unknown challenges. These situations prepared me for a career in emergency management.


Jeff Ewaldt  |  Navy 

What did you learn about yourself by serving in the military?
In my 20 years of service, I learned the meaning of perseverance, confidence, and integrity. In the end, integrity is something that cannot be taken from you, only given away – and this is something that I am not willing to do.

How did your military career prepare you for a career in emergency management?
In many ways, my military career taught me how to provide the mental and physical tools to adapt to the ever-changing emergency management environment.


Walter Flores  |  Marine Corps 

What did you learn about yourself by serving in the military?
I learned that I don’t like to quit. In the Marine Corps, “never quit” is one of the fundamental principles they instill in all recruits during basic training. We were conditioned to have the unwavering grit to continue on when others quit. I have learned that this principle often carries over into my career and personal life, enabling me to get through tough times with an even tougher resilience. 

How did your military career prepare you for a career in emergency management?
In the Marine Corps, we always had to be prepared for numerous response scenarios, including preparedness as a quick reaction force and occasionally providing support in many other operational areas. This translates very well to emergency management because we always have to be ready for the unexpected and capable of quickly reacting to the circumstances around a disaster. 


Mike Sprayberry  |  Marine Corps and National Guard

What did you learn about yourself by serving in the military?
I learned that I have a competitive streak and love to take on a challenge to see how I will perform. The military presents challenges every day no matter what your job or rank is and I really enjoyed trying to see how well I could do whether it was physical fitness, marksmanship, or working inside a team construct to accomplish a common goal.

How did your military career prepare you for a career in emergency management?
While serving, I met many people with many different backgrounds and learned the value of being inclusive and listening to others to come up with the best solution possible. A common assumption that many people make is that in the military, the officers solely give orders, and everyone just follows them. The American military teaches all servicemembers how to think on their own, be self-reliant and, of course, be a part of a strong team and follow orders when needed. The core values I learned in the military transferred easily to emergency management, where success depends on your ability to collaborate within the team. Whenever the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated, as the State Emergency Response Team Leader, I would tell everyone that with the talent assembled in the Situation Room, we could solve ANY problem! It’s really true!


Tyler Struwe  |  Navy

What did you learn about yourself by serving in the military?
I learned that I had a lot more that I wanted to accomplish than I previously thought, and I became instilled with a foundational discipline that truly amplified my ability to succeed. Before joining, I had few career goals outside of becoming a firefighter, and I never thought I would attend college because I did not particularly enjoy school. After working in emergency management while in the Navy, however, I found enjoyment in my work and a desire to pursue further education. Ultimately, this led to more disciplined study habits and a master’s degree in Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

How did your military career prepare you for a career in emergency management?
I have had the opportunity to support numerous emergency management projects of varying capacities and understand the importance of effective communication across entities as we collaboratively work together to accomplish universal goals. Most recently, I was deployed to the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as a Navy reservist during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, I worked in the base emergency management office, supporting various preparedness exercises to mitigate risks for nuclear fires, active shooters, natural disasters, and COVID-19—a task that involved contact tracing for over 10,000 shipyard workers daily.


Patrick Van Horne  |  Marine Corps 

What did you learn about yourself by serving in the military?
During my time in the military, I learned how much I enjoy working with mission-driven professionals. It is incredibly rewarding to serve alongside people who believe in the organization’s goals and who come to work every day with creative ideas about ways to achieve them. After I left the military, it was exciting to find that same dynamic working in emergency management and supporting communities before, during, and after disasters.

How did your military career prepare you for a career in emergency management?
Military units deploying overseas and communities responding to disasters share numerous similarities, including an overarching desire to have been more prepared. I feel lucky to have been a part of teams in the Marines that didn’t stop their preparation efforts once they deployed but embraced a commitment to training, growing, and improving during their time overseas. In this way, it is similar to emergency managers’ daily work, leading communities through incredibly challenging times. We might always wish that there had been one more exercise or a few more training sessions for those in the EOC before the incident occurred, but we can also appreciate those who volunteered to respond despite not being fully ready. If we dedicate each day in response to making each person and each team just a little bit better, we can continue to grow our profession and better serve the communities we work in.


Today, we thank our colleagues, all those who have served, and their families for their bravery, courage, and service to our Nation.

Hurricane Nicole Makes Landfall in Florida as a Category 1 Hurricane Before Weakening to a Tropical Storm

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2022 AS OF 9:00 AM EST

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Hurricane Center (NHC), Hurricane Nicole made landfall on the Eastern coast of Florida at 2:27 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on North Hutchinson Island just south of Vero Beach. Nicole made landfall as a Category (Cat) 1 hurricane and then weakened into a tropical storm. As of 7:00 a.m. EDT, Nicole was located over central Florida about 30 miles southwest of Orlando and 55 miles east of Tampa moving west-northwest at around 14 miles per hour (mph). Maximum sustained winds speeds have decreased to nearly 60 mph; however, due to Nicole’s size, tropical-storm-force winds may extend out up to 450 miles from the center of the storm. Nicole is expected to continue to weaken as it moves overland and is projected to be picked up by a cold front as it passes over southern Georgia.

Tropical Storm Nicole- GeoColor: NOAA

According to NOAA’s database, Nicole is the fourth November hurricane to make landfall in the United States (US) in records dating to the mid-19th century and the first to do so in nearly 40 years. Nicole is the 14th named storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1 and officially ends at the end of this month on November 30. As of 7:20 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST), more than 33 million people were under some storm-related warning, and over 230,000 customers have reported power outages across Florida. 

Following President Biden’s approval of an emergency declaration for the state of Florida on November 9, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that federal aid and coordination support had been made available to the state, supplementing state, tribal, and local response efforts for areas impacted by Tropical Storm Nicole. As of November 10, 45 of the state’s 67 counties are under a state of emergency.

Twitter: NWS Melbourne

FEMA provides guidance to individuals preparing for, experiencing, or being affected by hurricanes. Tropical Storm Nicole brings the potential for life-threatening storm surges to many coastal communities. Individuals should heed the warnings of local authorities. It is imperative that individuals seek higher ground and avoid walking or driving in flood waters. Additionally, FEMA encourages individuals to take the necessary precautions and prepare for flash flooding. Individuals at risk are encouraged to remain up-to-date with information from their local National Weather Service (NWS) office and local government/emergency management office and follow guidance issued by local officials.

The Hagerty Blog Team will continue providing information and updates.

STAY UPDATED AND LEARN MORE HERE:

Midwest Experiences Intense Storms Over the Weekend as Tropical Storm Nicole Moves Towards the United States

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2022 AS OF 12:00 PM EST

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Hurricane Center (NHC), Tropical Storm Nicole has been declared a large tropical cyclone with storm-force winds extending outward up to 380 miles and maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (mph). As of 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST), Tropical Storm Nicole was located about 350 miles northeast of the Northwestern Bahamas and moving west at nine mph. Due to the size of the storm and the uncertainty of its path, the NHC discourages focus on the storm’s exact track as anticipated hazards are expected to extend outside of the forecast cone. A hurricane warning is currently in effect for the Abacos, Berry Islands, Bimini, and Grand Bahama Island in the Northwestern Bahamas, where dangerous storm surge and hurricane conditions are expected on Wednesday, November 9. According to National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Director Stephen Russell, 28 shelters will be activated in Grand Bahama and Abaco today as officials begin evacuating local residents from the Grand Cay and Sweetings Cay areas.

Subtropical Storm Nicole- GeoColor: NOAA

After exiting the Bahamas, Tropical Storm Nicole is forecast to make its second landfall along the southeast and east-central coast of Florida as a hurricane or strong tropical storm Wednesday night, November 9. As the exact track of the storm remains uncertain, hurricane warnings have been issued along the east coast of Florida from Boca Raton to the Flagler/Volusia County Line. On Monday, November 7, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an Executive Order to declare a state of emergency for 34 counties in the potential path of the storm, where projected impacts include heavy rainfall, strong winds, prolonged coastal flooding, life-threatening surf and rip current conditions, and storm surge levels of up to five feet above ground level. The NHC warns that severe flash and urban flooding is likely along the St. Johns River, with possible flooding risks extending in Southwest Georgia and portions of South Carolina Thursday, November 10.

MIDWEST STORM SYSTEM

On Saturday, November 5, several Midwest states experienced a strong storm system, which included thunderstorms and intense wind gusts. Officials in Chicago issued high wind warnings, and gusts exceeded 60 mph in some areas. National Weather Service (NWS) Chicago reported peak winds across the region ranging from 40 to 77 mph, including 77 mph at Dupage Airport and 60 mph at Chicago O’Hare Airport. NWS Chicago confirmed that a tornado scoring an EF-0 on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale of Tornado Intensity touched down in Kendall and Kane counties around 10:00 a.m. EST on Saturday, November 5. The tornado traveled approximately four miles and produced wind gusts estimated at 80 mph. In West Michigan, winds reached 64 mph in Kalamazoo and 53 mph in Grand Rapids. NWS Northern Indiana reported gusts of 72 mph in Roann and 66 mph at South Bend International Airport.

Twitter: NWS Chicago

The storm system caused widespread power outages across the region, and 170,000 customers were without power as of 4:00 p.m. EST on Saturday, November 5. According to the latest update by PowerOutage.us, around 10,000 customers in the Great Lakes region remain without power. Additionally, the Chicago region saw several delays and disruptions at airports and train systems due to halted service. The severe weather also caused infrastructure damage in the Chicago area, including lifting off the roof of an apartment building in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. No injuries have been reported as the result of the damaging winds or EF-0 tornado.

Twitter: Readygov

The NWS offers advice and guidance for those about to experience, currently impacted by, or previously affected by tropical storms and hurricanes. Individuals at risk are encouraged to secure their homes, remain up-to-date with information from their local NWS office and local government/emergency management office, and follow guidance issued by local officials. Storm surges that cause major flooding are especially dangerous and life-threatening impacts of major storms, so it is crucial to know how to stay safe during a flood. Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages individuals to take the necessary precautions and prepare for dangerous storms. It’s imperative to remember that flash floods can occur during storms with little to no warning, quickly changing the surrounding area. FEMA suggests individuals seek higher ground, avoid walking or driving in flood waters, and heed the warnings of local authorities. FEMA also reminds individuals experiencing flooding to “Turn Around, Don’t Drown!” –  six inches of moving water is all it takes to knock a person down, and vehicles can be swept away by just one foot of water. Major flooding also increases the likelihood of landslides and debris flow, which may pose severe risks to human life, land, and property. FEMA urges individuals to stay alert to instructions from their local emergency management agency, and to evacuate the area and move uphill as quickly as possible if in the path of a landslide. It is important to understand the warning signs, risks, and safety guidance associated with both fast- and slow-moving landslides. 

The Hagerty Blog Team will continue providing information and updates.

STAY UPDATED AND LEARN MORE HERE:

Public Health Emergencies are Increasing: We Must Proactively Prioritize Funding for our Nation’s Hospitals

Our nation’s hospitals continue to reel financially from the effects of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent analysis from Kaufman Hall, a strategic financial planning consultancy for the healthcare industry, indicates hospitals are experiencing the worst operating margins since the beginning of the pandemic. How can we expect our hospitals to respond over the coming weeks to patient surges from Respiratory Syncytial virus (RSV), flu, COVID-19, and any other future Public Health Emergencies (PHEs) when they are struggling to meet the demands of daily operations – keeping beds staffed and their doors open?

Hospitalizations are expected to continue rising over the next several weeks to months from an increase in severe COVID-19 cases, RSV, and a bad flu season, stretching our existing healthcare resources even further. In Connecticut, hospitals are currently in discussions with the National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish a site for medical tents to treat a large influx of pediatric patients with respiratory viruses. Across the country, 70 percent of pediatric beds are already full. The additional infrastructure, staff, supplies, and services needed to care for patients in excess of bed capacity that present during times of public health emergencies cost more than any potential reimbursement from commercial or governmental payors that reimburse healthcare delivery. Yet, our healthcare reimbursement system is not designed to cover the additional costs needed to both prepare and respond to public health emergencies, especially as we shift to a system of value and efficiency. Therefore, we must proactively prioritize public health preparedness federal funding for our country’s 6,093 hospitals.

Preparing for the Future

To realize a more resilient future while continuing to meet the consistently growing demands placed on our healthcare system, we must:

  • Develop a Federal PHE Patient Care Reimbursement Program. Just as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) activates response and recovery resources during a natural disaster, the United States (US) Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should build similar capacity. This should include not only staff, equipment, and supplies to support a surge but also the financial resources to fund the excess costs hospitals incur treating patients during a public health emergency. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals relied on funding from the federal government including from the Health & Human Services (HHS) Provider Relief Fund (PRF), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Department of Treasury (DOT) to offset a portion of expenses incurred to test, treat, and vaccinate COVID-19 patients. Considerations should be made as to how these types of expenses can be offset during future PHEs.
  • Approve Funding for National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan. This plan allocates $88 billion over five years for pandemic preparedness and biodefense with funding that will flow from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to hospitals and healthcare systems across the Nation. This funding will allow hospitals to detect PHEs earlier; stop outbreaks of viruses and diseases before they become pandemic; strengthen the timeliness of lab testing and vaccine development; and enhance surge capacity and overall preparedness.
  • Approve $47.1 billion in Emergency Funding. The White House is asking Congress for emergency funding to cover ongoing COVID-19 response needs such as treatment, testing, and vaccination; monkeypox response support for public health messaging, vaccination, testing, and treatment; and to stockpile and prepare for future public health emergencies.
  • Increase HHS Hospital Preparedness Program Funding. Currently, hospitals rely on HHS Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) funding to provide preparedness and mitigation-related activities. This program started in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, and provides $276 million per year to more than 6,000 hospitals across the country. Over the past 20 years, funding for this program has slowly been reduced by over 46 percent from its initial $515 million per year allocation in 2001. The present allocation of HPP funding equates to an average of $46,000 per hospital, which is often spent offsetting emergency preparedness salaries and equipment. This funding must be drastically increased so hospitals can create critical care capacity, stockpile supplies, plan, prepare, and build resiliency.

Climate change and vanishing forests are causing animals to interact more closely with humans as they search for food. Animals carry diseases that then spread to humans when they interact.  This, combined with the increased ability of global travel, leads to viral spread worldwide.  While we do not know when the next PHE – like the COVID-19 pandemic or the 1918 influenza epidemic – will be, we know new viruses are likely to present at far greater frequencies than before.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us the vast impact that PHEs can have on society. It is imperative that we invest now in healthcare preparedness so we can build upon lessons learned and ensure our healthcare system is ready to respond to PHEs they will likely face in the not-so-distant future.


Jeff Bokser is Hagerty Consulting’s Vice President of Healthcare Programs with strategic expertise in all aspects of healthcare operations, finance, organizational resiliency, institutional preparedness, and recovery. Jeff has over 20 years of experience as a senior leader at NewYork-Presbyterian and Yale New Haven Health and served as Incident Commander, guiding 40,000+ employees through numerous internal and external emergency response and recovery operations.

STARTING STRONG WITH STATE AND LOCAL CYBERSECURITY GRANT PROGRAM FUNDING

On September 16, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), via the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), announced the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program (SLCGP) in the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). This program, which is part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), is targeted toward state, local, and territorial governments and provides a total of $1 billion in funding, with $185 million appropriated for FY22. This funding is intended to be distributed among states and territories, with a pass-through requirement of at least 80 percent to be distributed to local units of government.

With FY22 SLCGP funding now available, state, local, and territorial governments should consider how they will use this funding to enhance their cybersecurity. CISA identifies three priority areas for the first year of the program:

  1. Establish a Cybersecurity Planning Committee that can lead entity-wide efforts;
  2. Develop a Cybersecurity Plan that addresses the entire jurisdiction and incorporates cybersecurity best practices; and
  3. Conduct assessments and evaluations to identify gaps that can be mitigated by individual projects throughout the life of the grant program.

Using these priority areas as a foundation, Hagerty offers the following recommendations for starting strong with the SLCGP and setting your organization up for success in cyber resilience.

State and Local Cybersecurity Program: CISA

LAUNCH ROBUST STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

The SLCGP requires applicant entities to establish a Cybersecurity Planning Committee to direct funding investments, project prioritization, and funding strategy. This group must include representatives from the applicant entity; the Chief Information Officer; local government; public education and health institutions; and rural, suburban, and high-population jurisdictions. In addition to these required participants, Hagerty recommends engaging cyber response partners, such as private sector information technology (IT) firms, regional governing bodies, military and law enforcement representatives, and critical infrastructure representatives.

While the grant requires a Cybersecurity Planning Committee at the state or territory level, local jurisdictions should also consider their own stakeholder engagement needs to support grant execution. Local jurisdictions can form their own planning teams or response groups to organize and coordinate grant-funded activities. Local jurisdictions should seek to engage a diverse set of cyber response partners, including local governmental agencies and elected officials.

Grant recipients at all levels can use robust stakeholder engagement to support successful grant implementation. By connecting key players, organizations can create avenues for information sharing and collaboration. State, territorial, and local governments should consider setting expectations and rules of engagement for their stakeholder groups early in the process to foster mutual understanding of goals, responsibilities, and procedures for the group. This may include establishing regular steady-state meetings, creating a standing meeting agenda, and setting up a digital document-sharing repository.

ESTABLISH AND EXPAND CYBER PLANS

An approved Cybersecurity Plan is one of the requirements of the SLCGP. However, applicants may use FY22 funding to develop a Cybersecurity Plan if they do not already have one in place. A well-developed cybersecurity strategic plan helps ensure that grant funding is used impactfully. These Cybersecurity Plans must include the 16 required elements outlined in the NOFO and should include investment justifications for all grant-funded projects. State and territorial governments should take advantage of this opportunity to develop an actionable cybersecurity strategic plan if they do not already have one. Strategic planning provides a unique opportunity to establish a desired end state for cybersecurity and identify concrete action steps to make progress toward that end state.

If your organization already has a strategic plan in place, you may consider expanding your current plans or developing new plans to support cyber preparedness, response, and recovery using best practices. This may include cyber continuity of operations plans and plans for specific types of cyber events, such as ransomware or a data breach. By starting with planning, organizations can help ensure they get the most value from their grant funding and develop planning products that reflect current best practices.

CONDUCT ASSESSMENTS TO KICKSTART A PATH FORWARD

Once organizations have their stakeholder groups and planning frameworks in place, they should consider conducting assessments and evaluations. Assessments are a key component of cybersecurity strategic plans, and it is likely that other work steps and projects will be dependent on the results of these assessments. By starting efforts with assessments and evaluations, organizations will receive critical data and insights into next steps, gaps, and capabilities that can inform activities for the remainder of the period of performance.

In addition to traditional vulnerability assessments, organizations should consider a broad range of assessment types to gather a comprehensive view of their organization’s capabilities and needs. Organizations should consider both technical and non-technical assessments, including organizational capacity assessments, general cybersecurity preparedness assessments, and policy and governance assessments. By prioritizing these assessment processes, organizations can help ensure their grant funded activities are backed by data from their organization, and that projects provide the most value for the grant funding.

HAGERTY CAN HELP

Hagerty’s team of professionals has experience managing and coordinating federal grant programs, as well as coast-to-coast experience in state and local cybersecurity. The Hagerty team is available to support state, territorial, and local governments with SLCGP funded projects, including in stakeholder engagement, cybersecurity planning, and cybersecurity assessments. Visit Cyber Threat Ready for more information on our cyber services and learn more about Hagerty’s full suite of infrastructure and grants management services here.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Erin Bajema is a Managing Associate and serves as Hagerty’s Cyber Sector Lead. Ms. Bajema is an emergency management professional with experience supporting several areas of emergency preparedness as an analyst, planner, evaluator, and instructional systems designer. Ms. Bajema has served on projects in a diverse range of subjects, including disaster recovery planning, housing, continuity of operations, active threat, energy resilience, and cybersecurity.

Wildfires Grow, with Little Containment, in the Pacific Northwest

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2022 AS OF 3:00 PM EST 

According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), there are currently 71 large fires that have burned 651,947 acres across the United States (US), most of which are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest states of Idaho, Montana, and Washington. Fifteen active fires are burning a combined total of 48,000 acres up and down the State of Washington alone, including the Nakia Creek Fire, located in the Larch Block of the Yacolt Burn State Forest, nine miles northeast of Camas, Washington, a city that lies on the Columbia River, bordering the State of Oregon. Officials discovered the Nakia Creek Fire on Sunday, October 9; as of Tuesday, October 18, it has burned 1,565 acres with 5 percent containment. In a statement released on Monday, October 17, the Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office requested the public’s assistance in identifying persons and a vehicle of interest as they continued their investigation of the fire’s cause. In the Tuesday, October 18 update from the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA), which provides emergency management services for Clark County, Washington, officials reported that steady progress was made battling the Nakia Creek Fire overnight due to the cooler temperatures and high relative humidity, even though fog limited responders’ visibility. In an update posted on Monday, October 17, CRESA officials warned that while conditions look favorable, the public should stay prepared and exhibit caution as the conditions can change at any time.

Twitter: CRESA Talk

EVACUATIONS

According to CRESA, the Nakia Creek Fire evacuation notices from the evening of Sunday, October 16, were still in effect as of Monday morning, October 17; however, in a Facebook post on the afternoon of Monday, October 17, CRESA noted that the evacuation zones are shrinking and some roads that were previously closed had been reopened. 

Generally speaking, there are three evacuation levels for wildfires: Level 1 – Get Ready, Level 2 – Get Set, and Level 3 – Go Now. According to the Washington Department of Natural Resources, a portion of Clark County is currently at Level 3 – Go Now. More than 2,900 homes were ordered to evacuate from the Nakia Creek Fire, with another 33,000 homes facing evacuation warnings. The Larch Corrections Center, located only about five miles from where the Nakia Creek fire is burning, was evacuated Sunday, October 16, and the incarcerated individuals are being temporarily housed in other corrections facilities. The Washougal School District canceled classes for all its schools on Monday, October 17. Two schools, Cape Horn-Skye Elementary and Canyon Creek Middle School, were both located in the Level 3 evacuation zone. At the request of CRESA, the American Red Cross Cascades announced on Sunday, October 16, that it had opened an evacuation shelter in Camas, Washington, to assist those forced to evacuate. Additional shelters have been set up in two other locations in Clark County, as well as a livestock shelter location. CRESA urged residents on their website to “Please be patient, but be prepared.”.

Protect Yourself and Your Community: US Fire Administration

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urges individuals to plan ahead for wildfire events, which can strike a community on short notice and spread quickly. FEMA encourages individuals to stay on top of the latest alerts in their area, including monitoring of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) National Weather Services (NWS) Red Flag Warnings, which indicate when critical fire weather conditions are occurring or will occur shortly. Individuals can also take advantage of real-time alerts available via the FEMA Mobile App and other local and national communication systems. It is also critical that households dedicate time together well in advance of a wildfire to create a wildfire action plan, including emergency meeting locations and evacuation routes, a communication plan, and an emergency supply kit, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CAL FIRE). FEMA implores individuals to heed the warnings of local authorities and immediately adhere to evacuation orders in order to stay safe during a wildfire.

RELATED STORIES