The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Vanessa Castillo, Liston Conrad, and Scott Baldwin

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. Given the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) recent announcements in its Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) and Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) programs over the past few weeks, we are excited to recognize the importance of proactive investments in community resilience this month by highlighting the work and perspective of several Hagerty Mitigation professionals.

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

Vanessa Castillo: I am an urban planner by trade and have always believed in adapting our built environment so that it functions not only for us but also reflects and adapts to the natural environment that it exists in. I started in Mitigation as a hazard mitigation planner for the Florida Division Emergency Management (FDEM). My career in Mitigation then brought me to the Colorado Division of Emergency Management (CDEM), where, as a mitigation specialist, I took a deep dive into implementing mitigation projects, including those that became critical to the work following Colorado’s historic floods in 2013. After my role with FDEM, I served as the City of Denver’s Environmental Planner, ensuring that critical housing and economic development projects successfully navigated the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) environmental review process. I was excited to get back into the mitigation world, especially in light of the unprecedented changes in the FEMA mitigation programs. Hagerty continues to provide me opportunities to help communities decipher these programs and put the funding to use in significant ways — critical wildfire, drought, and flood mitigation across the country. 

Liston Conrad: I obtained my Bachelor of Science (BS) in Commerce and Business Administration at the University of Alabama (UA) before pursuing my Master of Accountancy. Upon passing the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, I quickly realized the traditional accounting route was not for me. Right out of college, I worked for a CPA firm that, as an extension of its disaster recovery department, helped states and local jurisdictions recover from natural disasters. Through this experience, I had the opportunity to support a Gulf Coast state in its recovery from Hurricane Katrina for five years before moving west to assist a Rocky Mountain state with a hazard mitigation acquisition project. As that project came to a close, I moved to the East Coast to manage a HUD Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) housing program, assisting a community with recovery efforts from Hurricane Matthew. After almost 10 years of experience, I joined Hagerty Consulting.

Scott Baldwin: Before working at Hagerty, I worked for the state of Colorado as a hazard mitigation professional for 10 years in various capacities. During that time, I saw a significant evolution of FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) program. In 2018, the passage of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) signaled a watershed moment for hazard mitigation. Specifically, the significant increase in funding posed a considerable challenge to communities across the country as there was now a greater need for expertise in this area to assist and guide communities in accessing this funding. At that point, I knew I could no longer serve communities with the greatest need in my current position and sought a challenge that would enable me to assist communities with significant mitigation needs. Ultimately, I was excited both by the caliber of professionals at Hagerty as well as its commitment to serving its clients with integrity and excellence.

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

Vanessa Castillo: The work I do with communities to get impactful mitigation projects funded and completed is the most rewarding aspect of my job. Especially now, as the field is prioritizing communities that are most vulnerable to the social, economic, cultural, and environmental disruptions caused by natural disasters. As I see award-winning projects come to completion, I am eager to see how this work will improve how communities bounce back from future disaster disruptions. I am excited to participate in projects that prioritize whole community resiliency and climate adaptation. Climate change is not a distant possibility; it is a present-day reality and one that needs our urgent and engaged attention. Many of the mitigation projects being put forth today meet that need, and I am happy to be a part of a team that provides communities with the tools they need to get this urgent work done. 

Liston Conrad: The most rewarding aspect of my work involves assisting local jurisdictions with project development and seeing the projects awarded and implemented, reducing community risk. Mitigation involves forward-looking activities and proactive investments in community resilience to minimize the risks of future disaster suffering. A lot of the time, building strong relationships with community leaders is a critical component of my work. Informing local jurisdictions of the available mitigation opportunities and working closely with them to develop a project that strengthens their community is very rewarding.

Scott Baldwin: I find reward in helping communities identify and put forth the strongest mitigation proposals possible that address community needs and capacity while fully accounting for all the resources necessary to successfully implement projects in accordance with all applicable programmatic, environmental, and historic preservation, and procurement requirements. 

3. With the increase in BRIC funding, what should emergency management professionals know?

Vanessa Castillo: With the increase in BRIC funding, emergency management professionals must engage their counterparts in community planning, economic development, transportation, and other applicable professions to identify and scope projects that meet the goals and priorities of the BRIC program. FEMA has expanded the BRIC program to address the future risks of natural disasters and hazards, including devastating wildfires, severe heat waves, and chronic drought conditions. These circumstances mean that mitigation exceeds the emergency management profession and must be addressed in a multi-disciplined approach where all relevant stakeholders are brought to the table.

Liston Conrad: While the increase in funding opens many doors and opportunities to enrich communities and bolster resiliency, emergency management professionals must recognize the program’s highly selective and nationally competitive allocation process. It is never too early to begin project development, whether that is engineering design or feasibility studies. BRIC projects are large in scale and must have resources devoted to both sub-application development and project implementation.

Scott Baldwin: With the significant increase in BRIC funding made available to communities, emergency management professionals must know that this funding is incredibly time- and labor-intensive to access. In addition, this added funding is forcing FEMA to re-evaluate how it defines mitigation, particularly as communities are experiencing the increasingly dire impacts of climate change. Thus, as the number and intensity of climate disaster events continue to grow, FEMA’s HMA program is expected to expand accordingly with numerous anticipated updates in the coming years. 

That said, FEMA’s last HMA guidance was issued in 2015; and, to adequately address the ever-expanding needs and consequences of climate change, the guidance should be refreshed to expressly encourage projects that aim to minimize carbon footprints and inherently reduce wildfire, flood, and drought risks both on a national and global scale.This year’s BRIC Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) encourages communities to incorporate nature-based solutions designed to reduce carbon emissions and evaluate the carbon footprint of projects they are proposing. In my opinion, these are the first steps toward the federal government’s recognition that a “whole community” approach to leveraging all available funding, inclusive of mitigation, must be used to address climate impacts.

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

Vanessa Castillo: Communities must utilize the funding mechanisms that help them develop mitigation strategies. The federal mitigation programs offer various tools to help communities develop mitigation strategies and projects. Under BRIC, these resources include non-financial Direct Technical Assistance (DTA) and Capability and Capacity Building (C&CB). Through non-financial DTA, FEMA helps communities identify, develop, and implement mitigation strategies. Under C&CB activities, communities can submit for project scoping funds to help build the technical body of work needed to support FEMA mitigation project sub-applications. Communities interested in either DTA or applying under C&CB should engage their State Hazard Mitigation Officer (SHMO) early in the application process to obtain their buy-in for the community’s proposal. 

Liston Conrad: With FEMA making over $2 million available through the BRIC program this grant cycle, local jurisdictions have never been in a better position to pursue mitigation dollars to strengthen their communities. Depending on the region’s geographical location and potential hazards, communities must make resiliency a focus. For instance, as hotter and drier summers continue to escalate wildfire risks in western states, communities must take action now by implementing projects that reduce fuel load and harden home infrastructure against ember attacks. 

Scott Baldwin: The challenges posed by climate change force FEMA to reassess its definition of the eligible activities it is willing to fund under this program. In communities with the resources and capacity to accept the risk of pursuing projects that push the boundaries of what have been traditionally eligible projects, FEMA is now more than ever rewarding applicants. The communities with projects that credibly mitigate natural hazard risk in an unorthodox method and can demonstrate the feasibility of this approach through a smaller proof of concept or via feasibility studies are strong candidates for the BRIC program. I strongly encourage such communities to evaluate the BRIC program as a viable option to fund these activities on a larger scale.

5. What are you passionate about outside of work?

Vanessa Castillo: I am passionate about making sure we preserve our natural wonders and wilderness and leave it better than we found it. I am also a proponent of carless transportation, including bike commuting, public transit, and pedestrian transport. 

Liston Conrad: I absolutely love the mountains. Whether it’s camping, hiking, skiing, or fly fishing, you will find me enjoying the outdoors outside of work. 

Scott Baldwin: Outside of work, I am passionate about spending time with my family and friends. 

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


Vanessa Castillo is a Deputy Director of Mitigation with experience in the implementation of the FEMA mitigation programs. Before joining Hagerty, she was a Mitigation Specialist with the state of Colorado, where she contributed her expertise to the successful implementation of more than $65 million in the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) for Colorado’s largest disaster.

Liston Conrad is a Senior Recovery and Mitigation Manager with experience in the implementation of FEMA mitigation and Public Assistance (PA) programs along with housing and infrastructure programs funded through CDBG-DR. With over 10 years of experience in disaster recovery, Liston has helped five states navigate the complexities that disasters bring, including wildfires, hurricanes, and extreme floods.

Scott Baldwin is a Senior Recovery and Mitigation Manager and a subject matter expert (SME) in natural hazard mitigation in both the pre- and post-disaster recovery environments. With over 10 years of experience in FEMA’s HMA and PA programs, Scott has worked closely with communities across multiple states to identify, develop, and implement mitigation and recovery solutions tailored to their needs.

THE HAGERTY ADVANTAGE – OUR PEOPLE: HAGERTY’S INTERNS

 

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. In honor of National Intern Day this month, we are highlighting some of Hagerty’s Interns to discuss their professional development and what led them to the Hagerty team. This summer, Hagerty recruited a diverse group of interns from many different locations, educational backgrounds, and professional interests.

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

Kai Barrett-Bennett: I am currently studying on the pre-law path at Emory University. This summer, I wanted to begin expanding my work experience into the office space, and my position as an intern for the Human Resources (HR) department has helped me accomplish that.

Grace Maliborski: My name is Grace Maliborski, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. Currently, I am pursuing my Master of Public Health, focusing on biosecurity and disaster preparedness at Saint Louis University (SLU). Coincidingly, I am an intern in the Hospital and University Program within Hagerty. This internship fulfills my practicum requirement for graduate school. With the assistance of SLU alumni, I found my place within Hagerty!

Rachel Olatunji: I am a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt University, majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in psychology. I started working at Hagerty Consulting the summer after my sophomore year of high school as a finance and accounting intern. I have always enjoyed administrative and organizational tasks, so I wanted my first job to be in an office rather than a typical restaurant or retail position. I have continued to work here ever since. This summer, I am also participating in a sports marketing internship at Northwestern University alongside working at Hagerty.

Sydney Williams: I am based in Mobile, Alabama, and am currently wrapping up my final semester of college at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) as a marketing major and graphic design minor. I was introduced to Hagerty through my parents, who have worked as independent contractors supporting disaster recovery operations, specifically the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Public Assistance (PA) program, for the last few years. Inspired to learn more about the industry, I began taking free independent study courses in my spare time between college classes through FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and perusing Hagerty’s hiring page on their website. As soon as I saw a digital marketing internship, I jumped on the opportunity, and the rest is history.

2. What is something you learned during your internship that you’ll take with you?

Kai Barrett-Bennett: I learned during my internship experience the importance of networking and finding opportunities to grow your career.

Grace Maliborski: I have learned something new every day that I have spent with Hagerty! As most of my course work focuses on preparedness and mitigation, something that I will definitely take with me is the exposure I have received to the recovery and response divisions. Disaster response and recovery are extremely important facets of emergency management, and I am grateful to have been introduced to them through my work this summer. I have also learned that emergency management professionals come from very different backgrounds, which leads to Hagerty having a diverse staff with extensive educational and professional experiences. 

Rachel Olatunji: Something I will take with me from my time at Hagerty is how to communicate when dealing with a challenging situation. In my first summer as an intern, I was responsible for auditing expense reports for Hagerty’s employees and consultants. As a 15-year-old, emailing people I’d never met was daunting, but I learned how to communicate my needs to them confidently and professionally. 

Sydney Williams: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given during this experience is to “embrace the discomfort.” This internship has taught me that personal growth rarely occurs within comfort zones. Some of my proudest achievements as an intern have occurred when I pushed myself and took risks within my various tasks. The great thing about the Hagerty is that even when you go out on a limb, you have an endlessly supportive team behind you that’s motivating you to succeed. As I move forward in my career, I will continue to push myself and reclaim discomfort as progress of my personal growth.

3. Which of the firm’s core values resonates with you the most and why?

Kai Barrett-Bennett: The value of integrity is what has stood out to me the most this summer. During my brief time in HR, I have seen how Hagerty puts what is right above what is easy.

Grace Maliborski: The core value I have felt most through my work this summer is teamwork. With Jeff Bokser, Vice President of Healthcare and University Programs, as my preceptor/supervisor, I have had the opportunity to meet people in many different divisions of the company who have offered me amazing advice and insight. As an intern, I have been able to collaborate with various teams while observing and adding to their work. The more time I spend at Hagerty, the more this core value of teamwork reveals itself. 

Rachel Olatunji: The value that resonates the most with me is integrity. I believe that loyalty and honesty are two of the most critical components in all relationships, and those two values fall under the umbrella of integrity. Having integrity in the workplace means being dependable by consistently showing up to meetings on time and doing what is expected of you so that others can successfully do their jobs.

Sydney Williams: Hagerty’s core value that resonates the most with me is innovation. In an industry like emergency management, where the playing field is constantly evolving, organizations must regularly innovate and adapt to the challenges of change. On a personal level, innovation in action means challenging my own thinking and adopting a mindset of continuous improvement to be the best that I can be.

4. What are you passionate about outside of work?

Kai Barrett-Bennett: Outside of work, I am an avid soccer fan. I closely follow the United States (US) and Jamaican national teams and am also a Liverpool Football Club (FC) supporter.

Grace Maliborski: At the beginning of the summer, I moved to New York City (NYC) and have since enjoyed exploring the city’s boroughs and scenic running routes (there are so many great running spots here)! In addition, I have enjoyed finding lots of great thrift stores and purchasing some sustainable new clothes.

Rachel Olatunji: I am truly passionate about sports and cooking. I played soccer, tennis, and basketball year-round for all four high school years and thoroughly enjoyed the competitive energy and team camaraderie. In addition, I have always enjoyed cooking and baking, as my mom instilled that joy in me at a young age. During my freshman year of college, 15 of my friends and I took a trip, and I got to cook all the meals for everyone. We had a great time listening to music while enjoying the yummy smells in the kitchen.

Sydney Williams: Outside of work, I am passionate about baking and spending time with my friends and family. Baking has always been a therapeutic activity and creative outlet for me. In addition to work and school, I have run a home bakery business for the past few years, selling cakes and decorated sugar cookies. Thanks to my friends and family, I always have a long line of volunteer taste-testers.

5. Where is one place in the world you would like to travel and why?

Kai Barrett-Bennett: I would like to visit either Australia or Brazil. These two countries’ cultures and natural landscapes have always intrigued me.

Grace Maliborski: As SLU offers a campus in Madrid, Spain, many of my friends had the opportunity to study abroad there, encouraging me to move Madrid to the top of my list! In addition to its historical architecture and rich Spanish culture, Madrid is also known for its pedestrian-friendly streets as one of the world’s most walkable cities.

Rachel Olatunji: One place in the world that I would like to travel to is Greece because my mom and I have been talking about making a mother-daughter trip there for the past few years. We always enjoy traveling to new places together. I also really enjoy fashion and think Greece would be a great destination to pull out some of my more exciting outfits.

Sydney Williams: I have a long bucket list of places I’d like to visit, but Wyoming has long been at the top of my list. Specifically, I would love to go to Jackson Hole and visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

To learn more about Hagerty’s team of professionals, visit our people page here.

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Kai Barrett-Bennett is a second-year student pursuing pre-law at Emory University. Kai has supported the Hagerty team as an HR Intern since June 2022 and hopes to gain administrative and office experience this summer through this opportunity. 

Grace Maliborski is a first year graduate student pursuing an accelerated Master of Public Health degree with a declared concentration in biosecurity and disaster preparedness at SLU. As part of her Masters program, Grace is completing a practicum with Hagerty as a Recovery Intern within the Healthcare and Universities division. 

Rachel Olatunji is a second-year student at Vanderbilt University, majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in psychology. This summer, Rachel continues to serve as Hagerty’s Finance Intern, in addition to participating in a sports marketing internship at Northwestern University.

Sydney Williams is finishing her final year of undergraduate studies at USM where she will graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) in Marketing this Summer 2022. Sydney is currently supporting Hagerty’s Communications team as the Digital Marketing Intern and aspires to continue her career at the firm upon completion of her remaining courses.

THE HAGERTY ADVANTAGE – OUR PEOPLE: MACKENZIE FORGACS AND TANVI PATEL

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. This month, we highlight some of Hagerty’s new Associate professionals. We discuss their professional background and experience and how it led them to the Hagerty team. 

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

Mackenzie Forgacs: My name is Mackenzie Forgacs, but I go by Mackie to all of my friends and family, including my new Hagerty family! I currently reside in the beautiful city of Asheville, North Carolina—known for its hiking opportunities in the Blue Ridge Mountains, great food, and, as the large painted water tower downtown states, its “chill vibes.” 

Prior to joining the Hagerty team, I worked as the Preparedness Coordinator for a local emergency management agency. Working at the local level allowed me to take on a jack-of-all-trades role, formulating all of our Public Assistance (PA) projects, conducting training and exercises for other local agencies, and working in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during response efforts. This role opened my eyes to the private side of emergency management, which ultimately led me to Hagerty Consulting.

Tanvi Patel: I am based out of Austin, TX, and a proud alumnus of Texas A&M University. I unexpectedly stumbled upon the exciting field of emergency management through the relationships I built during an internship with the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Trauma Systems Department at the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). Through networking, I met with the Emergency Management Coordinator for my university, who gave me my formal introduction to the field of emergency management. My interest peaked immediately, and I soon found myself working at the State Medical Operations Center (SMOC) as a part of the state’s COVID-19 response team. During this response operation, I learned the importance of strong public health infrastructure, resilient communities, and overall emergency preparedness efforts. Through colleagues at DSHS SMOC, I was introduced to Hagerty Consulting, and the rest is history!

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

Mackenzie Forgacs: For me, the most rewarding aspects of emergency management are the opportunities to be there for individuals during some of their most difficult days. As we all know too well, disasters do not discriminate, and they can impact individuals in any place, at any time. My role in this field can often provide a small glimpse of light on someone’s darkest days. Spending my life in service of others, even if it is something as “behind the scenes” as working through spreadsheets or reading over contracts, gives me purpose and pushes me through each day. Our work matters and has a significant impact on people’s lives, even if it may sometimes seem small.

Tanvi Patel: As a professional in emergency management, I find it humbling to play an essential and direct role in helping communities become more resilient and helping people whose lives have been affected by crises. Not only has my job as an emergency management professional equipped me with the knowledge and skills needed to serve our clients, but it has genuinely helped me develop a better perspective on the challenges that our clients and communities face today. A career in emergency management is both exciting and challenging as it allows you to engage with and learn from partners across various disciplines to work towards a common goal.

3. Which of the firm’s core values resonates with you the most and why?

Mackenzie Forgacs: The core value that resonates with me the most is Integrity. From a young age, my father would tell me that “integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.” Although he would often use this as a speech to keep me out of trouble, this saying has never been more applicable to me than in my time as a working professional. 

Tanvi Patel: Hagerty’s values of Innovation and Excellence resonate with me the most. Every day, I see that the work my colleagues and I do is driven by clients’ best interests. We collaborate as a team and leverage our expertise, experiences, and skills to produce the best and most innovative results for our clients. Being a part of an organization that fosters creative thinking and recognizes clients’ unique needs allows us to deliver the best, most suitable, and sustainable solutions for those we serve. 

4. What are you passionate about outside of work?

Mackenzie Forgacs: Outside of work, I have a multitude of passions! The first that comes to mind is any and all outdoor activities. I love camping, boating on lakes, playing sports, and hiking with my wife, Nikki, and our five-year-old dog, Summit! Beyond spending time with loved ones, traveling also holds a very special place in my heart. The opportunity to experience other cultures and learn from different perspectives is a type of passion that can only be fulfilled by opening yourself up to the world around you!

Tanvi Patel: Traveling is one of my greatest passions. Exposure to new environments, people, and cultures is truly an educational and fulfilling experience as it allows me to grow as a person and step out of my comfort zone. 

5. Where is one place in the world you would like to travel and why?

Mackenzie Forgacs: There are so many incredible places that I wish to visit. The list is truly endless, but the next destination I want to travel to is Italy—who doesn’t love pizza and pasta? With so many beautiful places in the world to travel to, this feels like it would be a great place to start!

Tanvi Patel: I have a very long travel list, but Italy is towards the top! In addition to its beautiful culture and food, the country has a rich history and incredible architecture that I would love to learn more about. I have heard nothing but great things from those who have visited Italy and hope I get to experience it for myself soon!

To learn more about Hagerty’s Federal Funds Management services, visit our service line page here.

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Mackenzie Forgacs is a recovery associate with five plus years of experience in the public and nonprofit sectors coordinating the function and operation of mitigation, response, recovery, preparedness, mission support, and grants programs. She holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree in Emergency Management from Columbia Southern University and has participated in disaster recovery efforts in both the federal and county level.

Tanvi Patel is a preparedness associate with a multidisciplinary background in disaster management, healthcare consulting, and public health. In her role at Hagerty, she has supported response and recovery initiatives related to After-Action Reports (AAR), COVID-19 Improvement Plan (IP) development, and emerging grant funding such as the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Tom Leatherbee and Rachel Knoblach

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. Within our Recovery division, we proudly staff a team of subject matter experts (SME’s) dedicated to helping clients navigate complex federal disaster programs and secure every available funding source. Today, we highlight two of Hagerty’s Recovery professionals supporting our American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) team.

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

Tom Leatherbee: After college, I ran several political campaigns and worked in the insurance industry. Most of my professional career has been in public administration within the City of Syracuse, NY, and the City of Del City, OK. During my 15 years with Del City, I worked in Planning, Community Development, Economic Development, and City Administration departments and led efforts to refocus all city activities through a lens of positive redevelopment. Del City is a tremendously flood-prone community, which led to my involvement with state and national stormwater organizations. This eventually led me to Hagerty.

Rachel Knoblach: I was in graduate school and working as a research assistant for the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCCJ) at Florida State University (FSU) at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to my campus closing, classes being postponed, and the undergraduate courses I was teaching transitioned online. During this time, I began to look for an opportunity to support what was mounting to be an unprecedented emergency response to a global pandemic. I took an internship with an emergency management firm supporting the COVID-19 response in my community, and in the span of six months, I assisted in the development of two COVID-19-informed planning frameworks, participated in emergency response drills, supported disaster recovery projects, and processed invoices totaling over $450 million for frontline healthcare workers. After finishing my master’s program, I reached out to a former colleague about opportunities with Hagerty Consulting — a decision that would ultimately lead to a fulfilling career with this company. 

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

Tom Leatherbee: Emergency management is a microcosm of our society and an opportunity for creative problem-solving. In Oklahoma, I played a part in creating the nation’s first volunteer flood disaster response team, which allowed me to experience, learn, and then teach about response, recovery, mitigation, and resilience. I find it particularly rewarding when policy and politics can come together to help impacted communities rebuild in a smart, sustainable way.

In my role managing several engagements within the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) portfolio, I have the opportunity to prepare detailed program design work. On any given day, I support a diverse number of projects with varying goals.

Rachel Knoblach: Working in the field of Emergency Management during the COVID-19 pandemic response creates a sense of urgency and purpose. State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial (SLTT) governments have been preparing for, responding to, and recovering from wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other disasters while actively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day, I have an opportunity to help a community work through challenges created and exacerbated by COVID-19. I work closely with our clients to build programs designed to deploy ARPA funds in ways that address their community’s most pressing recovery needs. This work helps communities respond to the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuild, and be better prepared on the long road to recovery.

3. How does your work as a Federal Funds Management professional support the firm’s overall mission: helping people before, during, and after disasters?

Tom Leatherbee: Federal Funds Management is an umbrella concept that includes identifying needs, prioritizing solutions, matching available funding streams, and implementing projects while focusing on effective administration and developing a robust compliance infrastructure. Effective Federal Funds Management allows a community to go beyond basic recovery efforts to seek structural and functional changes that will reduce future risk and build toward a sustainable future. Because it includes the entire funding lifecycle, from community engagement and needs assessment to program evaluation and audit, Federal Funds Management is what unites preparedness, mitigation, resilience-building, response, and recovery activities.

Rachel Knoblach: As a Federal Funds Management professional, I help our clients understand how to address their needs by pursuing these federal funding opportunities. The unprecedented funding opportunities stemming from the ARPA State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides communities across the country with the resources to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. These resources create opportunities for historic investments in broadband, transportation, and water infrastructure; mental health and housing interventions; and mitigation and resiliency planning. Communities can leverage the $1.2 trillion under the IIJA and their allocation under the $350 billion SLFRF program to amplify the impact of available resources on local response and recovery efforts.

4. How can communities best utilize their ARPA allocations?

Tom Leatherbee: ARPA, and particularly the SLFRF program, was created with two goals: to respond to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitate investments that would foster future resilience. Whether designing a program to respond to a negative economic impact or scoping an eligible infrastructure project, communities should prioritize long-term solutions over the temptation of short-term successes. SLFRF program funds are some of the most flexible federal dollars ever made available to communities, which underscores the need for meaningful outreach to internal and external stakeholders to identify fundamental needs within the community. SLFRF funds should work to leverage other available funding streams, including those contained in the IIJA.

Rachel Knoblach: ARPA funding is designed to help communities respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its myriad of impacts. Governments can best utilize this opportunity by leveraging and investing in federal support from the ARPA to bridge gaps in local budgets, invest in infrastructure, and meet the needs of impacted and disproportionately impacted populations and communities. One recommended approach is to assess needs, identify resources available for each need, and prioritize funding opportunities. For example, communities interested in investing in infrastructure may use SLFRF under the revenue loss eligibility category to meet the non-federal cost share or matching requirements for a variety of programs under the IIJA.

5. What are you passionate about outside of work?

Tom Leatherbee: I have a 12-year-old who plays hockey all across North America, and I have been lucky enough to get involved as a youth hockey coach. I also have three large dogs and a small turtle who occasionally attend and contribute to project meetings.

Rachel Knoblach: On Friday nights, my home office transforms into a stained glass studio. I spend my mornings and cloudy days creating beautiful suncatchers and plant stakes. When I am not working in my studio, I enjoy walking through the woods and along the water in search of fossils, geodes, pottery, and sea glass.

To learn more about Hagerty’s Federal Funds Management services, visit our service line page here.


Tom Leatherbee is a public administrator with over 15 years of experience in planning, administration, and regulatory compliance matters. As a Senior Managing Associate at Hagerty, he has provided significant support for recovery and investment projects stemming from ARPA efforts in numerous county programs. 

Rachel Knoblach is an associate with diverse leadership experience across a variety of fields. Ms. Knoblach has contributed to a diverse portfolio of ARPA projects, and she has supported work related to ARPA program design, administration, compliance, and reporting. Ms. Knoblach has advised policymakers and industry leaders on strategic approaches from utilizing federal funds to complement existing priorities to addressing community recovery needs.

The Hagerty Advantage: Our People: Katie Freeman and Tori Abbott

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. In honor of Women’s History Month, today we highlight two extraordinary female leaders in the field of professional emergency management that lead our Operations Team.

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

Katie Freeman: After finishing my master’s program at the Heinz School at Carnegie Mellon, I was lucky to be offered my first choice job with the United States (US) Government Accountability Office (GAO). Working with GAO was wonderful, but I was looking for something that was a bit more challenging and taxing, and I started to look into consulting. What attracted me to Hagerty initially was our public sector focus – though I had no direct experience in emergency management, I was excited to be joining an organization where I would offer my time and talents to address critical issues in the public sector. Over my (close to) 14 years at Hagerty, I’ve served as a consultant, project manager, and was made the Director of Operations in 2014.

Tori Abbott: I graduated with a degree in Recreation and Parks Management from Frostburg State University, and after four years working for Baltimore County Government managing several regional parks and community recreation councils, I decided to make a change. Proposal development and management is something that appeals to my organized nature, as I am one of those rare birds that genuinely enjoys a good exercise in compliance. After working in both the Architectural/Engineering and Healthcare Data Analytics space, a former colleague reached out to me to tell me about this amazing company, Hagerty Consulting, and that I needed to meet Katie Freeman – the rest is history.

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

Katie Freeman: The importance of our mission is what keeps me going and I cannot think of a more rewarding field to work in. With Hagerty, I’m also in the very lucky position to hear feedback from our clients about the impact of our teams. Those conversations remind me that what we are collectively working on is important with significant purpose

Tori Abbott: Knowing that what we do genuinely makes a difference in people’s lives. Period.

3. How does your work as an operations professional support the firm’s overall mission: helping people before, during, and after disasters?

Katie Freeman: As the Director of Operations and member of the Senior Leadership Team, I’m directly involved in Hagerty’s mission every day; and I feel that way about the Operations Team at large. Each project team is a customer of ours and it is our mission to support you as you support our clients.

As it applies to my position directly, I’m involved in our efforts to pursue and win work; collaborate with our project managers to comply with contract requirements; ensure my team has the right resources to support our project teams; and collaborate with the Senior Leadership Team during active response operations (among other duties). I am actively engaged across our mission areas – preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation — and do all that I can to ensure the firm has the right resources to fulfill our mission.

Tori Abbott: Often, Hagerty professionals are interacting with people on their worst days, on operations that can span anywhere from months to years. The work that our Operations Team does allows those project-dedicated individuals to do their jobs with minimal interruptions and ensures that we are always providing the best service to our clients.

4. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Katie Freeman: I have just completed my first year as a Board Member for One Tail at a Time, an animal rescue organization in Chicago that works across the region to make pet ownership joyful and accessible while also supporting those pets who are already in homes via mutual aid and community veterinary programs. That has been occupying quite a bit of my free time! I also enjoy bowling and have been in a league for several years with a few Hagerty alums.

Tori Abbott: Spending time with my family and my critters!


Katie Freeman is an emergency management professional with extensive experience in training and exercises, disaster housing, capabilities assessments, and emergency planning. The breadth of her experience cuts a wide swath within emergency management, making her an ideal project manager for many types of assignments. As the Director of Operations for Hagerty, she is involved with nearly every client proposal and assignment.

Tori Abbott is an emergency management professional with 15 years of experience as a proposal manager and writer. As an Operations Manager for Hagerty, she oversees the proposal team, and leads proposal development and coordination. She is also formerly certified as a Wilderness First Responder and Search and Rescue in both cave and water rescue.

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Austin Barlow, Erin Bajema, and Agnieszka Krotzer

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month and an important time to better understand the cyber risks you, families, businesses, and communities may face. Here, the Hagerty Cyber Team explains what they think are the most pressing cyber risks businesses and communities face today, answer questions about what led them to Hagerty, and discuss what they find rewarding about being in the field of cybersecurity.


How did your career path lead you to Hagerty Consulting?

Austin: I’m driven by two main things: opportunities to build a culture of preparedness and the integration between emergency management and emerging technologies. My passion for helping communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters really cemented itself through my year of service as a Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Corps Team Leader. After my experience with FEMA Corps supporting New Jersey’s response to and recovery from Hurricane Sandy, I supported New York City Emergency Management’s (NYCEM’s) Ready New York program and became interested in education, training, and exercises. My Master of Public Administration (MPA) program at George Washington University (GWU) brought me back in touch with a former mentor from my time with American Red Cross and he introduced me to the world of consulting, where I met some of the wonderful role models and colleagues that would eventually familiarize me with Hagerty! Now I get to support Hagerty’s Preparedness Division by applying my experiences and expertise with planning, training, and exercises.

Erin: I started my career with Hagerty after graduating with a Bachelor’s in Global Studies, with a focus in security and cooperation. I had some experience in the nonprofit sector, but I was brand new to emergency management. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects spanning our preparedness services, including plan development, exercise design, and instructional design. Some of my first projects were in cyber disruption planning, which led me to develop a deep interest in the interconnection between cybersecurity and overall community preparedness. 

Agnieszka: I joined Hagerty after receiving my Bachelor’s degree in International Politics with a concentration in national security and a minor in Arabic. I have experience working and interning with academic institutions, nonprofit organizations, and think tanks, mostly focused on research. Although I loved researching emerging threats, I wanted to concretely see how I could apply the concepts I was learning in a way that would help people, which is where Hagerty came in. I joined Hagerty as a Preparedness Associate in February 2021, supporting the active threat and cyber sectors. Since then, I have worked on plans, training, and exercises preparing for a range of threats, from a domestic terrorist attack to a nationwide attack on the electricity grid.

What do you find most rewarding about working in the field of emergency management, especially as a cyber professional?

Austin: Our world is shifting and evolving constantly, and it takes a lot of work from the whole community to remain resilient against the emergent threats that are growing with us. With the expanding role of cyberspace in our lives, the pace of technological change can feel staggering. I am grateful to be able to merge my interests and abilities in a way that allows me to support others with building capabilities and staying resilient against cyber incidents.

Erin: I find the ability to empower communities to make incremental changes that lead to long-term resilience as part of my job to be incredibly gratifying. This has been the case across the projects I’ve supported, from pre-disaster recovery planning, to active threat drills, to cybersecurity planning. When the world feels overwhelming, I take comfort in the ability to support those incremental changes that make communities more prepared to withstand disasters. This is no different with cybersecurity; as more and more of our lives move online and into the cloud, cyber incidents have the ability to affect so much more than just data and systems. I’m grateful that my job allows me to support progress toward creating more cyber secure communities.

Agnieszka: One of my favorite aspects of working in emergency management is engaging directly with stakeholders to create plans, trainings, and exercises that address critical threats in a way that best serves their communities. I have really enjoyed educating communities on complex concepts like cyber preparedness in a way that is relevant to their specific roles and their specific community. Beyond just delivering products, my teams at Hagerty have always strived to empower stakeholders with the knowledge and tools to create more resilient communities themselves, and I am grateful to be a part of that effort.

What do you think are the most pressing cyber risks businesses and communities face today?

Austin: Cyber attacks are growing in sophistication and variety, and we need to be prepared for that landscape to continue to evolve, as new threat vectors form and previous points of security become vulnerable or weaponized. Broadly speaking, the most pressing cyber risk that businesses and communities face today is: disruption. It is critical for businesses and communities to incorporate cyber incident considerations into efforts to plan, organize, train, exercise, and improve. Similar to emergency management, cybersecurity cannot succeed in a vacuum, and efforts involving the whole community are needed to maintain continuity in the face of future causes of disruption.

Erin: In our increasingly digital world, both business and communities are facing unprecedented cyber risks; both in the quantity of threats and the attack vectors available to malicious actors. However, I think one important risk to note is the risk that cyber-kinetic threats, or those threats with cascading impacts on both cyber and physical infrastructure, pose. These events have shown time and time again the need for pre-event coordination and communication, and I think those capabilities are something almost any business or community can work to enhance.

Agnieszka: I believe that one of the most pressing cyber risks to communities is the lack of understanding of cyber threats. Although cybersecurity is highly technical, community-level cyber preparedness should not be difficult to understand. We need to teach our communities how to protect themselves from data breaches or getting hacked in the same way that we teach our communities to stop, drop, and roll during a fire.

How can individuals do their part to be more cyber-aware?

Austin: The language of cyber, so to speak, is growing increasingly relevant. With that in mind, this is a question where I want to encourage learning how to fish, rather than simply offering a fish. I’d encourage embracing conversations and news topics that drift into unfamiliar or technical areas, and ask questions or research answers along the way. Next time you see or hear “cyber” mentioned, tune-in!

Erin: As fundamental as it sounds, basic cyber hygiene at home and at work are critical. As the cyber threat landscape becomes more complex and cyber threats become more sophisticated, the basic good habits of personal cybersecurity become all the more important. Being aware of your passwords, your authentication systems, and which of your home devices are connected to the internet is a great place to start!

Agnieszka: I think it is so important to understand how to protect your privacy online. If you have never done a full audit of what information about you is available to the public and what information you have given to companies (e.g., social media or fitness apps), I would highly recommend it. Google yourself (then try different search engines as the results will be different!) and think about what information you don’t want to be easily accessible or breached. Some simple things like deleting old social media posts, using an email address with no personal information in it, and disabling certain app permissions can make a big difference in the long run.

What are you passionate about outside of work?

Austin: I love to cook. I often find myself using food and kitchen related analogies at work. The kitchen is where I find space to be creative with ingredients and processes, and it’s fun being able to taste the outcomes. My other great passion is martial arts – I have been practicing Aikido since my high school years. I find sword-work particularly therapeutic.

Erin: After so much time spent inside in the past few years, I’ve rediscovered my love of nature. I spend as much time as I can hiking and camping in my free time!

Agnieszka: I love to bake! I worked as a baker in a cake pop shop in high school and the habit stuck. I recently baked my first apple pie of the season and am looking forward to more fall treats.


Austin Barlow is a planning, training, and exercise project manager with a background that includes disaster fieldwork, employment in support of all levels of government, and formal training and education in the development and implementation of emergency management policy. Mr. Barlow has led and supported national-scale projects, programs, and technologies, with a focus on strengthening whole community partnerships, addressing vulnerabilities, and building critical capabilities. 

Erin 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, hazard mitigation, active threat, evacuation, damage assessment, and cybersecurity.

Agnieszka Krotzer is a preparedness associate at Hagerty. Formerly, she served as a Targeting/Open-Source Intelligence Analyst Intern with D4C Global LLC, responsible for researching intelligence practices in the Middle East related to nuclear proliferation to brief clients engaged in vulnerable industries. Her work in international relations has shaped her approach to preparedness, and she serves Hagerty on a series of projects related to after action reporting (AAR) and COVID-19 response and recovery.

The Hagerty Advantage: Our People: Cory Brown and Megan Krentsa

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. Throughout the months of June and July, we will be profiling several of Hagerty’s Response professionals – many of whom have been deployed continuously over the past year helping our clients respond to COVID-19 and other natural hazards.


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

Cory Brown: I grew up in and around construction most of my life. After graduating from the University of West Georgia in 2008, I went into the field of construction management with my first project in Orange Beach, Alabama. Unfortunately, the timing could not have been worse for starting a professional career in construction at the peak of the housing crisis. After working through a deflated housing market for two years the unthinkable happened; the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico unleashing the largest oil spill ever in United States (US) waters. I rushed in to help, initially as a volunteer, but was quickly hired on as an operations technician where I was first introduced to Incident Command System ICS which changed my life forever. Over the years I have bounced back and forth between emergency response and construction and have had the opportunity to hone my skills in both fields. After closing out the Sheltering & Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program in the US Virgin Islands (VI) after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, I was introduced to Hagerty Consulting. Hagerty’s value system and focus on people, integrity, and leadership is what drew me in and made it an easy decision to join the team.

Megan Krentsa: I began my career as a paramedic, and worked in emergency medical services and medical education until 2017, when I began graduate school to earn my Master of Science degree in Medical Physiology. I ran an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) program in Washington, DC that placed defibrillators in public buildings and trained the public on their use. I was working with a community paramedic program in St. Louis as COVID-19 began to spread and then began working with Hagerty in April 2020 to assist with their COVID-19 response.

What do you find most rewarding about working in the field of emergency management, especially as a disaster response professional?

Cory Brown: I feel a deep sense of purpose knowing that I am making a difference in people’s lives and their communities. Sadly, major disasters often begin with immeasurable loss. But, one of the most rewarding aspects of this profession is to witness people rise up, face extraordinary challenges, and create resiliency within themselves and their community.

Megan Krentsa: I have loved working with such hardworking and passionate individuals who are committed to improving the lives of those in their communities. The professionals I have had the privilege of working with truly care about doing good in their communities and work tirelessly to respond to changing needs that arise.

With hurricane season underway and the peak time for wildfires on the horizon, how should communities be preparing today?

Cory Brown: Given the unprecedented frequency and severity of both hurricanes and wildfires in recent years, it is more important than ever for communities to invest in, test, and reinforce their response infrastructure. Emergency managers must now prepare for sustained periods of response. As we’ve seen in the western states with season after season of extreme drought and record temperatures; both state and local fire departments have faced unbelievable challenges with many being pushed to the brink. With hurricane season, it’s not just about a single extreme weather event. Tropical storms and depressions can bring incredible amounts of rainfall to vulnerable regions with already saturated flood conditions that can cause catastrophic damage.

Megan Krentsa: The best way for communities to prepare for hurricane season and wildfires is to have a plan in place for how to respond to various anticipated impacts of the disaster. The more communities prepare with written plans with specific thresholds for action, the more rapidly the response can unfold and pivot to meet specific needs.

FUN FACTS 

What are you passionate about outside of work?

Cory Brown: As a new father, my son and my family are incredibly important to me. I try to spend as much time with them as possible outside of work. Response projects can often call you away for weeks or months at a time; and even with remote working the hours can be intense. It’s important that we give our loved one’s as much of us as possible when we’re not supporting our clients and communities. Outside of family and work, I love being in the ocean. Whether its surfing, sailing, or diving; there is nothing more fun than being in the water.

Megan Krentsa: Outside of work, I enjoy volunteering as a paramedic and spending time outdoors (hiking, kayaking, etc.) with my husband. I also enjoy wheel-thrown pottery and have hand-made all the dishes in my apartment (as well as those in many of my family’s and friends’ homes as well!).

Where is one place in the world you would like to travel and why?

Cory Brown: As an avid scuba diver and supporter of marine conservation; a dream of mine has always been to travel to Australia and dive the Great Barrier Reef.

Megan Krentsa: I would love to travel to Iceland, to see the Northern Lights!


Cory Brown is a creative and driven project manager with 12 years of progressive project management and emergency response experience across a broad range of projects and varied industry segments. He has extensive experience with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recovery programs, project closeout, oversight of contractors, and construction management.

Megan Krentsa is an emergency management professional with 10 years of experience in the emergency medical services and disaster response field. She is a Nationally Registered Paramedic, holding additional licenses in Missouri, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Ohio. Megan holds a Master of Science in Medical Physiology from Case Western University, and a Bachelor of Art in International Affairs from the George Washington University.

The Hagerty Advantage: Our People: Taylor Kemp, Andrew Perry, and Adam Shen

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. Throughout the months of June and July, we will be profiling several of Hagerty’s Response professionals – many of whom have been deployed continuously over the past year helping our clients respond to COVID-19 and other natural hazards.


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

Adam: I came to Hagerty Consulting because of my passion to leave people better than I found them.

Andrew: While studying abroad during undergrad, I was exposed to refugee camps and humanitarian relief operations in Uganda and realized ‘right then and there’ that I wanted to be in the business of helping people in their time of need. From there, I joined AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Corps where I deployed to Hurricane Harvey before heading into consulting. I joined Hagerty in March 2020, where I have had the pleasure to support multiple clients respond to and recover from COVID-19, Hurricane Hanna and Winter Storm Uri.

Taylor: After being unsatisfied with my previous career trajectory in business and marketing, I began searching for a career path that would allow me to help people and the world we live in at a macro level. After much searching, I discovered disaster management and pursued a master’s degree in Disaster Resilience Leadership at Tulane University. My professors spoke highly of Hagerty and the support we provided to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and I jumped at the opportunity to work for Hagerty following my graduation.

What do you find most rewarding about working in the field of emergency management, especially as a disaster response professional?

Adam Shen: I have a deep desire to help people and bring them hope and that’s what I enjoy the most about emergency management – being a bright spot in a dark time.

Andrew Perry: The most rewarding aspect of this job is the profound feeling of pride and purpose when helping communities persevere through a disaster and kickstart their recovery. These experiences, whether planning mass vaccination sites, procuring a million-plus gallons of potable water or securing much-needed federal recovery dollars, will always remain important milestones in my life.

Taylor Kemp: As a disaster response professional, there is just something incredibly rewarding about helping communities in their time of need. Working as a trusted partner with our clients to navigate intensely challenging times and to solve an ever-evolving list of problems is so gratifying and is at the heart of why I began a career in emergency management.

With hurricane season underway and the peak time for wildfires on the horizon, how should communities be preparing today?

Adam Shen: With wildfire and hurricane season around the corner communities should be aware of what shelters they can go to as well as stock up on supplies such as non-perishable food and water. Don’t wait until the last minute!

Andrew Perry: Communities should be actively reviewing their emergency plans and procedures. If yours hasn’t yet started, there is no better time than today! Don’t forget that recovery begins during the response; take time to ensure that your community has up-to-date measures in place to account for and document all disaster-related costs and damages.

Taylor Kemp: Communities should begin planning now at the household, business, and local government levels. There are many resources online to guide households and businesses on how to become better prepared, such as by putting together an emergency plan and gathering needed supplies. Local governments should also be reviewing and updating their response plans and checking supply levels to be best positioned for a response.

FUN FACTS 

What are you passionate about outside of work?

Adam Shen: I am very passionate about my fitness as well as photography outside of work.

Andrew Perry: Austin FC. Austin established its first professional sports team this year and I have been all in! I am a member of the team’s supporter group, Los Verdes, and plan to attend as many home games as I can.

Taylor Kemp: I really enjoy training in martial arts, primarily in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as well as spending time outdoors with my dog, Blue.

Where is one place in the world you would like to travel and why?

Adam Shen: I would love to travel to the Maldives to see the clear water and lay on a hammock above the ocean.

Andrew Perry: Nepal. I spent a year in the Everest region following undergrad and fell in love with culture and people. When I have the chance to take an extended vacation, I would return in a heartbeat.

Taylor Kemp: I absolutely love traveling and experiencing new environments and cultures, so there are many places on my bucket list! If I had to pick only one, I would love to visit New Zealand. From a young age, I’ve been drawn to the beautiful landscape and culture – where else can you find such stunning mountain ranges and sandy beaches side by side?


Adam Shen is an emergency management professional that currently coordinates intern development for COVID-19 response operations. Adams has experience in project management and professional development.  

Andrew Perry brings four years of emergency management and disaster cost recovery experience. He has expertise in project management and grant administration services to state and local governments and private non-profit organizations. He has provided technical assistance in policy, compliance monitoring, grant oversight, reporting, payment reimbursement, and procurement across eleven major disaster declarations.

Taylor Kemp is an emergency management professional with experience in emergency preparedness and recovery, including active threat and Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attack (CCTA) planning, training, and exercise development, as well as after-action reporting, cost recovery, and hazard mitigation.

The Hagerty Advantage: Our People: Jacob Durrance and Katie Forsythe

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. Throughout the months of June and July, we will be profiling several of Hagerty’s Response professionals – many of whom have been deployed continuously over the past year helping our clients respond to COVID-19 and other natural hazards.


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

Jacob Durrance: I started my career as a Medic in the United States (US) Army. After the Military, I studied Emergency Management at Florida State and interned at the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM). After interning and working at FDEM, I moved to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity where I had the opportunity to work on Coastal Resiliency and Community Development Block Grant CDBG- Disaster Recovery (DR) projects. I joined Hagerty in early 2020 to help with the COVID-19 response efforts.

Katie Forsythe: After college graduation I joined AmeriCorps-SBP in order to help individuals who were impacted by South Carolina’s Severe Storm, where my parents lived. As a result of this event, I gained exposure to Emergency Management and found the experience fulfilling. Very early on in the experience I decided that Emergency Management would be the career path I’d take. Understanding that States Prepare, Respond, and Recover from all types of disasters, meant that it was consistent, service-based work that I could build a career and life with. Following my work with AmeriCorps I accepted a job with the State of South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office and then with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. During my tenure, I worked with Hagerty staffers and found that they were professional and a joy to work with.

What do you find most rewarding about working in the field of emergency management, especially as a disaster response professional?

Jacob Durrance: I pursued a career in Emergency Management because I am passionate about helping people. I like working in recovery because it is easy to see the impact our work has on individuals and communities.

Katie Forsythe: Working as a disaster response professional and in the field of emergency management means a lot of long hours, research, flexibility, adaptability, and so much more, but is worth all the effort, knowing that we are making a direct impact in millions of citizens lives.

With hurricane season underway and the peak time for wildfires on the horizon, how should communities be preparing today?

Jacob Durrance: Plan, Prepare, and Practice. Plan for how to react/respond to disasters. Prepare by making sure you have the necessary supplies/equipment. Practice by talking through your plan and making necessary updates, checking your supplies and testing your equipment and walking through the steps of your plan.

Katie Forsythe: Communities need to start messaging before peak time on how to plan for and mitigate impacts of hazards. While entering peak time or during the seasons, communities should be messaging the types of resources available, how to prepare for the disasters, and how to respond. Over-planning, over-communicating, and being prepared is the best way to handle disasters.

FUN FACTS 

What are you passionate about outside of work?

Jacob Durrance: I am an avid motorcycle rider. I spend most of my weekends riding up and down the Florida coastline.

Katie Forsythe: I am an avid hiker who loves to take my dogs on adventures.

Where is one place in the world you would like to travel and why?

Jacob Durrance: I am a big History buff, so it is hard to pick a more impactful or moving experience than Gettysburg during a reenactment.

Katie Forsythe: I would love to travel to Alaska to see the northern lights, and experience midnight sun.


Jacob Durrance: is an experienced Contracts and Grants Manager with a background in Emergency Management and Homeland Security. He has extensive experience with the State of Florida’s Disaster Recovery programs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Public Assistance (PA) and Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)-Disaster Recovery (DR) programs.

Katie Forsythe: is an emergency management professional with four years of experience in supporting clients as they manage large-scale recovery efforts. Most recently, She served as a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)  Public   Assistance   (PA)   program   specialist , supporting a client, its stakeholders, and its citizens in program coordination, data analysis, stakeholder coordination, and the appeals  process. 

Celebrating Women’s History Month: A Profile in Leadership

As we near the end of Women’s History Month – a time to celebrate the social, cultural, economic, and political contributions of women around the world – we wanted to take a moment to highlight, recognize, and celebrate the growing number of female leaders in professional emergency management and here at Hagerty. As an organization, we remain committed to parity and helping break down barriers that will pave the way for the next generation of leaders within our firm and the emergency management profession.

Today, in the spirit of celebration and professional growth, the female members of our leadership team offer words of advice, encouragement, and wisdom they have gained throughout their careers.

Amelia Muccio, Director of Mitigation: Emergency management provides us with the opportunity to work with communities at their most vulnerable. As a leader, I never forget that responsibility.

Cris McCombs, Regional Client Services Director: As a female leader, my experience has shown that obstacles, challenges, and even perceived failures can be your greatest assets. The key is to choose to approach them with the proper attitude.

Judy Hynes, Resource Manager: Persistence, perseverance, and patience – hallmark nouns that define a leader, no matter the crisis.

Katie Grasty, Deputy Director of Mitigation: “It’s time to cheer on girls and women who want to sit at the table.” – Sheryl Sandberg

Katie Freeman, Director of Operations: As a young person, I learned the value of servant leadership and have carried that model forward into my career. As I apply this to the growing Hagerty team, my continued success is rooted in investing in our people and their development, expanding our team and building trust, and supporting those teams to ensure they achieve results. 

Gisele Parry, Regional Client Services Director: One of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things.

Meghan Tosto, Deputy Director of Recovery: During my career, I have appreciated the incredible value of mentorship. Knowing when to ask for guidance, help, or just to have a sounding board from the right person can be so critical to navigating through pivotal decision points or forks in the road.

Nicole Morales, Deputy Director of Preparedness and Response Programs: “As long as you’re living, you should try to grow, try to raise yourself up, and as importantly, raise someone else up with you.” – Chef Leah Chase, New Orleans

April Geruso, Director of Resilience: There are no easy answers in this field, critical thinking is essential — in my career it has been rewarding to build teams passionate about solving complex problems together.

Jessi Nalepa, Communications Director: As a female leader, I have learned that comfort and growth do not often coexist. Push past your perceived limits — you will eventually achieve something you once thought was impossible.

Tanya Shannon, Deputy Director of Recovery: Ultimately, my motto has been “just keep swimming.” In this field we do not have time to second guess, be indirect, or leave anyone behind. With any misstep, we learn from it but then move on, striving to be the calm during and after the storm, supporting those around us to get through the disaster of the day, week, month, or year.

Today, and always, we appreciate these valiant leaders, and their female colleagues, who collectively bring immeasurable talent and value to our firm and our clients daily.