Retrospective on a Relationship: An Enduring Partnership with FEMA Strengthens Communities Against Disasters

Jay Harper
Jay Harper
Vice President, Executive CM FEMA/DHS
Jane Frantz
Jane Frantz, AICP, PMP, CFM
Vice President

Dewberry has been honored to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) since its inception in 1979. Our partnership with this innovative and resourceful agency has been the most significant in Dewberry’s history, as we have supported FEMA’s critical work in administering complex and far-reaching floodplain mapping, mitigation, disaster response, and recovery programs.

In many ways, the success of this relationship is a reflection of the focus that both organizations bring to the creation of resilient communities: an emphasis on rapid response and the application of cutting-edge technology and streamlined processes to deliver support with speed and accuracy, and a long-term commitment to help communities reduce risk and prepare for future events.

FEMA’s mission is among the most challenging in government: helping people before, during, and after disasters. Dewberry has been proud to support FEMA, as new programs have been developed and others realigned; as the agency has been restructured, including its move to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and in response to the nation’s most devastating disasters over the past five decades. It will continue to be Dewberry’s mission to be among the first organizations that FEMA calls upon whenever needed, and to deliver technical and emergency support that continues to reflect well upon the agency and our federal government.

Dewberry-FEMA History Timeline

1979 and On: Rapid Response for Post-Disaster Support

We have helped the agency respond to more than 350 natural and manmade disasters. Our work in nationwide disaster response started in 1979, when we assisted FEMA following Hurricane Frederic. Since that time, we have deployed thousands to help FEMA in the federal response to hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, floods, typhoons, and other events.

Our work has included field inspections and damage assessments for both individual and public assistance, debris removal operations, the collection of perishable data, evaluating sites for temporary housing installations, cost estimating, interagency coordination, machine learning capabilities, and assisting with the administration of FEMA’s suite of post-disaster grant programs.

1989: Coast-to-Coast Support of Hurricane Hugo and Loma Prieta Earthquake Recovery

In 1989, the nation was hit with Hurricane Hugo along the southeastern coast and the Loma Prieta Earthquake in the West. At FEMA’s request, we sent staff to South Carolina within hours of Hugo’s strike, ultimately deploying more than 50 employees to conduct residential habitability inspections, coordinate temporary housing efforts, inspect beaches for emergency controls, and provide cost estimates for damaged public facilities. While the hurricane recovery work was underway, we then dispatched more than 30 employees, including structural engineers, to California after the earthquake to estimate restorations for public buildings and infrastructure, including damaged bridges and piers.

2001: The World Trade Center and Helping a Nation Heal

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, our debris removal expertise proved critical to FEMA. Within one week of the disaster, we dispatched employees to Ground Zero in New York City and at the Staten Island Landfill to perform debris management services and provide support to the forensic recovery teams.

2005: Around-the-Clock Support

August and September of 2005 brought the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We quickly dispatched employees to the region to assist in the closely watched recovery efforts and our staff soon numbered more than 2,500—all working with FEMA to restore public infrastructure, provide individual assistance, mitigate future hazards, and assist with temporary housing. The teams’ efforts included the design and development of a personnel database that evolved into a system still in use today to deploy staff to events.

2012: Advancing the Mission through Leadership and Innovation

October 2012 brought the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, with more than $75 billion in damage throughout the Northeast. The response to this storm required not only immediate recovery efforts but a commitment to introducing innovative resilience measures that would mitigate future risk, particularly in the New York City metropolitan area.

Dewberry provided housing inspections and damage assessments for public facilities on behalf of FEMA, and coordinated marine debris removal for the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection. Post-Sandy planning and engineering efforts included such breakthrough projects as a flood risk reduction study in Hoboken, New Jersey, and design of an integrated flood protection system in Brooklyn, New York.

2010s and Beyond: Leading-Edge Technology

Throughout our decades of providing support to FEMA, we have focused on developing and harnessing technology and data to improve response times, create accurate models and post-disaster assessments, and provide supply chain projections and support. Prior to 2018’s Hurricane Michael, for example, we submitted pre-event modeling to help predict storm impacts. Our broad-ranging expertise included the development of the Wildfire Risk Model, a tool that incorporates dozens of layers of geospatial information to assess risk. Recently, Dewberry’s expertise in data analytics helped review grocery supply chain logistics and support pre-event risk analysis and post-event damage assessments related to 2021’s Hurricane Ida.

A Productive Partnership

Throughout Dewberry’s nearly half-century of work in support of FEMA, we have been inspired by the agency to continue to enhance our response time; apply the latest technology; and advance our technical services in damage assessments, hazard analyses, mitigation planning, funding, training, policy support, and the design and implementation of resilience measures. We aspire to maintain FEMA’s high standards of excellence, and together we have helped improve and protect millions of lives—helping people before, during, and after disasters.