Combatting Climate Change: HRT Receives Premiere Selection from FEMA

By : Angela Gregory

Hampton Roads Transit was recently selected by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to receive Direct Technical Assistance (DTA). The agency was among 46 recipients across the nation selected for this initiative. It’s the first organization in the Commonwealth, and the only transit agency in the nation, to receive DTA.

DTA is a three-year initiative designed by FEMA to put communities, or in this case, HRT, in a better position to apply for Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA). HMA grants provide funding for eligible mitigation measures that reduce loss related to potential disasters, including the effects of climate change.

HRT was able to secure the DTA with guidance from the agency’s Department of Security and Emergency Preparedness (DSEP). The department’s mission includes protecting the agency’s employees, patrons, and assets, all of which are susceptible to the effects of climate change. The challenge, according to Shane Kelly, Senior Manager of Security and Emergency Preparedness at HRT, is staying ahead of the curve.

Representatives from FEMA Region 3 visit Hampton Roads Transit in Norfolk, VA. Back row from left: Shane Kelly, Rae Walker-Ellis, Steve Magaro, and MacKensie Cornelius. Front row from left: Dustin Brosius, Jacob Berninger, and Sarah Baryluk. (February 13, 2024)

“HRT was awarded the DTA because FEMA recognizes the importance of public transit to the nation,” said Steve Magaro, Emergency Preparedness Manager at HRT.

According to FEMA, every $1 spent on mitigation saves $6 on future losses. The National Institute of Building Sciences puts the number even higher. According to a 2020 fact sheet, NIBS says mitigation saves $13 per every $1 invested. With $900 million in assets to protect, being able to tap into this FEMA resource is vital to the mission.

Transportation, public transportation in particular, is considered a “Lifeline Sector” by FEMA. It’s a fundamental service, essential to “human health, and safety or economic security.” Protecting this lifeline from the future threat of climate change is crucial.

Over the next three years, HRT will work alongside CDM Smith, a private engineering and construction firm, FEMA Region 3, the Department of Homeland Security, and Old Dominion University to assess the needs of the agency. Together, they will develop an action plan to improve HRT’s resilience to climate change. HRT will be able to utilize that action plan when applying for federal grants to help cover the cost.

This endeavor with FEMA has the potential to be “precedent setting,” says Magaro. Because HRT is the first transit agency to receive DTA, FEMA will likely use whatever they glean from this partnership when working with other transit agencies in the future.

“While DSEP was the champion of the DTA program,” said Kelly, “it’s an opportunity for all of us to be better, together.”

Stay Connected