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Meet AECOM Senior Water Resources Engineer Jamie Rivera

Meet AECOM Senior Water Resources Engineer Jamie Rivera

 July 11, 2024

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AECOM's People Spotlight series provides an inside look at the company's technical experts around the world.

Meet AECOM Senior Water Resources Engineer Jamie Rivera, an associate vice president and project manager from AECOM's Water business in the U.S. East region who manages AECOM's Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Public Assistance contracts.

Managing FEMA relationships and contracts

AECOM water engineer

Jamie's educational background is in structural engineering, but through deployments on several FEMA disaster assignments Jamie has transitioned to managing FEMA relationships and contracts including two critical ones: FEMA Consolidated Resource Center (CRC) Support and FEMA Public Assistance Technical Assistance Program (PA-TAC). 

These contracts involve providing technical resources, like engineers and architects, to assess public infrastructure damages and prepare scopes of work and cost estimates for restoration. The contracts are significant, often valued at $500 million for five years. 

An opportunity too exciting to pass up

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Jamie was drawn to studying engineering because she enjoys math and science and figuring out how things work. After college, one of Jamie's professors, who knew about her strong process management and Excel skills, helped her land an interview at URS Corporation, an AECOM legacy company that held Public Assistance (PA) contracts with FEMA.

"Once I learned about URS’s global reach and their incredible work, the opportunity was too exciting to pass up. I ran with it and fell in love with the company and the work. Shortly after, I was deployed to Guam for my first FEMA PA assignment as a project specialist where I assessed typhoon damages to Guam’s schools. I was three months out of college, learning something new every day and helping communities recover by assisting them with navigating FEMA’s PA process. It was an amazing and rewarding experience, and I’ve been doing it ever since," explains Jamie.

AECOM Guam project

Working on a disaster recovery project in Colorado

Most of Jamie's AECOM projects are related to supporting FEMA’s PA Program on different disasters and helping applicants recover. Each disaster is unique, but one was truly different for her: the 2013 Colorado floods impacting Rocky Mountain National Park and several mountainous corridors, which AECOM were tasked to support by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).  

"I got to be on the flip side - still doing disaster recovery, but this time for a stage agency, CDOT. I was assigned as the FEMA subject-matter expert to lead their FEMA projects, manage the debris removal program and help guide them through the process of procuring a debris removal contractor.  It was eye-opening to be directly exposed to everything an applicant was doing to maintain normal operations, respond to and recover from the event, while still working within FEMA’s complex processes and programs. The disaster itself was memorable because of the interesting geography and coordination required with other Federal agencies, but the new angle of understanding of FEMA’s PA Program was pivotal for my career. This shaped how I work with applicants and communicate with our staff who are working with applicants," comments Jamie.

Making a positive community impact

For Jamie, working on FEMA projects is both complex and rewarding. "The PA Program itself is intricate, but I find it incredibly fulfilling to sit down with community officials and guide them through the process. While I can’t simplify the complexity, I can meet people where they are and help them navigate the channels specific to their situations," says Jamie.

If there’s something Jamie can’t assist them with, she guides them to the right resources, which is usually very helpful.  Jamie makes sure her team understands that community officials may also be disaster victims, and it’s her team's job to make the process as easy and consistent as possible for them. This applies to working with higher-level community officials, but also with those doing hands-on work like public works directors and financial managers. "These individuals are crucial in getting the work done and disasters are often a once-in-a-career event for them," continues Jamie. 

Major disasters like Sandy, Harvey, Ike, and Katrina impact different metro areas uniquely, making each experience new and requiring constant support for the affected communities. After these large disasters, Jamie and her team are responsible for setting up extensive training events for technical specialists deployed to support disaster recovery. The team organize and mobilize up to 1,000 people, training them in staggered sessions, and then forward deploy them out to disaster sites. "Coordinating and orchestrating these logistics is a significant task," adds Jamie.

"My role is to coordinate with the client and contractor companies, figure out logistics, determine the duration and costs, and set up schedules. I also work with these companies to identify the individuals for deployment, then supervise as everything comes together. The rapid logistics turnaround and deployment are always interesting and quite satisfying when everything works out."

Sharing a piece of career advice 

AECOM career advice

Finally, when asked to share a piece of career advice, Jamie says: "Raise your hand to sign up for things. You never know where a road will lead, and in our line of work flexibility is an amazing thing. Opportunities will always come up, so say yes and see where your career takes you."

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