At the 2017 Hurricane Season Symposium on December 1 at FIU's Student Academic Success Center, Executive Director Ruben D. Almaguer announced Gracia Szczech as the first recipient of the Major Phil May Distinguished Service in Emergency Management Award.
This award is presented to a person must has worked a majority of their career in the states that represent FEMA’s Region IV and possesses over 15 years in emergency management working at the local, state, federal level, or for a tribal nation, private sector organization, or NGO. The recipient will also embody some of the character traits that made Phil, Phil - honest, loyal, respectful, responsible, gentle, calm, compassionate, dependable, kind, ethical, fair, helpful, polite, selfless, mature, and finally, witty and humble.
Gracia Szczech currently serves as the Regional Administrator for FEMA’s Region IV. She joined FEMA in 2000 as one of the first members of the newly founded Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) cadre. After four years, she left FEMA briefly for work in the private sector, rejoining FEMA in May 2005 as operations section chief in the Florida Recovery Office, which managed long-term recovery assistance after the devastating 2004 hurricane season. She returned to the FCO cadre a year later. Ms. Szczech earned the designation of a Type I FCO, a position of distinction held only by four expert emergency managers in FEMA.
Ms. Szczech has served FCO in numerous presidentially declared disasters since joining FEMA, including Hurricane Isabel in 2003; tornadoes in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama; devastating floods in Georgia, Rhode Island, and Tennessee; and most recently in New Jersey with Superstorm Sandy.
Before joining the agency, Ms. Szczech spent four years with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), where she was assistant director of operations. In that position, she managed contingency planning, as well as radiological emergency and hurricane preparedness.
Her interest in disaster response was first sparked when she read a Buffalo, N.Y. newspaper article about the American Red Cross (ARC). She subsequently joined the organization as a volunteer and later as a staff member in Savannah, Georgia. During her tenure with ARC, she gained extensive emergency management and leadership experience supporting hurricane, flood, and earthquake response.
Ms. Szczech has earned the Certified Emergency Manager® designation from the International Association of Emergency Managers. She also completed the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s Homeland Security Executive Leaders Program and the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative’s Executive Education Program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
Pictured below is Executive Director Ruben D. Almaguer and Gracia Szczech.