Major Phil May Distinguished Service in Emergency Management Award

On October 8, 2017 Major Phillip May (left in photo) passed away. Mr. May was a leader and icon in the emergency management industry. His career started back in 1979, and two years later, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to become the regional administrator for FEMA's Region IV's office located in Atlanta, Georgia. As regional administrator, he oversaw a region that included the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. He continued to serve as regional administrator until 1994, returning to the same position in October 2006. After years of dedicated service, Mr. May retired in July 2014. He had an accomplished and distinguished career in emergency management, and earned both the Distinguished Meritorious Service Award and the Distinguished Civil Service Medal.

Sadly, Phil left us in too soon. To commemorate Phil’s distinguished career, the Academy has created the Major Phil May Distinguished Service in Emergency Management Award. This prestigious award is presented annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions throughout his or her career to any or all facets of emergency management.

To be considered, a person must has worked a majority of their career in the states that represent FEMA 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.

Major Phil May with Ruben D. Almaguer


The first recipient of the Major Phil May Distinguished Service in Emergency Management Award was announced at the 2017 Hurricane Season Symposium at FIU on December 1. In an emotional presentation, Executive Director Ruben D. Almaguer spoke of his good friend and then introduced Gracia Szczech as the 2017 award recipient.

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.

Executive Director Ruben D. Almaguer and Gracia Szczech.