USA | Champions of Change: Disaster Preparedness

Washington DC | 21 Jan 2012

On Thursday, January 19th, sixteen local leaders who prepare their communities for disaster and build a more resilient nation were honored as Champions of Change. These men and women have demonstrated significant innovation and creativity in working to get their communities ready for the unexpected and embraced the approach of involving all members of their communities in emergency preparedness and response, reaching out to faith-based, tribal, non-profit, private sector and community-based organizations, as well as individual citizens.


Mark Benthien is Director for Communication, Education and Outreach for the Southern California Earthquake Center, a research center funded by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Geological survey with over 60 participating institutions and headquarters at the University of Southern California (USC). Mark communicates earthquake knowledge to end-users and the general public in order to increase earthquake awareness, reduce economic losses, and save lives. Many of these efforts are in coordination with members of the Earthquake Country Alliance, a private-public partnership of organizations that provide earthquake information and services, for which Mark serves as Executive Director and lead organizer of the Great California ShakeOut earthquake drill which in 2011 involved more than 8.6 million participants. Mark is also working with the other many regions around the world that are replicating the ShakeOut.



Carolyn H Bluhm is the Community Relations Specialist for the City and County of Denver, Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. For the last five years Carolyn has been the driving force behind the Denver Community Emergency Response Training (Denver CERT) and the Emergency Preparedness Programs which includes a special focus on diverse populations and organizations. She has provided thousands of hours of CERT and community preparedness trainings to community members and organizations in multiple diverse communities including Youth Organizations, low-income Hispanic neighborhoods, multi-ethnic Muslim populations, multi-tribal urban Native Americans, African American, Faith Based and Asian American communities. She volunteers much of her own time to address the training and technical assistance needs of these communities, working many evenings and weekends. Her efforts at a local church and with the Colorado Muslim Society resulted in the creation of a Spanish-bilingual CERT team with more than 60 members and a bi-lingual Arabic CERT team that can communicate in Farsi, Urdu, and Somali.


Brian Blake serves as Earthquake Program Coordinator with the Central U.S Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC), which was established under the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Since its inception, CUSEC’s mission has been “…the reduction of deaths, injuries, property damage and economic losses resulting from earthquakes in the central United States”. Brian’s primary role is to coordinate activities related to earthquake preparedness and mitigation in the eight member states and ten associate states of CUSEC. This involves working with local, state, and federal partners to create and implement programs which help communities prepare for, respond to, and mitigate against the effects of earthquakes. Brian has worked on several multi-year earthquake planning and outreach projects including the New Madrid Seismic Zone Catastrophic Planning Initiative, the New Madrid Bicentennial, and most recently, the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut.

The ShakeOut is an annual, multi-state public outreach campaign that involves millions of people who engage in earthquake safety activities. In 2011, more than three-million people across eleven states participated in the ShakeOut. This program encourages participants to take specific actions to become more informed and better prepared for earthquakes and other disasters.


As Director of Communications for Cobb & Douglas Public Health (District 3-1), Master Sgt Darlene M. Foote, U.S. Air Force (retired) is responsible for developing and launching the district’s strategic communications objectives. With more than 20 years of Public Affairs and Communications expertise, she has created plans and outreach programs to include the District Strategic National Stockpile Emergency Preparedness and Response Risk Communications Plan that now serves as a benchmark for other districts statewide. She most recently received Federal recognition for creating the concept, content, and script for the Cobb & Douglas Public Health Safety Village project. Safety Village was designed to communicate Emergency Preparedness and Response messages to elementary students through the use of state-of-the- art, interactive technology.




Wendy Freitag is the External Affairs Manager for the Washington State Military Department’s Emergency Management Division. In this role, she oversees statewide emergency management outreach programs which include disaster preparedness public education, private-public partnerships, and public information programs all aimed at encouraging residents of Washington state to undertake preparedness actions in their households and their communities before a disaster strikes. Prior to joining EMD, Wendy spent a decade acquiring hands-on global and national disaster preparedness and response private sector operational experience managing physical security, national crisis management and business continuity projects and teams at Microsoft and the former Washington Mutual Bank.

Prior to her private sector work, Wendy served on multiple U.S. disaster operations as a FEMA Lead Public Affairs reservist and also worked briefly in a similar role for the American Red Cross. Freitag and her team continue to seek out ways to design outreach campaigns and programs which use a combination of reason and emotion to empower individuals and organizations to proactively prepare for disasters.Programs under her guidance recognize that effective disaster response and recovery occurs at the community level. Disaster preparedness programs must seek out better ways to engage and inspire all community members to become more disaster resilient.



Brenda Gormley has been volunteering as the Denton County, Texas, Cert Coordinator for more than 6 years. During this time she has grown the program from 11 members to over 500 back ground checked, active members. In 2009, under Brenda’s leadership, Denton County’s Citizen Corps Council received the National Award for Outstanding Citizen Corps Council. Brenda is currently the secretary for Denton County VOAD Citizen Corps Council, past chair for North Central Texas Regional Citizen Corps Council (NCTRCCC) where she was responsible for the implementation, growth and sustainment of many Citizen Corps programs. Brenda continues to travel outside of her area to help establish new Citizen Corps programs. In May 2010 Brenda was part of a group that helped to write the first G517 CERT Master Instructor Curriculum, and became a CERT Master Instructor traveling to provide classes in Texas, and recently, in May 2011, helped write the curriculum for G417 refresher classes in Texas. At the 2011 Texas Unites Conference, Brenda was recognized as the first ever recipient of the Jack Colley Citizen Corps Leadership Award. This award will be given annually to recognize the outstanding leadership and service of a Citizen Corps volunteer.

Brenda has expanded her team’s capabilities by creating specialized response teams to assist the Denton County Fire Marshal’s office with common challenges and due to our training we are call upon frequently to assist first responders.



David Maack is the Racine County Emergency Management Coordinator where he is responsible for emergency planning, training, outreach/education, exercises and response. He has written numerous articles on emergency management and has spoken at state, regional and national conferences. David is active in his community, serving on a number of boards, committees and commissions. Over the past twenty one years, he has built an emergency management program that has received national recognition for innovative programs built on community partnerships and collaborations. Many of these partnerships are the direct result of David’s community involvement. Most recently, he has made a concerted effort to work with the faith based community-assisting them in emergency planning and in identifying ways they can assist the community in the aftermath of a disaster.




As Director of Development & Community Relations, Venus Majeski spearheads the advocacy, public relations and development initiatives of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities. One of the largest not-for-profit agencies of its kind, NJID serves more than 1,500 infants, children and adults with disabilities throughout New Jersey. Ms. Majeski also directs three federal projects of National Significance which provide wrap around services for teens with disabilities and disaster readiness projects throughout New Jersey.

Ms. Majeski is a passionate advocate for persons with disabilities and she continues to participate in and direct numerous advocacy projects. She is a member of many professional and civic organizations in New Jersey. Ms. Majeski is a member of the Middlesex County Commission for Persons with Disabilities, the NJ Emergency Management Association and the NJ Special Needs Advisory Panel.



Martin Makowski has spent four and a half years with the American Red Cross and currently serves as Outreach Coordinator responsible for programming in 13 counties in Illinois and Northwestern Indiana. Martin also coordinates the AmeriCorps Safe Families program, promotes community outreach in underserved and under – resourced communities, and manages the Disaster Preparedness Summit. He is an experienced instructor in CPR/AED, First Aid, Preparedness Education, Kid Safety Programs and Mass Care/Shelter Operations.

Prior to joining the American Red Cross, Martin graduated from James Madison University and was Assistant Director of Development for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. He completed two AmeriCorps terms working with New England Campus Compact and the National Preparedness and Response Corps. A native of the Chicagoland area, Martin continues to serve as a tutor for a clinical tutoring center, Chicago Cares volunteer leader and a writing coach for high school seniors.



Tod Pritchard is the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for Wisconsin Emergency Management. Tod is in charge of ReadyWisconsin, a program helping people across the state get ready for emergencies. Since joining WEM in August 2010, Tod has developed several media campaigns including Winter Awareness Month with NASCAR champion and Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth. In that campaign, Kenseth urged everyone to have a winter survival kit in their vehicle. He also organized a Tornado Awareness Campaign creating teams of TV stations and retailers across the state to promote the purchase of Emergency Weather Radios. Tod also helped launch the STEP (Student Tools for Emergency Planning) program in Wisconsin.

Before joining WEM, Tod worked as a reporter, producer and news director at TV stations across the country including Madison, Minneapolis, Seattle and Honolulu.



Michael Ripley is the Disaster Response Manager for NBCUniversal located in Universal City, California. In his position, he is responsible for overseeing the studio’s Emergency Plans, Disaster Teams and Emergency Operations Center. Since 2006, Michael has utilized several innovative and progressive techniques to advance the studio’s disaster preparedness efforts including engaging community and public agency partners. He continues to be an advocate for community preparedness by volunteering his time to mentor other community groups and businesses. He serves on the board of directors for the California Emergency Services Association and the Business and Industry Council for Emergency Planning and Preparedness. In 2008 he was designated a Certified Emergency Manager by the International Association of Emergency Managers.
Before joining WEM, Tod worked as a reporter, producer and news director at TV stations across the country including Madison, Minneapolis, Seattle and Honolulu.



Herman Schaffer is the Director of Community Outreach for the New York City Office of Emergency Management. He oversees the Citizen Corps Council, a collaborative network of non-profits, government organizations, and cultural and faith-based institutions focused on disaster preparedness and response; CERT, OEM’s community-based volunteer program; Ready New York, OEM’s emergency preparedness education program, and cross cultural outreach. Herman also coordinates with regional partners to integrate plans and share resources through the Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Team and Urban Area Working Group. Prior to joining OEM in 2005, Herman spent three years as a case manager with Safe Horizon connecting victims of the September 11th attacks with local and federal resources to assist with their recovery. Herman also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia where he helped rural communities develop clean water and hygiene education programs. He maintains his connection with Zambia as the Vice President of Self Empowerment through Education (SEED).



Jodi Simpson is a Homeland Security Planner for the St. Clair County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. She serves on the Michigan Region 2 North Citizen Corps Committee and is the Coordinator for St. Clair County Citizen Corps.








Michael J. Smith serves as the fire chief for the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, an American Indian Nation located in southern California. Chief Smith joined San Manuel to aid in the development of the Tribe’s emergency response capability, ultimately establishing a 33 member fire department which serves the region under the California mutual aid system as well as a robust community preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery nexus. San Manuel Fire at the direction of the Tribe has routinely answered calls beyond the reservation during times of community and nationwide emergency. Chief Smith has personally been deployed to aid in the recovery of 9-11-01 attacks and gulf-coast hurricanes and has worked directly with other tribes to enhance their emergency service capacities. Chief Smith currently serves as the President of the California Tribal Fire Chiefs’ Association and remains a licensed paramedic. He voluntarily serves on the local sheriff’s air rescue team as a flight paramedic. Chief Smith is a graduate of the National Fire Academy as well as the University of Redlands.


John D. Solomon was an accomplished journalist on homeland security and other public policy topics. John’s blog, “In Case of Emergency, Read Blog: A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness” (, was launched in March 2008 as research for a book he was writing on preparedness for emergencies from the vantage point of a father-husband-and son interested in helping safeguard his family and community. A resident of New York City, John’s body of work was striking in its reporting, analysis, engagement and impact, in preparing the public, informing professionals, and effecting change in the public and private sectors. John died on November 1, 2010, at the age of 47, of complications from a stem cell transplant for leukemia. At his passing, FEMA Administrator Fugate stated that John “set the standard for what it meant to be part of our nation’s emergency management team.” John is survived by his wife, Abby, and their two daughters, Sara and Rebecca.



Chad Stover is the Deputy Branch Chief for Homeland Security and the State Citizen Corps Coordinator at the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. He manages the agency’s community preparedness efforts through the Ready Arkansas program ( The Arkansas State Citizen Corps Program consists of 22 local Citizen Corps Councils (CCC) and 11 local Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT). These local groups help to promote preparedness activities throughout the state. Volunteers from local CCC’s and CERT’s respond to disasters in their communities and support first responders in managing the disaster. Volunteers are trained from a variety of sectors including high school and college students, factory workers, teachers and senior citizens.

Mr. Stover’s volunteer activities include the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY), where he held senior volunteer positions 1998-2008. He’s also worked with groups throughout Arkansas to increase community emergency preparedness. He speaks frequently at community meetings, churches and civic groups. Since 2008, he’s responded to 12 Presidentially Declared Federal Disasters working in emergency operations center, public affair, community relations, public assistance and disaster recovery centers.



Greg Strader serves as the Founding Executive Director of the Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies (BRACE). He works with the 450 Partners of BRACE to make his community the most disaster resilient in America. Greg served with the American Red Cross for over 32 years in six communities, responding to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, plane crashes and many other disasters. He served as the Escambia Long Term Recovery Coordinator following Hurricanes Ivan & Dennis supporting over 800 families through their recovery from those disasters. He guides the efforts of BRACE in its role as the Citizen Corps & Community Emergency Response Team Coordinator for Escambia County, the City of Pensacola and Town of Century. Greg led his organizations response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, engaging over 1,900 volunteers that provided over 10,000 hours of volunteer service.




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