Lacy E. Suiter Distinguished Service in Emergency Management Award

Lacy E. Suiter

In recognition of the men and women who have dedicated their careers and lives to make citizens and communities safer from both natural disasters and terrorist events, the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) presents the Lacy E. Suiter Distinguished Service in Emergency Management Award.

The award is named in honor of Lacy E. Suiter, one of the nation's most experienced and respected emergency management and homeland security leaders.

The prestigious honor is presented annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions throughout his or her career to any or all facets of emergency management. This includes the areas of preparedness, mitigation, response, or recovery at a local, state, regional, or national level. The career accomplishments should be of unusual merit.

Lacy E. Suiter's widow, Norma Jean,
accepts the first Suiter Award.

The field of emergency management has grown and changed significantly since its early days of "civil defense" in the 1940s.  At that time, emergency managers dealt primarily with threats of nuclear attack.  By the 1960s, the focus grew to include natural disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. This was followed by a renewed interest in domestic defense in the 1980s.  The next decade saw a re-focus on natural disasters.  After the events of September 11, 2001, the attention shifted to terrorist attacks.  Now professional emergency managers are hopeful that the tide will turn to what they have been calling on for several years: an all-hazards approach to disasters.

Skill sets for the professional emergency manager have also evolved. Today's emergency manager must be knowledgeable in planning, training, finance, and administration while also having the ability to work with changing political leadership in his or her state, region, or specific jurisdiction.

All emergency management agencies, departments, and organizations are invited to submit nominations for the Lacy E. Suiter Distinguished Service in Emergency Management Award.

The nomination period for the 2022 Lacy E. Suiter Distinguished Service Award has closed. Nominations for the 2023 Lacy E. Suiter Award will open in July 2023.

The 2022 Lacy E. Suiter Distinguished Service Award was presented to Mr. Mark Ghilarducci on October 19 at the NEMA 2022 Annual Forum in beautiful Stowe, Vermont. The award was presented by Ms. Nancy Dragani, NEMA Past President and 2021 Suiter Award honoree.

Mark has devoted more than 25 years to make an impact within the field of emergency management. As Director of California’s Office of Emergency Services, Mark Ghilarducci led California through 130 federally declared disasters, including five of the largest wildfires in California’s history. He led the charge to authorize over $300 million in California Disaster Assistance Act funding to work towards building a more resilient and safer California and was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to be Chairman of the Board of Directors of the California Earthquake Authority and Chairman of the California Catastrophic Response Council.

Ghilarducci’s list of achievements before leading CalOEM is long and distinguished and includes serving as the Coordinator of the California response to 9/11, as Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) for FEMA’s Region IX during the Clinton administration, and as Deputy State Fire Chief of Special Operations for California’s Office of Emergency Services. In that position, he played a leading role in developing and creating Cal OES’s fire and rescue mutual aid system, which currently stands as an international model.

Through his leadership as Deputy State Fire Chief of Special Operations for California’s Office of Emergency Services, Ghilarducci created Team Blaze to augment and support the state of California’s fire service, enhance the capabilities and further the mission of the California State Guard. This project is the nation’s first all-hazards engine strike team that works to coordinate local, state, and federal resources to be better prepared to respond successfully to wildfires.

“Mark Ghilarducci has not only been instrumental in California’s emergency management program, but his leadership over the past several decades has improved the way we respond to and recover from disasters and continues to influence the field of emergency management internationally. His career embodies all the characteristics and values that the Suiter Award recognizes.” Erica Bornemann, NEMA President.

Ghilarducci’s great impact on the emergency management profession will live on for years to come. The extensive list of his influential roles also includes serving as an advisor to the State of Louisiana and Governor Kathleen Blanco for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, serving as an Expert Panelist for RAND Corporation at the Center for Domestic and International Health Security for California’s Public Health Infrastructure Project, and was chosen as one of just 10 individuals to train mayors and various other senior city and state officials throughout the United States in the areas of terrorism preparedness for the U.S. Departments of Defense and Justice under the Nunn-Lugar Domenici anti-terrorism programs. Mark Ghilarducci is an ideal recipient of this esteemed award.

The Lacy E. Suiter Distinguished Service Award is presented each year by NEMA to an emergency management professional who has had an outstanding career with a substantial impact on facets of emergency management that can include preparedness, mitigation, response, or recovery. This award is such an honor that it is given to an individual who has set and achieved goals of unusual merit during their time in emergency management.