Thank you – 2017 Emergency Manager of the Year Award

On Thursday, August 10th, I was at the FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg Maryland, taking the third and final week of the Master Exercise Practitioner Program (MEPP). I had been selected by my MEPP group to be the exercise director for the full-scale point of dispensing exercise that we were conducting. As our group was putting the final details on our exercise setup, suddenly I noticed students we had put into a separate room for staging were making their way back into our exercise room. Before I could ask what was happening, our lead instructor stepped forward and told us that they had something very special which needed to be shown to the entire class (40 students and 5 instructors from across the country). On the screen, plays a video from Rhode Island of the presentation of the 2017 Emergency Manager Award. I was in complete disbelief as President Amy Grzybowski read my name as the recipient of this year’s award.

To this point in my career, I have yet to experience a moment where I was so honored and humbled by such a gesture as I was at that moment. Even though I was not back in RI to accept the award in person, I could hear from the crowd a cheer with more enthusiasm than I have ever experienced before. As my classmates at EMI also cheered, I fought back tears, trying to remain composed in this moment. Somebody in the room shouted “Speech” to which I could only answer: “I sure hope this POD Exercise goes well, I have a lot to live up to now!”

I believe that individual awards are presented to those who are the direct beneficiaries of a strong team of people around them. Tom Brady has won multiple Super Bowl MVP awards because his offensive line blocked better than any other line, his backs and receivers caught more passes than other backs and receivers, and all those around him, put HIM in the positions to make plays to win the game. I feel that I have had the same such luxuries around me, the best teammates, leaders and supporters that I could ask for, putting me in a position to work hard and achieve goals.

I have to thank each and every one of my co-workers at RIDOH, Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response for supporting myself and the programs which I work on. Without them, we don’t conduct two statewide training events this past year. Without them, we don’t have a great all day, functional exercise this past spring. Without them, I don’t have people to listen to me when I need a sounding board, I don’t have people to constantly challenge me to do better, try harder and seek better solutions. Every single member of our staff, challenges one another to press further and not take the easy solution. I also have two leaders in CEPR, Alysia and Brittan, who have lead this team and program for many years. They constantly clear the path of difficulties, allowing someone like me to do my job and focus on the tasks at hand, rather than be blindsided by those trying to knock the train off the tracks. Without their leadership, we all would not be successful.

I also must thank Narragansett EMA Director, Chief Scott Partington and before him Chief Jim Cotter. Both believed in me when I had little prior experience to speak of, and gave me an opportunity to prove my worth. They fought for the things I felt were important, backed me up when I made recommendations, and created an environment in Narragansett were all departments believe they are a part of the emergency management team. Having an EMA Director and Deputy Director doesn’t make an emergency management team, but having ALL department heads understand the importance of what we do, and the willingness to step up and participate in drills, training’s, exercises and real-world emergencies, does. We have come to count on each and every member of the leadership team to work together supporting one-another through many events, from storms to planned events. Their willingness to listen to me as an “outsider” and the genuine excitement I feel when I get to work with them makes me believe that we can overcome anything that comes our way.

Finally, I must thank my support system. I have some amazing parents who taught me tough lessons as a child and teenager, who showed me what hard-work is, and gave me NO DAYS OFF during the summer months when I could have been doing what every other kid was. I also have an amazing wife who understands the lifestyle that I have chosen and understands why I leave her home alone during every storm, every fire call and every meeting/training/exercise/etc. She didn’t kill me when her water broke and I was in Maryland at EMI for the birth of our first child (I made it back to see her be born!). She didn’t kill me when I was at EMI again for our second anniversary, and she doesn’t kill me when I am still awake at 11:30 PM working on some EMA Project.

My final thought: Tom Brady once said “Stay Hungry, stay humble.” That quote sits on my computer monitor in front of my face every day. I never will forget those four words, nor will I stop being hungry or humble.

Thank you again to you all for this award, I look forward to working with you in the future.

-Chris McGrath