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Sunday, July 21, 2024

HSToday Honors Community Stars, COVID Heroes: 2020 Mission Awards

Each year, Homeland Security Today honors shining stars in the community who are making their own unique, invaluable contributions to advance the mission of keeping America safer from myriad threats. Their strong commitment to mission touches every part of their work, from day-to-day operations to special projects and work in the community. This year, with the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic affecting every facet of homeland security, testing our preparedness and response, and devastating our communities, we singled out Mission Award winners whose work has focused on COVID-19 response.


Doris Brown, Executive Director, Louisiana Department of Health Bureau of Community Preparedness

Doris Gray Brown has been a registered nurse for 45 years and has nearly 40 years of experience in public health nursing, education and health care administration. As Executive Director for Community Preparedness at the Louisiana Department of Health, she provides oversight for several public health programs within Emergency Preparedness & Response (Emergency Operations Center, Pandemic Flu, Cities Readiness Initiative, Strategic National Stockpile, Medical Social Services, Community Outreach, Emergency Systems for Advanced Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals and Workforce Development).

Prior to this appointment, Brown served as Chief Public Health Nurse and Administrator for the Office of Public Health (OPH) Continuing Education Unit. In this role, she was responsible for the overall direction and administration of the total public health nursing component for the Office of Public Health, which encompassed over 40 programs and the supervision of over 330 public health nurses statewide. As administrator for the OPH Continuing Education Unit she was responsible for the direct supervision of nursing contact hours and medical education credits for physicians. The OPH Continuing Education Unit is nationally accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center Commission on Accreditation (ANCC) and the Louisiana State Medical Society (LSMS).

During the past several years, Brown has been instrumental in meeting the planning and training needs of the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) emergency preparedness efforts. Brown has been on the forefront of preparedness, response and recovery efforts for natural and manmade disasters, serving as part of the Unified Command Staff for LDH/OPH.

In 2020, Brown has served as LDH Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Incident Commander for numerous declared emergencies in Louisiana, including COVID-19, Hurricane Laura, Hurricane Marco, Hurricane Sally, Hurricane Delta, and Tropical Storm Zeta. Each of these declarations resulted in an EOC activation. The LDH EOC has been fully activated since March 2020 in response to COVID-19 (partially activated since January 2020). As hurricanes have threatened the state, dual incident activations have occurred. Under Doris’s leadership, LDH has sheltered nearly 500 COVID-19 positive residents in a medical monitoring station, an additional nearly 500 COVID-19 positive residents in isolation sites, and approximately 200 in medical special needs shelters due to hurricanes. Through the LDH EOC, nearly 6,000 PPE requests have been fulfilled for health providers, resulting in over 47 million units of PPE distributed. Additionally, LDH EOC has met the demands of 134,191 callers through collaboration with the statewide 211 call center answering questions related to COVID-19 and hurricane response.

Terence O’Leary, Executive Deputy Commissioner at New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services

Under the best of circumstances, Executive Deputy Commissioner Terence O’Leary’s role would be described as dynamic and stressful. Add in a global pandemic like COVID-19, and his responsibilities took on an unprecedented level of complexity as New York state suffered the impact of the virus.

Integral to the state’s response efforts, O’Leary helped oversee and coordinate the larger DHSES operations. His leadership role was key in establishing the statewide COVID-19 testing program including the seemingly overnight creation of testing sites across the state. The immense logistical operation was a huge success, evidenced by New York having tested more people per capita than any other state. O’Leary’s nearly round-the-clock efforts for months on this response included his usual responsibilities plus providing daily leadership to the DHSES Office of Counter Terrorism due to a vacancy – but his composure and can-do attitude never wavered.

O’Leary’s commitment to both his work and the agency’s vision of a safe and resilient New York are exemplary. His efforts, contributions, and distinct leadership have immensely served the state and the security and well-being of the homeland. 

As the Undersecretary for Homeland Security in Massachusetts, Jeanne Benincasa Thorpe is a take-charge and get-things-done leader in her community. This is evidenced by her efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic when she established a rapid statewide COIVD-19 testing site for first responders during what was only the initial weeks of the pandemic – performing at her usual ahead-of-the-curve pace.

The establishment of this site was a critical step in ensuring accurate and timely testing for first responders to minimize risk and compromise to the homeland when the continuity of these services is most vulnerable and most critical. Thorpe sought a unique partnership with Gillette Stadium and developed partnerships among various agencies to develop this site at which more than 8,000 drive-through tests were conducted, ensuring public safety personnel could remain on active duty during these uncertain times.

Responsible for coordination with federal agencies, regional tasks forces, local governments and private-sector efforts, she is an authoritative figure with the skills and ability to lead her state through unprecedented times while protecting the security of our homeland.

Jeanne Benincasa Thorpe, Undersecretary of Homeland Security and Governor’s Homeland Security Advisor, Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security

During a pandemic, continuity of government as well a state’s homeland services can be compromised when first responders become vulnerable to the pandemic and are otherwise taken off the line. Undersecretary for Homeland Security and Homeland Security Advisor for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Jeanne Benincasa Thorpe established during the initial weeks of the pandemic a rapid statewide COVID-19 testing site for first responders to ensure accurate and timely testing. In partnership with Gillette Stadium and with the support of the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, National Guard, Massachusetts State Police, Foxboro Fire Department, and Quest Diagnostic Labs the testing site provided drive-through testings with no appointment for more than 8,000 tests to ensure public safety personnel could remain on active duty during highly uncertain times under statewide lockdown.

Thorpe oversees the Massachusetts FUSION Center, National Guard, Emergency Management Agency, Fire Administration and Office of Grants and Research Homeland Security Division. She serves as key policy and executive decision advisor to the Secretary of Public Safety and the Homeland Security Advisor to the Governor and is responsible for coordination with federal agencies, regional tasks force, local governments and private sector.

Leading the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response for public safety included coordination of public safety agencies and non-medical PPE distribution, establishing a mobile testing program for the Department of Corrections, and developing strategic testing plans for first responders and essential workers.

Elizabeth Cappello, Acting Chief Information Officer and Deputy Chief Information Officer, Department of Homeland Security

With extensive management and leadership expertise after a 27-year career in government service, Elizabeth Cappello leads with authoritative decision-making and expert insight in every endeavor. Cappello has passion, understanding and commitment in service to the DHS mission set and her strategic focus at the departmental enterprise level, coupled with her keen understanding of the necessary support to operational sets, is invaluable.

Her exceptional executive stewardship during major IT transitions resulted in little to no disruption to the field or staff operators’ daily activities as COVID-19 sent home scores of workers who have not traditionally teleworked. A transition of this scale – including Microsoft Office 365, cloud migration and a Windows 10 upgrade – with such minimal disruption is an impressive feat and it is thanks to her conscientious attention to detail paired with her incredible competency as she led the organization and its assessments.

Time and time again, her demonstrated leadership and ability to identify and frame an issue before stewarding a corresponding solution has proven to be exemplary, as was tested during the rapid COVID-19 transition. When it comes to people, process or technology, she has the political savvy and the technical know-how to handle whatever comes her way.

Ronald Scott, Operations Supervisor and Service Maintenance Worker, Plant Operations Department, Fort Valley State University

In the mission to keep Fort Valley State University in Georgia safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ronald Scott has been an unstoppable force. Beyond his consistent positive attitude when a student or employee develops symptoms or tests positive, or a student needs to be isolated, he has become instrumental in the processes and procedures to keep all students and employees safe.

Scott has taken the task of sanitizing each building on campus and responding to hot zones as needed, every time. In the face of a global pandemic many will step back, afraid of the risk, but he has stood up and shown leadership and ownership for the safety of everyone within the university community.

Scott has not only taken on these critical responsibilities, but he has maintained his full-time position for the Plant Operations Department at the university, and the Emergency Management Office is grateful for his hard work and dedication.

Mike Horton, Special Advisor to the CIO and Secretary’s COVID Action Group, Department of Homeland Security

Mike Horton has supported the Department of Homeland Security’s mission through IT, by leveraging innovative approaches and technologies to improve organizational performance. Mike has had to take on many new roles with legacy challenges this year, then adapt to a completely new way of conducting business amid 2020’s global COVID-19 pandemic. To begin the year, Horton was the IT Program Manager for the critical financial services modernization effort, before being asked to take the Acting Deputy Chief Information Officer (CIO) role.

Horton assumed the role of Acting Deputy CIO just as COVID-19 required an immediate assessment of the department’s IT to facilitate a productive remote workforce. As the department worked to uncover all of the requirements for work to continue, the ability to connect via teleconference became one of the highest priorities, which was met with significant challenges. DHS OCIO realized the need to address this mission critical capability as quickly as possible and asked Horton to find a solution. Within a matter of days Horton and his team worked to standardize teleconferencing across the department, delivering a reliable, secure solution to all of DHS OCIO’s customers across the department. While ensuring the delivery of quality teleconferencing for the department, Horton was appointed to serve on the Secretary’s COVID Action Group. As a member of the COVID Action Group, he supported DHS’ efforts to engage industry to incorporate commercially available solutions, develop contact tracing applications, as well as a host of other items to assist our nation’s efforts to respond to COVID-19.

Horton has also led the effort to implement GSA New Pay, supported the department’s Data Center Consolidation and Optimization (DCCO) effort, and worked to develop strategy for the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology system. Horton continues to drive modernization to support operations and performance across the Department of Homeland Security as the Special Advisor to the CIO.

Tony Robinson, Region 6 Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency

In this year of many challenges, Tony Robinson led large, complex recovery events for the COVID-19 pandemic and hurricanes while strengthening grant compliance, developing new flood data collection protocol, and providing exceptional financial oversight.

As Region 6 Administrator, Tony fulfilled FEMA’s mission to help people before, during and after disasters while providing innovative leadership, staff empowerment and accountability to over 900 regional personnel. He managed 44 presidentially declared disasters since January 2020 including his region’s response to COVID-19 with 31 disasters in states and tribal nations. He also provided leadership in a new and dynamic working environment under unique circumstances caused by the nationwide pandemic to allow broad-based initiatives to productively support operations virtually while setting a standard and expectation of productivity and engagement by all region personnel.

Tony Robinson leads large, complex recovery events such as ongoing efforts to Hurricanes Harvey and Katrina as well as the recent response to and recovery from Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta in Louisiana. Through innovative leadership, staff empowerment and accountability, and the example he sets, Tony and his team have made significant accomplishments this year supporting state, local and tribal governments in building capabilities to prepare, respond, recover and mitigate identified threats and hazards in the Region 6 geographic area of responsibility.


Lori Moore-Merrell, President and CEO of the International Public Safety Data Institute, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

As an exemplary community firefighter paramedic in Memphis, Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell always showed a strong commitment to her community that shaped the rest of her career. Moore-Merrell moved onto the International Association of Fire Fighters, where she had a distinguished 26-year career before founding the International Public Safety Data Institute (IPSDI) where she currently serves as president and CEO.

An active contributor everywhere she goes, Moore-Merrell has consistently served the homeland security mission through the education of first responders. She paved the way on educating agencies on the use of data to plan for emergency incidents and implementing data-driven decisions in real time at emergency scenes. Her work expands to contributions within federal agencies including DHS and the FBI, nonprofit organizations like the National Fire Protection Association and several universities, and local, state, and federal organizations.

Moore-Merrell is not just a member of her community and this nation – she is a contributor who looks to provide the opportunity for growth, education, and service to first responders across the nation; she is a leader of leaders, whose efforts have always been for the progression and protection of our homeland.

Rachel Zimmerman, Senior Director, CyberPatriot Business Operations, Air Force Association

Through her brilliantly innovative approach to key aspects of a critical national program addressing workforce development in what is arguably the most crucial homeland security domain – cybersecurity – Rachel Zimmerman has unequivocally strengthened the security of the U.S. homeland.

Her responsibilities as Senior Director of Business Operations at CyberPatriot allow her to tangibly make a difference in closing the gap of cyber-force workers by providing education opportunities to students at all school levels. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Education Program didn’t just survive – it thrived under her keen leadership and decisive action as she quickly pivoted efforts this past year during the COVID-19 pandemic as her programs equipped thousands of young people to enter the field of cybersecurity.

Rachel Zimmerman’s efforts have led to the education of nearly 300,000 students, resulting in a steady stream of cyber talent ready to defend the U.S. cyber homeland. Her leadership, work ethic, innovation and agility to continually adapt to unprecedented circumstances have been critical to the success of her programs.

Laura Delaney, Deputy Assistant Director, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Department of Homeland Security

As Deputy Director of the Network Security Deployment (NSD) Division within the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications (CS&C) in the old National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), Laura Delaney was the key player in conceiving of and creating the operational delivery model that is being implemented in CISA as part of the agency stand up. This model is a “sea change” in how operations are coordinated with CISA field forces and stakeholders across the board: cyber, physical and communications. Her efforts were instrumental in achieving buy-in from all the major stakeholders in CISA — she spent countless hours teaching, coaching and collaborating on this effort across the agency and with key stakeholders both inside government and out. Her efforts were especially critical to helping OMB and principal Hill interlocutors understand and approve of the new operations delivery model.

Laura took and remains in the lead in establishing a credible, collaborative plan to effectively stand up the Integrated Operations Division within CISA to facilitate the operational coordination developed above, as a rigorous reorganization of agency resources was undertaken. She is regularly engaged in a positive manner with her peers and subordinates and finds ways to include them in substantive work that matches or stretches their capabilities and leads to broader coalitions of support as the reorganization progresses. Finally, she led the effort to understand what was needed, where the resources should rightfully come from in the legacy organization, how they would be moved and how they would be placed appropriately in the new CISA divisional structure. The success of this effort and the resulting operational success around recent cyber activities and the 2020 election was directly attributable to her efforts.

In addition to the tremendous and successful collaborative effort that set the stage for a positive re-organization and operational delivery for CISA, Laura envisioned a new and longer-term strategy for regional operations delivery – one that included inputs from regional directors, key stakeholders in state and local government and critical infrastructure partners. Over the next several years, implementation of this concept will significantly improve the delivery of CISA services to partners and improve the overall status of national security.

Matt Dosberg, Digital Transformation Lead, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Matt Dosberg led the Digital Innovation and Development for IT organization at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2015 until this October. He took federal IT to new levels of innovation, agility, and cost effectiveness through his passion for continuous improvement. Making his mark as a real leader across USCIS and DHS, many components look to his organization to emulate his value-driven development and human-centered design. He ensures measurable results are achieved while satisfying actual users.

Through Dosberg’s leadership, USCIS has successfully conducted several key modernization efforts, saving millions of dollars while building a development capability utilizing leading-edge and cloud-native technologies including Ruby on Rails, ReactNative, and Serverless on an advanced DevSecOps infrastructure. This strategy enables teams to move faster while reducing operational costs, truly disrupting how IT gets done in the federal space. In 2017, he won the highest individual award given at USCIS for execution and delivery of business value-driven outcomes. He recently left USCIS to bring his leadership in innovation to NASA.

Battalion Chief Derrick Phillips, St. Louis Fire Department

With innumerable accomplishments and contributions to his field, Battalion Chief Derrick Phillips is a true asset to the fire service and his community. His recent thesis completion of fire service intelligence processes at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels fed what is now the First Responder Joint Intelligence guide that will become a valuable asset to fire service locations nationwide.

His findings through his thesis study led to the development of a comprehensive list of intelligence requirements to ensure that fire departments receive timely, relevant and specific intelligence pertinent to effective strategic planning, operational coordination and tactical decision-making. This list is the most comprehensive of its kind developed solely for fire service agencies.

The work that Battalion Chief Phillips put into this effort for the good of all agencies is admirable, and he has filled a gap that other first responder guides have missed by seeing agencies at all scales and sizes and providing them with the necessary intelligence required in order to most effectively perform their duties.

Bridget Pelaez, Assistant Director of Emergency Management, Florida International University

Bridget Pelaez currently serves as the Assistant Director of Emergency Management at Florida International University and is the Deputy Commander for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Disaster Medical Systems Trauma Critical Care Team. She has developed a robust Stop The Bleed Program and has trained more than 10,000 faculty and staff for Stop the Bleed alongside FIU Police. She has devoted her life to improving healthcare preparedness and response in South Florida.

Pelaez leads by example and is the director of an all-volunteer critical care response team (FIU-FAST Team) capable of deploying field hospitals to disaster-stricken areas nationally and abroad. Bridget fosters community resilience by partnering and collaborating with a multitude of community partners and projects dedicated to health improvements in South Florida. This past year she developed an 8-hour disaster management training with graduate students and delivered this training to more than a thousand home healthcare workers who are now able to educate South Florida citizens about disaster management and response. She promotes diversity through her education and experience, including helping healthcare workers identify and communicate effectively with the LGBTQ community. As incident commander of a COVID-19 testing site, Pelaez has led testing of more than 10,000 residents. In May 2020, she worked with the global nonprofit Cadena Foundation to mentor children who are innovating disaster solutions around the world.

Pelaez is a clinician who thinks creatively to advance disaster response. Her goal is to continue to educate and empower other females to be resilient leaders.

Brian Keith, Protective Security Advisor, Department of Homeland Security

As Protective Security Advisor in the Los Angeles District, Brian Keith’s dedication to the mission of homeland security radiates through his efforts. Numerous accolades recognize his many accomplishments and achievements throughout his career, including the 2020 DHS Protective Security Advisor of the Year, a distinct honor recognizing his meritorious support of the Los Angeles InfraGard Chapter.

His dedication goes beyond this honorable effort and his focused efforts are unwavering and exemplary. Working in Los Angeles since 2009, Keith’s leadership and commitment are evidenced in his many contributions to the community and security of the homeland from the strengthening of critical infrastructure partnerships in the area to his innovative efforts in creating the Los Angeles Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Critical Infrastructure Working Group.

In the past year, Keith has conducted countless presentations through the country on unmanned aircraft system threats to critical infrastructure and instructs on drone technology at the University of Southern California in the Public Safety Leadership Program. He also served as a moderator in an event highlighting best security practices in houses of worship. His dedication, commitment to security and service to his community set the example for colleagues and community members as he endeavors to improve the security of the homeland.

Kumar Babu, Program Manager for Air Cargo, Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate

As Program Manager for Air Cargo since 2017, Kumar Babu has consistently gone above and beyond what others may call a job description in his efforts to improve the protection of the homeland. In every role that Babu has undertaken, his can-do mentality established him as a leader and resource – within DHS, TSA and the federal government at large.

In his current role he manages a multitude of R&D projects focusing on advancing air cargo screening and image enhancement technology, all the while providing near-term cost-effective solutions for improvement and deployment. In previous roles, he led the development and prototyping of advanced X-ray screening and image processing to provide cost-effective and commerce-speed screening. One such effort, the Multi-View CT pallet scanner, provides performance at a level never previously achieved.

Babu’s 30-plus years of experience in the private sector have equipped him with an exceptional understanding of and rapport with industry officials. His wealth of experience and industry knowledge make him an informed and flexible project manager who brings his A-game to every service. Babu is truly an unsung hero whose immense and enduring contribution to U.S. homeland security through his professional work and leadership is well-deserving of this recognition.

Homeland Security Today
Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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