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2019 WHS SoCal Awards Ceremony

  • Luminarias Restaurant 3500 West Ramona Boulevard Monterey Park, CA, 91754 United States (map)

Let's Change the World, Shall We?

What does is take to spark change on a global scale? How can we "move the needle" on homeland security issues locally and across disciplines? And how can we do all of this while promoting equity?!

Join us for the next WHS event and let’s find out together!  This doubles as our big, Annual Awards Ceremony so make sure you’ve got your celebration shoes on.  Details below.  

Our 2019 Award Recipients

Trailblazer Award - Gabby Almon, MPP

Gabriele serves as an advisor to Fortune 500 companies, domestic and international government agencies, and numerous humanitarian organizations on crafting powerful, action-inspiring stories. In 2019, she founded Brain + Bullish, an agency that sparks ground-breaking, transformational partnerships between the creative industry and public sector. This spring, Brain + Bullish hosted The Storyteller's Summit, helping do-good storytellers learn the ins-and-outs of creating captivating content.

Previously, Gabriele worked with various UN agencies on global humanitarian intelligence projects, Silicon Valley tech giants on humanitarian application development, entertainment companies to establish cybersecurity platform, and various projects focused on the preparation for technological continuity in the event of a catastrophic disaster.

She started her emergency management career with the City of Los Angeles, supporting multiple EOC activations and co-authoring several annexes for the City's Master Emergency Plan & Procedures.

Gabriele was appointed to FEMA's National Advisory Council within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2016. On the Council, she serves as a technology and foresight subject matter expert and is the Vice Chair of the "Marginalized, Tribal, Rural and Small Town Communities" (MTRS) Subcommittee.

Gabriele received her Bachelor's Degree in International Business from Howard University and a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the University of Southern California.

Pinnacle Award - Eileen Decker, MA, JD

Eileen M. Decker is currently serves as the Vice President of the L.A. Police Commission; a Fulbright Specialist in Cybersecurity Law & Policy; and an Adjunct Professor in Cybersecurity, Privacy, and National Security Law at USC, UCLA, and Pepperdine Law Schools.

Until March 2017, Eileen served as the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California where she served on five Attorney General Advisory Committees including Cyber/Intellectual Property and Terrorism/National Security. She led the federal investigation and response into the San Bernardino terrorist attack (including the Apple iPhone case), and cyber attacks on businesses within the district (including the hack of SONY Pictures).

Eileen was the L.A. Deputy Mayor for Homeland Security and Public Safety for nearly six years – the only Deputy Mayor to serve both former Mayor Villaraigosa and current Mayor Garcetti – and was responsible for matters related to the LAPD, the LAFD, and the Emergency Management Department. Prior to being Deputy Mayor, she was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for almost 15 years, becoming the first Chief of the National Security Section (responsible for all counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases). Prior to becoming an AUSA, she worked in private practice and served as a law clerk to U.S. District Judge Gary Taylor. Eileen received her undergraduate and law degrees from New York University, a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School, and was a Wasserstein Fellow at Harvard Law School.

Ripple Effect Award - Desi Matel-Anderson, JD

Desi Matel-Anderson is the Chief Wrangler of FIT and CEO of the Global Disaster Innovation Group, LLC. Desi is the first and former Chief Innovation Advisor at FEMA and Think Tank Strategic Vision Coordinator. During her tenure at FEMA, she led the first innovation team down to Hurricane Sandy to provide real-time problem solving in disaster response and recovery and ran think tanks nation-wide to cultivate innovation in communities. Her emergency management experience began when she volunteered in Northern Illinois University’s Office of Emergency Planning. She then worked with the Southeast Wisconsin Urban Area Security Initiative, and the City of Milwaukee Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office. In addition to her regional emergency management duties, she worked as an assessor of the Emergency Management Accreditation Program Assessor nation-wide.

She has since worked on numerous emergency management projects with agencies, communities, organizations and companies. She also lectures on innovation at Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley and several other universities across the country and serves as consultant on innovative practices and infrastructure for agencies and governments, nationally and internationally. Desi attended the National Preparedness Leadership Institute at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and School of Public Health in 2011, served on the Advisory Board of Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Institute in 2013, and holds a faculty position at the Harvard Kennedy School. She obtained a Juris Doctorate from Northern Illinois University in 2009.

Resilience Award - NBC Universal

NBCUniversal owns and operates a valuable portfolio of news and entertainment television networks, a premier motion picture company, significant television production operations, a leading television stations group, world-renowned theme parks, and a suite of leading Internet-based businesses. NBCUniversal is a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.

Our 2019 Award Luncheon Panel Speakers


Helen Chavez, MSW, Assistant Director, Preparedness Division, Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office/Office of Emergency Management

Helen Chavez is an Assistant Director at Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM). In this role, she leads teams responsible for developing and coordinating the development of Operational Area plans, community outreach and public information strategies that are designed to increase residents’ awareness and preparation for disasters and emergencies. Prior to joining OEM, Helen served as a lead planner, project manager and director of community investment and improvement projects for both the private and public sector. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Helen earned a Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California with a specialization in community organizing, planning and administration. She is bilingual in English and Spanish, an avid tennis player and fan, and currently resides in El Sereno, CA. 



Anita Hayden-Smith, MA, Captain, Port of Los Angeles Police Department: 

Anita Hayden-Smith is currently employed with the Los Angeles Port Police and serves as a police Captain. In her current role she oversees the Support Services Division, which encompasses: Criminal Investigations Section (CIS) Port and Task Force Detectives, Court Liaison, Crime Analysis/COMSTAT, Labor Relations, Communications, HazMat, Tactical Planning, Fleet and Flight Services.  She formerly served and worked at the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) Police Department at LAX, for approximately seventeen-years.

Anita began her career in private industry and worked for Northrop Grumman as a quality assurance inspector.  Anita received her Master’s Degree in Executive Leadership, from the University of Southern California (USC), as well as a certificate in Public Administration Management. She obtained her Bachelor’s Degree from California State University of Long Beach, in Professional Studies and Emergency Management. She is also a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) National Academy and Senior Management Institute for Police (SMIP – Boston, Massachusetts). She believes that she is a consummate professional, thoughtful, capable and well-rounded leader and loves her profession: giving back, as well as, serving others.   

In addition, she currently volunteers with her daughters Girl Scout Troop, Jack and Jill Inc. of America Los Angeles Chapter, Charles R. Drew University Saturday Science Academy for children, and serves on the Parent Association Executive Committee at her daughters’ school. As a Southern California native, outside the workplace, she enjoys relaxing, jazz concerts and traveling with her family (daughter and husband).  


Kristina Freas, MA, CEM, Contractor

Kristina Freas has an extensive background as a professional emergency manager specializing in the healthcare environment. Kristina began her career as a Paramedic and transitioned into the hospital setting as an ED Trauma RN.  The transition from field medicine into the hospital setting promoted opportunity as Mrs. Freas became the facility Emergency Management Coordinator and Base Hospital Liaison. Although these positions remined consistent, Kristina was appointed the position of interim ED Director for nine months at a Level II Trauma Center. From this experience, Kristina was hired into the position of Director of Emergency Management for a large healthcare organization overseeing emergency management programs for 39 hospitals in three states for a period of six years.

Kristina continued her education and graduated with honors with an MS in Public Safety/Emergency Management and a focus in Homeland Security, and currently, she is working toward obtaining a PhD in Emergency Management.  Progressing toward professionalizing emergency management,Kristina has also obtained the distinction of Certificated Emergency Manger (CEM) and currently works for a large social media organization as an emergency manager with global responsibilities.  Kristina  owns her own company and assists healthcare organizations with emergency management initiatives, education/training, and regulatory compliance.


Laura Hernandez, MPA, Port Hueneme City Councilmember

Laura Hernandez is a skilled and experienced professional emergency manager with over 30 years of emergency management experience in local government. Most recently she served over 16 years as the Assistant Director for the Ventura County California Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services (OES). In this capacity, Laura represented and reported to the Sheriff, Director of Emergency Services. Her responsibilities included directing and managing the county’s disaster planning, response, recovery and hazard mitigation programs. Laura has worked collaboratively with multiple local, state and federal agencies, volunteer organizations, utilities, harbors, ports, and the private sector to enhance local capabilities and increase the level of preparedness and readiness for communities nationwide. 

Among her many accomplishments, Laura helped launch the Statewide Emergency Management Mutual Aid Program (EMMA), created one of the first Terrorism Working Groups (TWG) in 1998, established the Private Sector Terrorism Working Group (PSTRG) in 2002, and led in the creation of the 2008 Ventura County Emergency Planning Council (EPC). 

For eleven years Laura worked for the City of Santa Monica as the City’s Emergency Services Coordinator. Prior to that, she worked for the Los Angeles Office of the City Administrative Officer as a budget analyst and staff to Los Angeles City's Emergency Operations Organization. From 1999 – 2002 she served as President of the California Emergency Services Association (CESA), a statewide organization comprised of emergency management professionals from both public and private sectors. From 1999-2000, she served as President of the Southern California Emergency Services Association. 

Laura is widely recognized and respected by her peers as one of the most progressive emergency managers in the State of California. She is an advocate of using a collaborative and inclusive approach to disaster planning and brings to the project team, a unique ability to apply real-world experience to the planning process.

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Earlier Event: April 10
Wonder Women of Bioterrorism