Crisis Communications Leader Award


Frank Potter Cowan Crisis Communications Leader Award

Established in 2017, the Frank Potter Cowan Crisis Communications Leader award recognizes a Public Information Professional (or Team) who demonstrated extraordinary success in leading a team during a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or a reputational crisis.

CAPIO developed this award to recognize the men and women who lead teams during a crisis.

“Whether it’s a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or a reputational crisis in the media, stress levels are at their highest and the most important thing to remember is that we grow and learn from these experiences and we survive together.”
   –​CAPIO 2017-2019 Board President Christine Brainerd


The inaugural Frank Potter Cowan Crisis Communications Leader Award was presented to Frank Cowan at the 2017 Award of Excellence Gala in San Diego. Frank Potter Cowan has been instrumental in developing training courses for communicators who are faced with an unexpected emergency. In 1984, he developed the California Specialized Training Institute, CSTI, which is offered through the State of California Office of Emergency Services. Cowan personally worked as a Crisis PIO during three major earthquakes in California, two major urban/wildland fires, a statewide flood, an oil spill off the Ventura coast and a biker rally in Hollister. Real life lessons learned during those disasters were integrated into the training. Throughout his career Frank Potter Cowan mentored PIOs who faced the stress of being under pressure during an unexpected emergency and was always generous in mentoring former students and colleagues during times of crisis. 

Nomination Information 

The Crisis Communications Leader of the Year award may be given to an individual, and/or a team of an agency who demonstrated leadership during a crisis.  This can be a crisis such as a fire or earthquake or flooding, or it can be a crisis of confidence. 

How to Nominate   

All entries and supporting documents must be submitted electronically to CAPIO through our nomination form.

Nominations should include a written narrative no longer than two pages in length. Supporting documents that reinforce the written narrative and demonstrate the candidate’s achievements are recommended.

In nominating an individual or team for the award, a nominator should review the Crisis Communication Leader Award scoring rubric and might consider:

Key considerations when nominating an individual, team or agency:
Individual (Team or Agency):

  • Exhibited strong leadership
  • Excelled in getting accurate information to the right people fast
  • Displayed the ability to work quickly as a team
  • Effectively used of all forms of media
  • Provided strong, clear emergency public information 
  • Effectively used Maps, other visuals and graphics
  • Provided information relevant to affected populations
  • Showed effective use of regular, consistent briefings
  • Worked well with unfamiliar agencies / PIOs
  • Provided support for their team example: morale or emotional support, pizza for long shifts etc.

When submitting your nomination, you may share information used such as a function chart, graphics, images or links to briefings, etc.  To submit supplemental information for the nomination, you may attach it to the nomination form or email it to  You may also provide quotes or support from those involved such as local and regional reporters, evacuees, affiliated partner agencies and support teams. You may share facts from the incident, discuss ramp up time, discuss political issues, and any other complicating factors that the person, team or agency faced during the crisis.

Crisis Communications Leader Award scoring rubric.

Recipient Selection

The final selection will be made by the Board or appointed selection committee prior to the Annual Conference each year.

Award Honors

The recipient will be recognized at our celebration dinner during CAPIO’s annual conference. In addition, CAPIO will send a news release and supporting photograph(s) to the award winner’s employer and to local media following the announcement.

Deadline & Contact

Nominations are due no later than March 16 at 5 pm.  If you have questions, call us at 1-844-CAPIO55 or email


Fresno County Communications Team Wins 2024 Frank Potter Cowan Crisis Communicator of the Year Award

The California Association of Public Information Officers (CAPIO) has awarded the Fresno County Communication Team the 2024 Frank Potter Cowan Crisis Communicator of the Year Award for their extraordinary efforts to educate the public on the dangers of winter storms that struck the County in 2023. The number of atmospheric storms that impacted the Central Valley and the County had severe public safety scenarios that could have led to a more significant loss of life and injuries. The Fresno County Communications Team provided vital warnings and educational information on easy-to-reach channels to get the word out.


Las Virgenes Municipal Water District honored with 2023 Frank Potter Cowan Crisis Communicator of the Year Award

Monterey, Calif., – The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District was awarded the California Association of Public Information Officials (CAPIO) 2023 Frank Potter Cowan Crisis Communicator Award on Wednesday, May 3.  LVMWD was honored for their dedication, perseverance, and customer-service central approach during the most critical months of the state-wide drought. 


2022 Frank Potter Cowan Crisis Communications Leader
Jennifer Carey

Jennifer Carey

Respected for her leadership, collaboration, and forward-thinking during the Huntington Beach oil spill, Jennifer Carey has established herself as a respected and trusted figure within the city of Huntington Beach. As the Public Information Officer for the Huntington Beach Police Department, and now Public Affairs Manager for the City of Huntington Beach, Jennifer is relied upon to relay timely and sensitive information to the City’s nearly 200,000 residents.

While over a million beachgoers were enjoying the sights and sounds of jets flying overhead as part of the Pacific Airshow in October 2021, Jennifer was working alongside Huntington Beach public safety staff to assess the magnitude of a potential oil spill happening just miles off the Huntington Beach coast. Jennifer took control of the situation and quickly asserted herself as a leader and initiated a game plan for communicating with residents and stakeholders. Utilizing her regional and national contacts, Jennifer swiftly pulled together information and resources to quickly and proactively communicate details on the evolving situation.

Jennifer quickly became the go-to for oil spill information not only for the press and Huntington Beach residents, but for other cities and agencies across the nation.