Sept. 9, 2021 (St. Louis, MO) – 3CMA Presents the 2021 Communicator of the Year Award to Carrie Lujan from the City of Santa Clarita, CA
The list of things a Communications Manager does is quite extensive. They are protector of their agency’s reputation, storyteller, cheerleader, creative force, motivator, innovator and they always have their ear to the ground to hear the community’s desires and concerns. They take action and provide needed information during emergencies and tragedies – and create and innovate to build a sense of community during the best times.
This year’s Communicator of the Year has fulfilled all of these roles and more over the last two years. She has informed and engaged the residents of the community she serves through arguably the toughest times in its history, and she did it all while creating a strong sense of community and pride.
Santa Clarita is nestled in a valley 30 miles north of Downtown Los Angeles. Surrounded by acres of open space and a climate that sees temperatures reaching well past the 100-degree mark – there is a constant threat of wildfires. In October 2019, the devastating Tick Fire broke out on the east side of Santa Clarita. Fueled by high winds, the fire burned 4,615 acres, damaging 45 structures and destroying 29. The blaze also forced the evacuation of 40,000 residents, the largest evacuation operation in the City’s history.
From the Emergency Operations Center, Carrie Lujan gathered updates from the Command Post and partner agencies, and delivered timely, verified information to residents and media members, ensuring that clear communications reached those who needed it most. Her strategy included the deployment of the City’s emergency website, which was updated with regular posts. Live videos were posted to social media channels and press conferences were organized daily. This allowed residents to receive updates related to street closures and evacuations directly, while also combatting unverified information being posted online.
As the incident concluded, Carrie continued keeping residents informed by coordinating with Los Angeles County on the opening of a Local Assistance Center and using press releases, social media posts and live videos to educate residents on the resources available. Over the course of the Tick Fire, Carrie enhanced the City’s reputation as being the most trusted source of information in the Santa Clarita Valley.
This trust in the City was further solidified just 10 days later. On November 14, 2019, a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita pulled a handgun from his backpack and shot five of his classmates – killing two – before turning the gun on himself. Carrie reported to the command post, assisted with evacuations, reunifications and organizing the press conference. As the community tried to come to grips with the tragedy and young lives lost, Carrie took the lead in planning a community vigil, which brought nearly 15,000 community members together three days after the tragedy to grieve, support each other and begin to heal. The school district was understandably still shaken and processing what happened. Carrie stepped up and organized the vigil, coordinating speakers, run of show, family accommodations, secured thousands of glow sticks and more. In addition to planning the event logistics, Carrie also developed a comprehensive public outreach strategy to inform residents about the vigil, secured media coverage, created the Saugus Strong website and streamed the event through Facebook Live to more than 50,000 viewers.
These tragedies took place just months before Santa Clarita and the world plunged into a global pandemic. Carrie quickly pivoted and embraced the technology available to safely continue outreach and engagement with the community and City staff. She produced regular Facebook Live updates from the Mayor to inform the public of the latest pandemic developments, restrictions and to answer their questions. She also worked to honor essential workers through the Hearts for Heroes campaign and reminded residents what resources and activities were still available, through the Santa Clarita CAN DOs.
So, for these reasons, and so many more, the City-County Communications & Marketing Association, assembled in conference in St. Louis, MO on the ninth day of September, 2021, does hereby confer its highest individual honor – the Communicator of the Year – upon our friend and colleague from the City of Santa Clarita, CA – Carrie Lujan.