This week, Brian Brauer started as the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s first Executive Director of Emergency Management.
He’s no stranger to campus though – Brauer has served the Illinois Fire Institute for more than 23 years – most recently as its Associate Director. There, he educated and trained firefighters throughout the state of Illinois. He moved to Champaign-Urbana in 1990 to attend the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
For the past two years, Brauer has been an integral part of the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, he co-managed the Campus Emergency Operations Center. He later was directly involved in the creation of and initial training for the Wellness Support Associate program. He continues to serve as a member of the COVID Operations Leadership Team and the COVID Executive Steering Committee, where he offers his expertise on how to keep the university operating under difficult circumstances.
The Emergency Management team at the Division of Public Safety touches every campus unit. Emergency managers are responsible for anticipating threats – both natural and manmade. And then they plan how to keep people safe in those scenarios, and how to keep the university up and running under the most difficult of circumstances.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic existed, campus emergency managers identified infectious disease as the second most-likely hazard to affect the university (a tornado was ranked as the most-likely threat). That expertise and preparation was among the reasons why the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was able to respond quickly and effectively to the pandemic, and why universities and organizations across the country now look at the Illinois campus as a model for COVID-19 response.
We asked Brauer a few questions to learn more about what he does and what’s in store for Emergency Management at the Division of Public Safety:
What got you interested in this position as Executive Director of Emergency Management?
I’ve always had a commitment to helping others. I had the opportunity to explore this want through the Boy Scouts as a youth, and I’ve both worked and volunteered as a first responder for my entire adult life.
After 9/11, I helped design the courses for training Illinois responders to contend with and manage technical rescue and hazardous materials emergencies. During the 2008 Mississippi River floods, I had the chance to apply this experience in the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield. In 2009, I was asked to help design and implement an Emergency Operations Center for our campus as a feature in a new building on the south campus. That led to me being in a support role managing the EOC during incidents and events on campus. I enjoy the complexity of planning for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies — especially in the campus setting. I earned three degrees from the University of Illinois that apply to emergency management and only sharpened my interest. When I saw the posting, I didn’t hesitate to apply.
What is Emergency Management, and how does it affect the campus community?
Emergency Management is a broad term which includes emergency assessment, preparedness, response and recovery. For our campus, that means assessing the likelihood of different types of emergencies, planning for those emergencies, training others to respond to those emergencies and lead or coordinate the response, and aid our campus in returning to as normal as we can return to after the event. For the example of the COVID-19 pandemic, our campus had a plan for dealing with infectious diseases which we activated two years ago this month. Based on that plan and specific information about the virus, we adapted our response to the changing challenges of the pandemic. Based on how the 1918 pandemic tapered off in the United States, I’m hopeful that in the coming year we’ll shift our efforts to an endemic state where we live with the virus like we do influenza, measles or other infectious agents we’ve adapted to.
You spent more than two decades at the Illinois Fire Service Institute educating and training firefighters. What intersections does the fire service have with emergency management?
In many places, the fire department is responsible for emergency management since most of the topics which we consider emergencies have a non-human cause: Fires, tornadoes, weather events, water main interruptions, power outages and building collapses. I responded to these events as a volunteer firefighter and fire officer for 23 years, and I trained others to respond to them in my time at the Illinois Fire Service Institute. Additionally, as the statutory state fire academy, IFSI is the co-chair of training for the Illinois Terrorism Task Force and has been the lead agency for the delivery of emergency incident management training in the state since 2003. The Emergency Management team and I all have extensive training in these nationally-moderated processes.
Other threats, such as active shooter situations, intentional explosions or chemical releases, and civil unrest have a human cause and are better addressed through law enforcement attention rather than the fire service.
Placing this position under the Division of Public Safety allows us to tap into the right resources for mitigating an emergency — whether it’s fire department, emergency medical services, law enforcement, or facilities and services — and coordinate and support those resources for the fastest resolution of the emergency.
What can our campus community members to do make sure they are prepared for an emergency?
The biggest thing a member of our campus community can do is pay attention to what’s happening around them and what they can do to be as safe as possible. For example, most of our weather events in the area give us time to provide watches and warning ahead of the actual emergency. Heed those watches and warnings. Be mindful of safe places to go if a tornado warning is issued and what supplies to have on hand if there’s a thunderstorm or ice storm where power loss is likely. Remember during a winter storm that travel may be hazardous or treacherous.
Other types of emergencies can pop up with little to no warning, and the best thing to do in those cases is subscribe for Illini-Alert now. These alerts can help you avoid certain areas during sudden emergencies like a fire, suspicious package investigation or a large vehicle accident.
As we assemble the new department, we intend to have monthly topics for preparedness to aid our campus community to be ready to respond. There’s a solid foundation for that — our campus has three state or national designations for emergency management. We’re both a Storm Ready community through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and a Ready to Respond Campus through the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. We’re also a HEARTSafe campus, and we’re the largest campus in the U.S., first school in Illinois, and first campus in the Big Ten to earn that recognition.