Champaign County Emergency Management Agency director Craig Evans retired from his position June 26 after 11 years as the agency’s director.
The retirement comes after decades of service to the community. It started at the Urbana Fire Division. Evans said he always wanted to be a firefighter and his interest grew while serving in the Navy for four years.
“They teach everyone in the Navy how to fight fire and then I volunteered for the damage control party, got my first aid card,” Evans said. “I learned in the Navy kind of what I wanted to do, which was firefighting.”
After working as one of the first 500 employees hired at Honda’s Marysville motorcycle plant, Evans was hired by the Urbana Fire Division on his birthday in 1983. In 1991, he was promoted to fire captain, a position he held until he retired in 2000.
During his tenure with the Urbana Fire Division, Evans was a training officer for the department and started a business in which he provided emergency response and management training for multiple businesses. He said this experience helped him understand the process of emergency management and the multiple stakeholders involved in a large event.
Evans started in the EMA as a volunteer in December 2000 under former Urbana fire chief Eugene Branstiter, who had retired from the fire department and was the chief of the EMA at the time.
“Firefighting and law enforcement are all kind of a young man’s games,” Evans said. “I loved the business, I loved what I did and I kind of looked at it and said ‘this could be a way I could extend my career by going into emergency management.’”
Urbana Fire Chief Mark Keller, who replaced Evans as a fire captain, worked closely with Evans for a number of years in the Urbana Fire Division. Keller said through the leadership of Branstiter and Evans, the EMA has helped local entities come together and handle different incidents including hazmat, flooding and tornadoes.
Keller said Evans was one of the founding members of the county’s hazmat team and brought hazardous material training to the community.
Evans said the EMA director looks at four phases of emergency management including mitigation, response, planning and recovery.
Following 9/11, Evans said, Homeland Security funding started to flow in and he was hired as a part-time employee in December 2001. When Branstiter stepped away from the director position, Evans was recommended and hired as the director in 2004.
“He was just a great mentor,” Evans said of Branstiter. “You couldn’t have asked for a better person to learn the ropes of emergency management from. I was really blessed to have him.”
Some of the major events that took place during Evans’ tenure as EMA director included major snow and ice storms in late 2004 and early 2005, flooding in the northwest area of Urbana in 2008, high winds from Hurricane Ike in 2008 and severe wind and storms in June 2012.
A major accomplishment Evans said he is proud of is the consolidation of dispatch centers to form the Champaign County Public Safety Communications Center, or 911 center, which opened in 2006. Evans said the project was a team effort of elected officials and first responder chiefs.
“I think any first responder would agree that the way it is now is better than the way it was,” Evans said. “Prior to that, if we had an event – and if it affected both the city and the county – then I had to decide where I was going to go get my information because it was under two roofs. One of them was at the city of Urbana to find out what was going on in Urbana and the other was at the county sheriff’s office to find out what was going on in the county. That’s just not a good situation when you’re trying to coordinate your assets, so getting it all under one roof was huge.”
Vannessa Haley, 911 center director, said Evans has been a crusader for making sure the center succeeds. Haley has been the 911 director almost two years and said Evans was key in helping her transition into the position in 2013 while the center was seeking an operating levy.
“I certainly see a superhero in him when I’m a person coming from someplace unrelated and there’s this need to maintain this facility and its abilities,” Haley said. “He believed in that and he taught me as much as he could and caught me up to speed as much as he could so I could try to help him in that endeavor.”
Now in retirement, Evans said his next career is being a small business owner operating Champaign Fire Equipment, LLC, 200 Park Ave. In addition to selling hand-held fire extinguishers, Evans said he can help people discuss fire exit plans or strategies for finding shelter during a tornado.
New director in charge
Taking over for Evans is former Urbana police officer Kip Michael, who has job shadowed as the assistant EMA director since December. Michael worked for the Urbana Police Division from October 1991 until retiring last November. He said the opportunity came when he felt it was time to make a transition.
“This opportunity arose and I initially hadn’t even thought about it before Craig called,” Michael said. “The more I thought about it and I spoke with my family and then prayed about it, it seemed like the right fit at the right time.”
Urbana Police Chief Matt Lingrell has worked closely with both men. He described Michael as a kind and caring officer during his time with the department.
“I think it has been a nice transition from Craig to Kip, as a change has occurred within the Champaign County EMA, and I’m certain that if Kip ever needed advice or direction, Craig would be there to provide it,” Lingrell said. “Craig and Kip both represent all that is good about those who are tasked with overseeing or providing safety to our community.”
In addition to his experience with the Urbana Police Division, Michael was an active and reserve soldier in the Air Force. When he was deployed to Iraq, Michael was a superintendent of training and logistics, a role that Evans said will help as the EMA director in situations where managing logistics and supplies are important.
Michael said the information he received from Evans while job shadowing has been invaluable. While Michael was taking introductory courses as part of the promotion, Evans was able to keep the agency’s normal business hours.
“I do relish the time that I’ve had with Craig to learn and get to know the job,” Michael said. “I won’t tell you that I know everything about it yet but he has been a great influence.”
Throughout his tenure as the EMA director, Evans said, he was fortunate to have an executive board that listened to him and supported him. He also credits the board for allowing Michael to job shadow him since late last year to allow for a seamless transition.
“We have some really good people in this county that just roll up their shirtsleeves and go to work when something happens and they help each other out,” Evans said. “That’s probably the biggest strength of the county, the ability of just people helping neighbors and each other.”