Denise Brew helps Dunn County as the emergency manager
DUNN COUNTY—Disasters often strike with little to no warning, leaving first responders and many other organizations in the community with little time to form a plan of action. However, emergency managers help ensure everyone is prepared in the face of disaster.
Dunn County Emergency Manager Denise Brew attends various training sessions throughout the year. Training sessions allow people from across the area and across the state to learn from one another and practice their skills in "real-life" scenarios.
"It's in case there's a plane crash or in case there's an ebola breakout or a pandemic where all of the sudden we have 40 dead people in Dunn County, what are we going to do?" she said.
Brew is currently in the process of planning a full-scale search and recovery scenario this June in the Badlands. The full-scale scenario means people will be on the ground and will have to work with one another to develop a plan of action. The scenario will also involve law enforcement and many other agencies.
"It will be like the real deal," she said. "If you go to Bismarck and you go outside and they put the fake legs out there and you've got to walk through but you know where everything is. We're going to do it (in the Badlands) and say 'Go ahead guys.'"
Brew said everyone can always hope a large plane crash or some other type of disaster doesn't happen in Dunn County or in North Dakota in general, but it's always possible.
"We had people that have trained us that were actually at 9-11 and the Oklahoma City bombing and they said 'We're proud of you for forming this team, but you're probably sitting here thinking 'it'll never happen here,'" she said. "But it can happen."
Relationship building is an important component of all training exercises, Brew said. It allows everyone to test communication issues, among a range of other things.
"One of the biggest reasons we do this is to get something created out here so that I can work with the sheriff's department, the fire department and others so they know who's in charge," she said. "That's one of the biggest battles because everybody wants to be in charge."
Sherry Adams, with the Southwest District Health Unit and the Southwest Disaster Coalition, has worked with Brew for about a decade.
"She is very motivated, very driven, very passionate," Adams said. "She believes in being prepared and ready."
Adams said the two have a good working relationship and have become friends, adding that the two are in communication if not weekly, then several times a month.
"It's kind of a win-win situation," Adams said. "You develop the partnerships and those partners grow and grow into friendships as well and so when there's something that happens you know you have that close-knit group that's able to come together and work and respond."
Before becoming the Dunn County Emergency Manager, Brew worked at the Farm Service Agency in Killdeer as a program technician. Brew has a degree in horticulture and has also previously worked as a florist.
"It got to the point where I didn't like it, I needed a change," she said.
A person approached her and told her that the former Dunn County Emergency Manager wanted to step down. When asked if she was interested in the job, Brew said yes.
"I had no idea what it was," she said. "I had no idea what I needed to do. I didn't care what it paid, I just wanted to change jobs real bad and so I got ready to fill out the application and then I talked with the auditor and he said, 'You've got the job.'"
Brew said she really didn't know what the job involved, but she decided to take it.
"It had to have been one of those divine intervention things because I love this job," she said. "... My husband calls me a trauma junkie because I'm an EMT also. So if I'm not having a disaster with this job, then I try to jump in an ambulance and help that way too."
When Brew originally took the emergency manager job she was a first responder, but hadn't gone through all of the extra training to become an EMT.
"When I took the job I kind of thought it was ambulance," she said. "Then I got in here and I found out, it's not just ambulance. It's fire and law enforcement and ambulance, it's all of it together. Anything that could possibly go wrong and they need someone to go take care of it, that's what it is in a nutshell."
Brew has dealt with various disasters during her time as emergency manager including the recent drought and fires, as well as the 2016 Killdeer hailstorm. She also helped when Medora flooded several years ago.
"There's always something," she said.
Brew said she enjoys the challenges and different things she deals with each day, but she also loves the people she works with.
"It takes a village to make sure that your emergency management is working because if you have a county where everybody's on board ... that helps so much," she said. "I love this job. It's a passion."