Keith Creagh had the less-than-desirable front-row seat to much of the state’s response effort to the ongoing Flint water crisis. A longtime director of several state government agencies, Creagh was tapped to head the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality following the resignation of the previous director in January. Now the director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Creagh spoke with MiBiz in early November after his appearance on a panel related infrastructure and its relationship to health.

During your presentation, you talked about how you stepped into the role at DEQ as the Flint crisis was at its worst. What were some lessons you took out of that crisis? 

It’s always easy in retrospect, but we need to be good listeners and we need to be directly engaged with communities across state government. It doesn’t matter if it’s agriculture, natural resources, public health or corrections. It’s really incumbent on state government to have good community relationships and I think there’s a little lack of clarity. 

What do you see as the consequences of that lack of clarity?

When you’re in the middle of a crisis, to define those roles and build those relationships, it’s too late. One thing I’ve tried to do in my career is to have the network established before the crisis. That’s been really beneficial. 

How so? 

As we stood up emergency operation centers and instant command centers, it was good to have relationships built so you could call on instant commanders or people could do geographical information systems, or someone who had water expertise could assure that there was an integrated response. 

The hope would be that a Flint-like crisis would never happen again, but what should public leaders be doing right now to have those lines of communication open when the next crisis comes around? 

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