The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has established a Recovery Field Office on Maui in support of the Hawai'i wildfires disaster response, and veteran emergency manager from the USACE Nashville District Jerry Breznican has assumed a key role managing the hub of USACE response activities.
When large-scale natural disasters occur, USACE often stands up RFOs to oversee the management and execution of Federal Emergency Management Agency mission assignments.
The RFO allows USACE to have a central location for its mission experts to work and support the Maui community during this disaster response. From here, USACE’s team leads for debris, power, and critical public facilities work with on-the-ground leadership and partner agencies to better facilitate the recovery effort.
“The RFO is the central command and control node where the missions are executed,” said Breznican. “You’ll have the debris team, critical public facilities, logistics, finance, the administration side, they’re all here as part of the RFO.”
USACE personnel at the new office in Central Maui will work behind-the-scenes to administer each of the programs. The RFO will enable the planning and response teams to execute the mission on the ground so they can provide direct support to the hardest-hit communities of Lahaina, Kula and Olinda.
“There will be approximately 30 team members working out of the RFO every day, in support of those PRTs who will be out working in the field,” said Breznican. “The team could grow even larger based on the mission needs.”
As the commander’s deputy, or chief of staff, Breznican serves as the senior civilian in charge of operations in support of Col. Jess Curry, the Maui Recovery Field Office commander.
“I am basically his right-hand man,” he said. “If anything needs done for the RFO to make things go smoother, it’s my job to make sure that happens.”
Breznican, who currently serves as the emergency management chief in the Nashville District, is no stranger to leading a team through a disaster response; he previously served as the operations chief in the Hurricane Michael RFO in Florida in 2018.
“In any disaster, the biggest challenge is organizing the chaos in the initial phases,” said Breznican. “We just have to get everybody on the same sheet of music initially, and that’s hard, because it’s almost like trying to organize a new district from the ground up, in the matter of a few weeks, or sometimes even in a matter of days.”
Breznican, who spent more than 20 years as an infantryman in the U.S. Army and another 20 years responding to natural disasters with USACE, says the devastation on Maui is unlike anything he’s ever seen.
“I have deployed 18 different times to disasters across the United States, including two deployments to Iraq with the Corps,” said Breznican. “But when I went through the area here in Lahaina…I mean, I’ve seen flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, ice storms, and the fire damage in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, but I’ve never, never in my career, seen anything like this.”
The disaster may be unprecedented, but for Breznican, managing the RFO—and the personnel and resources associated with it—is a familiar task.
“It’s just like managing anything I did in the military,” said Breznican. “But the real job is what we do for folks after an event. That’s what really makes this such a passion for me. It’s what we do for people after an event and how we help them. That’s what matters.”