By Edward LoomisJanuary 29, 2018
VILLALBA, Puerto Rico -- Gathered under a metal shelter next to their neighborhood's sports field, community members waited their turn to address concerns to their mayor and representatives of federal agencies.
Restoration of power was the lead-off topic. Some stepped forward to speak through a microphone and amplifiers, while several others were more comfortable raising concerns from their seats.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers local government liaison (LGL) Diane Kozlowski listened and frequently captured notes as Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA)'s Lily Garcia translated discussions underway in Spanish. After the meeting held January 27, 2018, Kozlowski spoke with Villalba Mayor Luis Javier Hernàndez.
"There's a reason we have two ears and one mouth," Kozlowski said. "We need to listen more than we should talk. The motto of the LGL program is 'Facilitating Success,' and we achieve that through listening and communicating."
As she nears the end of her second month-long deployment to the region around Ponce, Puerto Rico, that includes Villalba, Kozlowski says that she performs several roles for the Corps and FEMA.
"I am a forward observer," she said. "I see things and report them to the appropriate people."
However, Kozlowski said that local government liaisons must go beyond observing and be problem solvers for people in areas affected by disasters like Puerto Rico following hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Another thing that Kozlowski does is to be responsive to local elected officials' goals. Villalba is located on mountainous terrain that physically separates its neighborhoods. Hernàndez wanted to hold separate meetings in several neighborhoods close to their residents instead of a mass meeting that would be difficult to reach for some people.
For local government liaisons like Kozlowski, "the most important part is the communications piece, up, down and laterally." She said liaisons serve as a conduit for information, assisting municipalities to understand Corps missions that support the recovery process, including debris, temporary roofing, temporary power, critical public facilities assessment and repair, and the Corps' priority mission in Puerto Rico, restoring permanent power infrastructure alongside the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority.
first volunteered for the Corps' local government liaison cadre five years ago, a step that required her commander's endorsement. She then completed a week-long, scenario-based training session that she summed up as an extended job interview.
In between major events, the cadre gathers annually to keep their skills sharp. However, the group hasn't lacked for practice since Hurricane Harvey hit Texas' Gulf Coast.
Kozlowski has deployed twice, and she knows one colleague who has deployed for Hurricane Irma, the California wildfires, and now is in Puerto Rico for the Maria/Irma response.
When she isn't deployed, Kozlowski is the regulatory branch chief for the Corps of Engineers' Buffalo District, a job that she says taught skills she is using in her current mission.
"[Regulatory specialists] deal with difficult topics, and sometimes the news we deliver may not be good news," she said. "What is most important is to stick with the facts."
Kozlowski was effusive with praise for the translation support she has received from Garcia through her deployments. She said that Garcia and other island residents hired to support the response and recovery were essential contributors to mission success at the same time they dealt with the storms' effects as survivors.
She also credited her three section chiefs at Buffalo District and her husband for supporting her through the deployments.