LAHAINA, Hawaii (Jan. 10, 2024) -- On the scorched lands of Lahaina and Kula in Maui, Hawaii, where the scars of last year’s devastating wildfires still reverberate, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Critical Incident Stress Management program stands as a beacon of support to those who are supporting the recovery efforts on the ground.
Diane Gilbert, a management support specialist with the USACE Buffalo District, was deployed there as a CISM team member to assist Army Corps employees grappling with the aftermath. USACE is in Hawaii in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency mission responding to the wildfires.
USACE assists the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA by coordinating federal public works and engineering-related support, as well as providing technical assistance, engineering expertise, and construction management to prevent, prepare for, respond to and/or recover from domestic incidents.
“We are able to provide a listening ear, assist with events and activities to help ease the time away from home, family, and friends, refer them to resources, and mostly just be here for them when they feel the need,” Gilbert said.
The CISM team, organized under the USACE Command Surgeon, provides information about stress that employees can use to help identify healthy life choices while responding to critical incidents. They also offer a confidential atmosphere that employees can turn to for one-on-one support.
Army Corps employees who witness the devastation in Maui day after day, find comfort in the CISM team, Gilbert explained. The importance of just being there, sometimes in silence, offering a shoulder to learn on, makes a difference in the face of trauma when words may fail but companionship speaks volumes, she continued.
Despite the long days working from dark to dark, Gilbert and her team find ways to infuse hope. Therapy dogs, stress balls, and puzzles become more than just diversions — they’re symbols of resilience and camaraderie. The team’s efforts extend beyond the immediate crisis, attending town hall meetings, working alongside the Army Corps Chaplain, and providing a listening ear during the recent holidays.
CISM became a nationwide Corps of Engineers program in 2006 after a three year pilot. Every CISM team member receives training and certification in providing CISM interventions.
Now used by the over a dozen government agencies including all branches of the U.S. military, the FBI, Homeland Security, and international agencies such as the Red Cross, CISM has been in practice for over 40 years.
Amidst the ruins, Gilbert said she was heartened by the collaborative effort of all USACE members working together to restore the island’s beauty and preserve its rich cultural history.
She said they all received cultural training, fostering a sense of belonging with local residents.
“To hear them say ‘mahalo’ (thank you) to us just for being here and caring about them was humbling,” she said.
The televised images of destruction pale in comparison to the firsthand experience, she said.
“Even in the devastation here, there is Aloha spirit from those who live here and the appreciation they express when they see these red shirts we wear every day.”