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Nothing Routine About 2017

Reflecting on Team Rubicon's Stretch Goals for Continued Success

It’s hard to believe 2017 is drawing to a close and 2018 is soon upon us. Team Rubicon has been in a sprint since January 1, 2017, and it doesn’t seem like there’s been an opportunity to let up on the gas pedal. TR is moving faster and growing at a furious clip. We’re looking ahead and have been planning for 2018 for the past three months. But that is goodness. Disasters are our business!


Team Rubicon has responded to 228 disasters across the world since 2010, with 63 responses in 2017.


I always like the holidays, because it allows that momentary break. This time of the year, as we rush to get ready for the next one, I’m reminded of a lesson I learned a long time ago while appreciating the finer points of theater (as in movie theater):

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

So I’m going to slow down a bit and recap an amazing year. I’ll start by covering some of the things Team Rubicon hoped to accomplish in 2017. Team Rubicon wanted to create capacity (how much TR could do), and we wanted to improve and scale our capabilities (what TR could do). This growth was an aspirational stretch goal, and with it would come risks. TR had to accomplish this growth while staying laser-focused on our mission, ensuring every volunteer has a fulfilling experience without sacrificing extraordinary outcomes for the survivors we would serve. In order to mitigate risk and produce the right outcomes, we set out in 2017 to invest heavily in the enablers that would ensure our success.

Training was a key focus throughout the year. If our volunteers had the opportunity to develop new skills and improve or maintain existing ones, it would allow the organization to have the best outcomes in the face of disaster, while increasing the organization’s ability to do more in less time. We created new courses, unlocked the best talent in the organization and qualified them as instructors, scheduled and carried out in-person training events throughout the country, and created online training for those unable to attend in-person events. As I “stop and look around,” I’m amazed at the results. Team Rubicon conducted just under 65,000 hours of training in 2017.


A second pillar of our growth strategy was to continue to focus on building capacity and capabilities at a local level (rather than national), in order to allow for the planning, assessment, reconnaissance, and execution of response operations. This is key as we define a “disaster” as an event that overwhelms a community’s ability to respond. In some locations rich in resources, it takes a major event to overwhelm the system, while in others, it doesn’t take much. If TR focused on increasing the ability to respond at a local level, national-level disasters could activate volunteers from these centers of gravity in communities throughout the country. Our bet was that building at a local level would allow us to respond to small and large disasters.

This proved to be a solid wager in 2017. We started the year with a local flood response in Sonoma County, CA, and finished the end of the year with another community-based snowstorm response during in Erie, PA. In all, TR responded to 63 operations this year, and increase of 34 percent from the 47 responses of the previous year, and 84 percent of those operations were assessed, planned, and executed wholly by our volunteer leaders.

These investments were timely and provided the “building blocks” of volunteer capacity and capability that would be crucial to responding to the historic hurricane season that began in August. Harvey’s three U.S. landfalls drenched South Texas and the 27 trillion gallons of rainwater tested Team Rubicon’s ability to respond at a national level. The results of Operation Hard Hustle were beyond what we envisioned when we defined “scaling” at the start of the year.


Team Rubicon spent three months on the ground serving residents impacted by Harvey. Up next, we’ll work to rebuild 100 homes in the next two years.


This brings us to another enabler and pillar of our strategy: ensuring Team Rubicon could scale and validate the investments our donors and volunteers were making to “help people on their worst day.” We actively measured, captured, and understood how the organization was turning donors’ dollars and volunteers’ time into meaningful outcomes. Perhaps more importantly, we collaborated with incredible partners to understand, quantify, and be transparent as possible in showing how Team Rubicon could tackle today and be ready for tomorrow. The result was the creation of the Open Initiative. We invited the community to join us in this journey to ensure we are creating and maintaining an organization that can best serve communities for the next hundred years.

So, I’ll finish by saying that as Team Rubicon closes out 2017 and I heed Ferris’s advice and look around, I’ll pass along a few thoughts. I’m humbled by what our 71,000 volunteers have done for communities across the country; they are built to serve. I’m hopeful our supporters and donors trust that Team Rubicon will continue to answer the call in the most impactful manner possible; we owe it to them to keep their trust and make the most of their gifts. Finally, I’m hopeful we’ve impacted lives across the country, making their worst day better; and I’m betting on our ability to do more in 2018.

TR operational data as of December 15, 2017.

Art delaCruz is the COO of Team Rubicon. He served honorably for over 22 years in the United States Navy and enjoyed a career that included a broad range of assignments. Art commanded a Navy strike-fighter squadron, spent one year with McKinsey & Co. as a Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellow, served as a Topgun instructor, and made six combat deployments. After retiring, he spent two and a half years in the aerospace and defense sector in the roles of business development and strategy and planning.