The Value of Partnerships When Disasters Strike
How a training exercise in 2016 set the stage for our response to Winter Storm Ulmer flooding in Nebraska
Team Rubicon’s Greyshirts arrive in Omaha, Nebraska, this week to begin cleaning up the damage caused by Winter Storm Ulmer, whose high winds, heavy rainfalls and blizzards caused historic flooding throughout the state. TR’s arrival has made some Nebraska residents relieved.
Amanda Brewer, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity Omaha, became teary-eyed when telling me this morning, “I always said I’d feel better if we had a disaster because Team Rubicon would come. We don’t know what we are doing and you do.” Brewer called Team Rubicon “capable and committed,” and said she is so grateful not only for TR’s disaster response arrival but also for the partnership the two agencies forged more than three years ago.
“We have construction skills,” Brewer said, “And TR will help us lead because our folks know construction but we have not been to a disaster.”
In 2015, TR member Chris Blomgren had an idea to create a simulated operation in Omaha as a way to train TR volunteers. He partnered with Mark Coffin, Habitat for Humanity Omaha’s Veteran Outreach Coordinator—who has also been a Team Rubicon volunteer since 2014—to create MOBEX Trigger, a mobilization exercise where participants could receive “right seat, left seat” training (to become command staff for deployments); learn how to do assessments, interior demolitions and expedient home repairs; and how to operate chain saws to become a sawyer. And the training would culminate with all of the participants then utilizing the new skills on a service project constructing three houses for Habitat.
Almost three years ago this week, that first MOBEX Trigger Training took place with 122 volunteers on the ground and another 24 who learned mission planning via distance education. The Salvation Army supplied the volunteers’ housing and mobile canteen (and that same Salvation Army is supplying the same things to TR’s grey shirts for this month’s Winter Storm Ulmer response). Team Depot, the nonprofit arm of Home Depot, also participated in the 2016 MOBEX Trigger.
And because that first year’s training was so successful, MOBEX Trigger has been run each year since. Coffin called the relationship with Team Rubicon “very symbiotic,” and said by the third year of Trigger trainings, Habitat Omaha had run out of houses for TR to rehabilitate so he had to recommend another area nonprofit. “Team Rubicon made us very far ahead of our build schedule,” Coffin said.
“Because of the training and the long term benefit of working with Team Rubicon, when disasters do happen, we now have readily available personnel and equipment,” Coffin said. “So when it came time to execute for real, it’s been a bunch of yesses. The training, events and partnerships were built and trust earned and there’s accountability.” And it is these things that has enabled Team Rubicon’s ease of setting up a forward operating base at the Salvation Army in Bellevue, Nebraska, a small city and Omaha suburb that has been hit hard by the flooding. (Coffin estimates more than 500 damaged homes in this town of 53,000 people.)
Blomgren said his original idea was to “stretch ourselves and figure out what we can do and try new capabilities.” He spent “at least six months” of his life planning that first MOBEX that took place March 31 through April 4, 2016, and he is satisfied that the results of that labor paved the way for this week’s response.
“Most of Nebraska is underwater, and Team Rubicon is answering the call for assistance,” Blomgren said. “Because of the legwork put in over the past three years by the Nebraska leadership, and especially Mark Coffin, the framework for deploying this partnership to a disaster was built, and this operation is being built on, and the partnership between the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and Team Rubicon will make it a successful one.”