Disasters in the Western United States would be infinitely more disastrous without Morgan Rains.
The 37-year-old resident of Fair Oaks, California, volunteers as deputy regional logistics manager for Team Rubicon. Her geographic area of specialty: FEMA Region IX, which includes Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.
In December, she helped lead volunteer response efforts following the Kincade Fire in that burned more than 80,000 acres in California’s Sonoma County and destroyed nearly 200 homes. That project was formally known as Operation Autumn Winds.
“It’s a super emotional job,” said Rains, a civilian who joined Team Rubicon in part to participate in service to honor her father, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War. “But knowing you’re helping people through a difficult time means everything.”
Though the specifics of each response are different, Rains’ tasks are similar each time. Most often, she spends her time on the organizational level, not in the field. During the recent Sonoma recovery, she stepped into the role of Incident Commander to head up response operations from a command center in Cloverdale, a town about five miles from the Kincade Fire burn zone. According to Rains, the effort was a “sift and sort,” which meant respondents assisted homeowners in locating valuable or meaningful items that remained in the ashes of their homes.
In all, 31 volunteers helped clean out 15 home sites. Along the way, they found medals, gold and silver coins, and a diamond that was part of a ring (which had melted away).
With assistance from dog and human workers from an organization named the Institute for Canine Forensics, Team Rubicon responders also managed to find the cremated remains of six individuals.
Over the course of that weekend, Rains oversaw the entire endeavor, coordinating personnel and staffing, making sure volunteers were wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE), and monitoring the exhaustion levels of the grey-shirted volunteers. She also served as a liaison with the local media, and as a confidant who listened patiently as Greyshirts returned to the command center to share stories about their days.
“When you work in the field, you get to talk to homeowners and hear their stories,” she said. “When you work on the planning side, it’s hard to get that connection until everyone returns from the field.”
This wasn’t the first response effort for Rains. She was inspired to volunteer by a friend back in 2017, and in nearly three years as a volunteer with Team Rubicon, she has participated in 14 operations, both within and outside of her coverage area, including responses to Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. She has also responded to mudslides in Hawaii.
Keith Leung, a relative newcomer to Team Rubicon, met Rains on a response effort following Hurricane Harvey in Friendswood, Texas—she was safety officer and he was operations section chief. Leung, now 33, remembered how diligently Rains ensured the safety of Greyshirts in the field, always making sure they were staying hydrated and wearing their PPE, such as gloves and hard hats.
“It was amazing to me how much she cared for everyone even though she had just met them,” said Leung, a nine-year U.S. Navy veteran and project manager for a financial technology company in San Francisco. “Hard work and dedication are second nature to her, and she does both with grace and ease.”
Disaster response isn’t the only volunteer work Rains does every year; she also trained through Team Rubicon to be a wildland firefighter for the federal Bureau of Land Management, though she hasn’t had the chance to participate in live firefighting just yet.
Rains certainly never thought she’d be managing disaster response. Growing up, she daydreamed of being an architect. In college, she studied economics. Her first job out of school dealt with workers’ compensation claims.
Today, her “day job” is as national quality manager for Sedgwick, a workers’ comp claims management services company headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee. Because she works remotely, she can work from anywhere in the world; because she has worked there for more than 15 years, she also gets six weeks’ worth of vacation every year. That’s how she’s able to participate in so many Team Rubicon engagements over the course of a full year.
Rains also is a wife and a mom—she has a 5-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son.
Looking back on her experiences, Rains said Team Rubicon has helped her grow as a person.
“Team Rubicon has taught me about humanity and the capacity of people to give back,” she said. “I enjoy seeing other people’s perspectives and feeling the emotions they’ve been through. But with this type of volunteer work sometimes that process can be difficult. You’re meeting these people on their most difficult days, it can be hard to feel what they’re feeling. It can be gratifying to be there and listen to them. It’s the most wonderful part and the most difficult part.”
She added: “At the end of the day, the humans around you are the most important things in your life, not all the stuff that can disappear at a moment’s notice.”