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Rugged devices aid Team Rubicon’s disaster relief efforts

Andrew Deck

Andrew Deck is a journalist from Tokyo, Japan who specializes in technology, science, and entrepreneurship. His work has appeared in The Brown Political Review and The Brown Daily Herald.

What is Team Rubicon?

Watching tornadoes ravage the town of Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013, John New had a visceral reaction. He needed to be out there, helping the victims pick up the pieces of their lives.

“When I saw the footage it felt very personal,” he said.

A former Army intelligence operator, New yearned to be part of something bigger than himself after leaving the military. But his impulse to offer support did not immediately translate to action.

“I felt helpless,” New said. “One of the first things you learn in the military is you do not self-deploy. You don’t just show up — you need a team, and you need to be organized.”

However, when a CNN report showed a group of veteran first responders in the disaster area, New found a way to realize his calling. He contacted the organization, fulfilled the free online training requirements and booked the next flight to Moore.

Moore was New’s first deployment with Team Rubicon. He has been “addicted” ever since, he said.

Since its founding during the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Team Rubicon has been on the ground, offering aid to those who have been affected by natural disasters and providing veterans with a sense of purpose.

“In a disaster you see a lot of aid groups organizing in the field. Team Rubicon is the muscle of that,” New said. “We put rubber to the ground, and while we’re not the only ones to do that, we do it really darn well.”

Tech for the greater good

New’s passion for Team Rubicon has translated into a full-time role. He currently serves as a regional logistics manager for the disaster response group.

“The gadgets, the tools, the vehicles — basically I’m in charge of maintaining them and getting them where they need to be, when they need to be there,” he said.

The tech-centered position is natural considering New’s day job as Dell’s director of End-User Computing. New said he’s found constant support for his work with Team Rubicon from his employer.

“Dell is a company that really values volunteerism,” he said. “When I told my management about Team Rubicon, there wasn’t a second of hesitation. They just said, ‘Go,’ and my team covered me while I was gone.”

New not only found the support of his coworkers back home but also the support of Dell products on the ground.

Over the years Dell’s rugged laptops have become Team Rubicon’s primary field devices, according to Steve Hunt, the organization’s chief information officer.

The devices’ ability to withstand wear and tear is more than practical for Team Rubicon; it allows them to carry-out vital disaster relief operations.

New has seen these laptops in action. “When we’re using rugged laptops, we don’t have to care if we’re using wet gloves, or if the laptop gets beat up, or if we’re working in dirty, hot, nasty, conditions,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about hurting our pretty little notebooks.

“At Team Rubicon we see the scratches on our equipment as character building,” New added. “They’re battle scars.”

During Operation Tenzing, a mission to Nepal following the devastating April 2015 earthquake, rugged laptops were used to review drone footage above the villages. The aerial images allowed the team to assess the damage and create a plan of action.

But most importantly, the rugged laptop devices allowed the mission’s leaders to manage the operation’s logistics, including updating damage assessments, sending out work orders, coordinating where volunteers were on the ground and — without street numbers — mapping and navigating the area. It was Dell’s products that allowed Team Rubicon to carry out these vital tasks.

Hunt described the organization as the “action arm” of technologies companies such as Dell, putting products in the field for the better good.

Fighting for their own

From Haiti, to Moore, to Nepal, Team Rubicon has used military knowledge and technology to help those devastated by natural disasters. But to understand the organization solely as a disaster response group would be reductionist.

“To put it very simply, Team Rubicon helps veterans adjust,” Hunt explained. “Going from a high-intensity environment to a cubical is an unnatural act. It’s disorienting.”

Hunt said he believes Team Rubicon restores the bond that veterans once had in the military — the feelings of loyalty and brotherhood.

New finds a similar purpose in Team Rubicon. “It allows me to put my arm around a younger vet, someone who is dealing with demons of their own, and walk them through that,“ he said.

Ultimately, Team Rubicon is not only trying to save the devastated communities it serves; it is trying to save its own.

“I’m not sure what we would be doing if we weren’t working to reduce the 22 veterans who commit suicides every day,” New said. “Team Rubicon is here to give our brothers and sisters a sense of membership, a purpose and a family.”