Domestic AFTER ACTION REPORT
Operation name: Mississippi Mudcat
Duration: 6 days
Locations: Lamar County, Hattiesburg, MS
On Sunday, 10Feb13, a reported EF-3 tornado touched down in Hattiesburg, MS, and parts of rural Alabama. News reports of the tornado showed wide scale destruction to the University of Southern Mississippi, a local high school and many homes and businesses. It was determined that a team of two Team Rubicon volunteers would assess the situation, following the reported line of damage from west of Hattiesburg, MS, through parts of southern Alabama. Monday morning, 11Feb13, one member from Region IV and one member from Region VI set off south to do damage assessment, with plans on coordinating with HQ to determine if a response was needed. Region IV was put on Standby in OrgAction at this time. That afternoon, an OpOrder was issued, and volunteers were told to deploy to Hattiesburg. HQ arranged a hotel for accommodations, and a member of Palantir was deployed in support of our operation.
On 12Feb13, teams were sent out to assess damage in Hattiesburg and the surrounding area. Teams started in a 12 block area determined because of reports of major damage from EF-4 tornado. Using Palantir software, we performed approximately 86 structure and infrastructure assessments. We procured gear and equipment necessary to complete debris removal, made contact with Lamar County EOC, and secured lodging for the duration of our Op. There were no actual missions planned during this time, as the weather prohibited anything more than assessments.
On 13Feb13, weather again hindered operations for much of the morning. However, teams were able to get out into the field and perform debris removal at 2 houses belonging to Veterans, and 2 houses belonging to elderly citizens in Lamar County. Lamar County Deputy Volunteer Coordinator also set up a system at the EOC to set aside specific projects for TR. Met with county Emergency Management Director and Deputy Director, explained our capabilities using Palantir software, and offered any assistance they might need. This resulted in the county requesting survey/assessment assistance in an area that had not been assessed, resulting in completion of over 30 new damage assessments. Secured location of ICP one mile from county EOC, centrally located within our Operational area. Managed over 25 spontaneous volunteers in the field.
On 14Feb13, teams completed projects from previous day, coordinated service project with Home Depot for following day, supervised 12 spontaneous volunteers in the field. State Deputy Volunteer Coordinator requested assistance planning and coordinating 500+ projected volunteers for the weekend.
On 15Feb13, teams completed work assignments from the previous day, supervised 10 spontaneous volunteers, completed service project with Home Depot, met with local volunteer group that was serving as a volunteer coordination base and put them in touch with state volunteer coordinator. The State deputy volunteer coordinator asked us to assist local volunteers in reassessing damage in order to determine areas of work for expected influx of volunteers. In support of that, Palantir technology was used to complete another 30+ assessments in various areas, and state volunteers were trained in use of Palantir equipment. Also, Palantir technology was repurposed to show a before and after picture of work orders that were completed. MEMA officials inquired if it would be possible to pre-load specific MEMA forms into the Palantir handhelds, so that our assessments would mirror theirs, allowing us to be able to complete assessments that would meet their specific criteria.
On 16Feb13, teams completed work for local volunteer and two local residents, to include debris removal and felling trees that posed a safety hazard. Assessed areas of concern as per State Volunteer Coordinator. There were many spontaneous volunteers working this day, in areas that we had previously identified. It was determined that having so many people out actually made it more difficult to work in any specific area. After consultation with Team Leaders, team members and local EOC, it was determined that we would cease operations and demobilize. Had final meeting with Lamar County EMA Director, wrapping up our involvement in the area. He thanked us for our assistance and asked that we be guests at a state convention for emergency managers to be held in the fall. Members within a 2 hour drive went home. Other members that had longer drives opted to stay another night at Camp Shelby.
Paragraph 3: Post-Deployment
No significant issues occurred during the post deployment phase of the Operation.
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List all deployed members, their branch of service, & their days in the field.
Dee Clancy, USN, 6 days
Chad Reynolds, USN, 6 days
Donna Weathers, USN, 6 days
Michael Hill, USA, 5 days
PW Covington, USAF, 5 days
Brad Madajczyk, USMC, 4 days
Vince Rizzi, USA, 3 days
Britton Turner, USN, 3 days
Cheryl Cadigan, USAF, 2 days
Greg Day, USAF, 2 days
Jim Kurkendall, USAF, 1 day
Krystal Nelson, USA, 1 day
Nicholas Boucher, Civial Air Patrol, 3 days
Jerrod Finlay, Civil Air Patrol, 2 days
JC Gillespie, civilian member, 3 days
Derek Bowden, civilian member, 2 days
Mary Bell Lunsford, civilian member, 1 day
Brian Fishman, Palantir employee, 3 days
Chip Burkhalter, Palantir employee, 4 days
Gerald Dix, local community member, 1 day
Lessons Learned & Key Actions
What lessons were learned on this mission, and suggest adjustments for future Team Rubicon deployments.
This deployment started out as a “perfect storm” scenario. The DFO was out of the country. The organization’s President and Vice President were both out of reach, traveling cross country via airplane. The tornado hit in a Region that does not have a designated Regional DFO, but does have an underdeveloped volunteer base. The deployment began less than 24 hours after the ending of a similar deployment in the same region. TR doesn’t have many volunteers in the area where the storm hit, even in the neighboring region.
There were quite a few times in the beginning of the Op where the chain of command was unclear. There should be a clearly defined Chain of Command for Operations. When the DFO is unavailable, there should be a designated Deputy that can make calls on Ops, that can guide an operation through clear objectives, and can answer questions and give guidance when needed. The HQ staff did a good job running the Op on short notice, were available to answer questions when called, and were very supportive. This mission was successful because they adapted quickly and offered outstanding support. However, this mission faltered a little at the outset because objectives were unclear and mixed signals were being sent on what the strategy, goals and objectives should be. There is no set way to approach an operation, as every situation presents different opportunities and response needs. However, there should be a basic set of guidelines that can be given to new Team Leaders, to include what priorities should be met, and what the overall operational objectives should be. If the first step is meeting with the local EMA, that should be specified, not taken for granted. If a key objective is to try to lead volunteer coordination in a response, that should be indicated at the beginning of an operation, not after it has started. Also, the organization’s primary focus or motivation should never be media driven. During the first actual day of an operation, when the majority of what is happening is planning, assessment, and contact meetings, it is unrealistic to expect photos of the team out clearing debris and engaged in ‘action shots’, especially during thunderstorms.
When people are sent into an area to do a damage assessment and see if TR is needed, they should be given the chance to actually do the assessment before the Op is called. They should be consulted regarding the area of greatest need before a work area is determined. In this case, not enough time was afforded the advance crew to determine the area with the greatest need.
Palantir Technologies software brought for assessments is good, and is very useful in the field. However, after initial assessments are completed, the technology is mainly useful only for tracking personnel, sending messages, and marking jobs/work orders as complete. On this op, one handheld was assigned to each team during the actual debris removal phase. When teams went to a site, they were instructed to take “before” pictures and send those as messages. When the job was completed, they were instructed to take “after” pictures to be sent as messages. In theory, this would provide at least three photographs (assessment, before work, after work) of each structure that we worked on. In cases where Team Rubicon did not do the initial assessment, only two photographs would be available. While this might not be the ideal use of the software, it was a way to keep using it after initial assessments were completed.
As previously mentioned, the state EMA coordinator was fascinated by the Palantir software and its possibilities during future disasters. Her biggest concern was that the assessment forms were not compatible with the ones used by state assessment teams. If Palantir Technologies could get the authorized assessment forms from each state pre-loaded into a database, easily accessible via a drop down menu, that could make Team Rubicon potentially more valuable to state agencies.
The volunteer coordination phase of this operation was initially challenging. Many of the volunteers in the region have never been deployed, and are unfamiliar with deployment procedures. That is something that can be worked out with training. However, finding volunteers within 250 miles of a city in a remote part of a large region was difficult. Many of the volunteers that showed up came directly from a previous op. Many of the volunteers were beyond the 250 mile radius, and therefore responsible for a majority of their own travel expenses. In cases such as this, with an underdeveloped volunteer base, the radius should possibly be expanded on a case by case basis, with TR compensating volunteers traveling beyond the 250 mile radius, if they are necessary to the Operation. It is unfair to expect volunteers to show up for missions without reimbursing them fully for their efforts. In a highly populated area, or an area with a lot of trained volunteers, this isn’t likely to be an issue, but it was here. If possible, the volunteer coordinator should be someone on site, but not mission essential. Fortunately, a member of Region VI assisted with volunteer coordination on the ground. HQ also did a good job of this before the Region VI member took over. There should only be one person that does this though, to maintain continuity throughout the Op.
Overall, this Operation was a learning experience. It was an example of back-to-back operations within a region, of regions working together, and a reminder that while every Operation will be different, our primary focus should be how best to use the skills of our Veterans to respond to disasters. This time, those skills were used by remaining a strike team. The primary goals were to keep the team together as much as possible, to get the members in this region to become more familiar with each other and work as a team, to spread some of the experience and knowledge to newer members, and to strengthen bonds that had formed during the most recent previous operation. The secondary goal was to make contact with county and state level officials in order to be in a place for TR to be a true ‘first response team’ during the next disaster in that area. To that end, both primary and secondary goals were accomplished.