Operation: Roll Tide

Roll Tide PDF

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

On April 27th and May 22nd, major EF-4 and EF-5 tornados struck the metropolitan areas of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri, respectively.  While major tornado outbreaks are not uncommon in the region, these storm systems were particularly volatile, and, when combined with the random occurrence of striking population centers, combined for one of the deadliest tornado seasons on record.  The storm system that struck Alabama killed 340 individuals, with 69 perishing in Tuscaloosa; the tornado that hit Joplin killed 142.  Emergency medical and search and rescue operations were initially overwhelmed in both instances, but quickly reestablished continuity of operations; the real damage was to the individual citizens and neighborhoods that seemingly lost everything.

Prior to deploying in support of these communities, Team Rubicon needed to answer two very important questions: 1) was TR ready to deploy for a domestic mission? And 2) would Team Rubicon have a medical directive should it decide to deploy?  Because Team Rubicon evolved throughout 2010 as a frontline medical response organization, it shied away from domestic missions for liability reasons.  However, TR was quietly developing its new TR-Transition initiative, a plan to engage on a larger scale the military veterans looking to get involved in TR missions.  The leadership of Team Rubicon decided that the tornado in Tuscaloosa was an opportunity to test TR-Transition and see if organizing and deploying veterans for a “disaster community service project” was a viable direction to take the program.  As the decision to deploy was made, a clear ‘non-medical’ directive was issued, authorizing the team to conduct community debris clearing and removal.  Team Rubicon had a team on the ground in Alabama within three days of the tornado.

One month later, the decision to deploy a team to Joplin, MO was simple.  The first mission to Tuscaloosa was a tremendous success, and the concentrated severity of the Joplin tornado provided the chance to further refine the domestic response capability of TR-Transition.  Team Rubicon had a recon team on the ground in Joplin within 12 hours of the tornado, and a full team of responders rallied 24 hours later.

Major accomplishments in both Alabama and Missouri include:

  • In Tuscaloosa, Team Rubicon operated for 9 days; volunteers worked on 54 homes and cleared approximately 150 trees.
  • In Joplin, Team Rubicon operated for 7 days and cleared approximated 24 homes, patched 6 roofs, and removed over 100 trees.  At least 6 of the families TR helped lacked insurance and did not know where they would receive the funds to clear their property.
  • Team Rubicon engaged 38 military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan from every branch of service.
  • Team Rubicon’s Team Leader in Tuscaloosa, Howard Sypher, established the entire Command and Control apparatus for the town of Dora, AL, interfacing with local EMS and Red Cross officials while bringing a military-style, systematic approach to the response.
  • Team Rubicon conducted Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in Joplin, MO over the course of two days; by augmenting federal resources, TR was able to expedite the search of three grid squares in Duquesne.

The missions in both Tuscaloosa and Joplin were incredible successes for Team Rubicon and the new Transition program.  TR was able to prove that veterans are willing and able to assist in a pure ‘service’ oriented capacity on domestic missions—something that will allow Team Rubicon to scale its domestic operations and engage more veterans for continued service.  While the missions were a success, there were many lessons learned which will be discussed thoroughly throughout this report; these lessons include proper gear, safety and coordination.

As Team Rubicon moves forward its domestic Transition program will continue to grow and reach more veterans, a mission directive that has become more important to the organization in 2011.  Domestic missions such as Operation Roll Tide and Operation Janis will help TR gain recognition and traction within the disaster response community, and will enable the organization’s leadership to identify its best and most qualified volunteers for more difficult response missions overseas.  You can expect to see Team Rubicon responding to more domestic emergencies, of all types, in the future.

Jake Wood William McNulty Matt Pelak and Howard ‘Ford’ Sypher

President, Team Rubicon Vice President Team Leaders

OPERATION OVERVIEW

ALABAMA: OPERATION ROLL TIDE

OPERATION NAME:

Operation Roll Tide

DURATION:

9 days

DATES:

Team Activation: 30-April

Endex: 8-May

LOCATION:

Northwestern Alabama

OPERATION DIRECTIVE:

Debris Clearing

Home Restoration

ELEMENTS:

TR HQ

TR- East Coast

Alabama Veterans Association

TOTAL VOLUNTEERS:

21

     MILITARY VETERANS:

16

TOTAL CASH RAISED:

$13,100

     LESS: CREDIT CARD FEES:

($458)

NET:

$12,642

EXPENSES:

     TRANSPORTATION:

$3,100

     EQUIPMENT:

$760

     FOOD:

$923

     LODGING:

$0

     AUTHORIZED CASH DISBURSEMENTS:

$0

TOTAL:

$4,785

NET OPERATION GAIN/ (LOSS)

$7,857

MISSOURI: OPERATION JANIS

OPERATION NAME:

Operation Janis

DURATION:

7 days

DATES:

Team Activation: 23-May

Endex: 29-May

LOCATION:

Joplin, MO

OPERATION DIRECTIVE:

Debris Clearing

Home Restoration

Search and Rescue

ELEMENTS:

TR HQ

TR- Midwest

Missouri Student Veteran’s Association

TOTAL VOLUNTEERS:

26

     MILITARY VETERANS:

22

TOTAL CASH RAISED:

$38,075

     LESS: CREDIT CARD FEES:

($1,335)

NET:

$36,740

EXPENSES:

     TRANSPORTATION:

$3,346

     EQUIPMENT:

$2,463

     FOOD:

$962

     LODGING:

$0

     AUTHORIZED CASH DISBURSEMENTS:

$0

TOTAL:

$6,771

NET OPERATION GAIN/ (LOSS)

$29,834

AREAS OF ANALYSIS

  1. 1. Transportation
  2. 2. Staging Area
  3. 3. Volunteers
  4. 4. EOC Coordination
  5. 5. Logistics
  6. 6. Mission Objectives
    1. a. Debris Clearing
    2. b.SAR
    3. 7. Equipment
    4. 8. Safety
    5. 9. Security
    6. 10. Medical
    7. 11. Communication
    8. 12. Media, traditional
    9. 13. Media, new
    10. 14. Fundraising
    11. 15. Expenses

Areas of analysis will be presented in the following format:

SUMMARY: Summary of issue and how Team Rubicon specifically dealt with it

RECOMMENDATION: What lessons TR learned, and how it should proceed in future operations

ACTION: What steps need to be implemented by TR to ensure the recommendation is followed

ANALYSIS

TRANSPORTATION

SUMMARY

TUSCALOOSA:

Team Rubicon relied heavily on privately owned vehicles (POV) for transportation into the disaster zone (DZ).  Headquarters tried to limit volunteers based on the region of the disaster, mitigating the need to fly volunteers in and minimizing reimbursement costs.   Matt Pelak, the East Coast Regional Coordinator, drove an entire day to arrive in the DZ from NYC to serve as mission Team Leader (TL).

Since Tuscaloosa was the first domestic TR mission, Team Rubicon chose to fly in Jake Wood, who currently serves as President, to oversee the response operation and take notes for future domestic missions.

JOPLIN:

Using lessons learned from Tuscaloosa, TR was better prepared to mobilize volunteers within a closer geographic region.   Veterans that follow Team Rubicon through social media platforms such as Facebook began volunteering their availability for response, making it easier to assemble teams.

In the case of Joplin, the TL was located within 200 miles of the DZ and was able to take a POV to arrive on scene.  This allowed for a qualified and experience Team Leader, Ford Sypher, to be on the ground within 12 hours of the event.  With a TL on the ground, Team Rubicon was immediately tapped into the response system and secured housing and food immediately, as well as real time intel of the situation.

In Joplin, Team Rubicon opted to fly in a cameraman to capture footage that could be turned into videos for the donors on the website.  This “investment” produced three incredible videos, including a touching Memorial Day tribute, which showed TR supporters exactly what their money was doing on the ground.

Many volunteers have opted not to receive reimbursement for their expenses, stating that they would instead like the expenses to be considered their own ‘donation’ to the organization.

POVs and Miles

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Joplin, MO

Pelak

1,022

Sypher

157

Sypher

559

Hopkins

88

Beidler

470

Beidler

348

Shaw

571

Henderson

287

Bowers

802

Young

186

Gale

59

Neihls

450

Bauer

228

Wells

60

Bailey

472

Brandes

68

Crescenzo

595

Hudson

275

Mease

88

Homan

239

Tannahill

156

Clement

AVERAGE:

530

AVERAGE:

248

RECOMMENDATION

Team Rubicon must continue to engage volunteers at the Regional level in order to maximize its ability to respond locally.  Having the ability to pick a single Rally Point (RP) and telling cleared volunteers to arrive there by a drop-dead time simplifies the logistical hurdles of coordinating air travel (delays and cancellations) and reduces cost.

The potential pit falls of having volunteers use their own POVs is that it increases the potential for accidents to occur. Volunteers will be eager to drive into the RP, perhaps from great distances, and may forgo appropriate levels of sleep or drive faster than the speed limit.  Steps should be taken to mitigate this risk.

The professionally produced media that was present in Joplin, but lacking in Tuscaloosa, highlights the importance for Team Rubicon to include qualified cameramen and women on its operations.  Professional quality media allows for a better donor-responder connection, and transportation should not be a deciding factor in their deployment.

RALLY POINT/ STAGING AREA

SUMMARY

TUSCALOOSA:

Team Rubicon volunteer Dr. Alan Ogles, a veteran of the TR Cholera Mission in Haiti, is a native of Talladega, AL and was able to recon the disaster zone surrounding Tuscaloosa.  Additionally, Dr. Ogles secured a rally point (RP) approximately 40 miles due west of Tuscaloosa.  The RP, a family owned camp house, provided TR with beds and showers.

The downside to the Alabama RP was its remote location.  The location, 40 miles west, required a one hour commute to and from the DZ each morning and evening, cutting into working and rest hours.  Additionally, locating the RP was extremely difficult for volunteers not familiar with the area (nearly all of them) and caused link-up issues in the beginning days.

Upon pushing north into more rural areas of Alabama, Team Rubicon was able to make contact with local officials in the Walker County region of Alabama.  The initial staging area was established in the Dora, AL Fire House, which was located in close proximity to the Police Station and City Hall.  Pre-coordination with the Mayor and Local Fire and Rescue gave the Walker County Team complete access to the area.

Though the location was far more rural than that of the affected areas in Tuscaloosa and later Joplin, Walker County served as an excellent base for Team Rubicon to showcase its military style organizational skills as well as its problem solving ability.  Access to the area was the only detractor and showed that pre-staging a team in order to establish better cohesiveness helps greatly in the organizational effort.

Figure 1 TR established a Joint Operations Center in Argo, AL

JOPLIN:

When responding to Joplin, Team Rubicon utilized a two-tiered staging area.  The initial staging area was located in Springfield, MO.  The team established an initial rally point prior to heading into the disaster area.  The secondary staging area/jump-off point was located on the Campus of Missouri Southern State University (MSSU) in Joplin, MO.

The initial staging area allowed the team to consolidate as a single unit before convoying down to the affected area in Joplin, MO.  The secondary staging point allowed for gear selection and assessment in proximity to the disaster zone.  The secondary staging area on the Campus of MSSU allowed for an on-sight “newcomers” briefing, as well as pre-deployment coordination with local volunteers, federal agencies and NGO representatives.

The establishment of the MSSU staging area in such close proximity to the volunteer rally point allowed for quick deployment and assessment of the hardest hit areas.  That specific site tied Team Rubicon into the networks of AmeriCorps, the Red Cross, FEMA, and the local Emergency Operation Center (EOC).  Having access to that specific location allowed the team to have better freedom of maneuver, while providing situational awareness of the area and key players involved.

RECOMMENDATION

Rally Points are crucial to having missions launch effectively and efficiently.  Having an RP that is easy to locate near major highways, close to the DZ and with adequate facilities means that resources and efforts will not be wasted in coordinating link ups, or travelling great distances to render services or find food and supplies.

In Tuscaloosa the RP was secured through a volunteer’s personal connection, while in Joplin the RP was assigned through the volunteer coordination center.  Both options have merit.  The personal connection will often offer greater flexibility, however it may not be the most ideal location.  The official option will likely be near the DZ and also serve as a nexus for other organizations and services that may lend operational benefits.

In the future, TR should work through both its private network and official channels to determine what options are available.  It should then be left to the Team Leader or recon element on the ground to determine what best fits Team Rubicon’s needs.

VOLUNTEERS

SUMMARY

TUSCALOOSA:

Team Rubicon is slowly developing on paper a domestic disaster response program with the goal of engaging a higher number of its veteran volunteers.  The structure of this program was still very much in its infancy when the tornados struck Tuscaloosa.  As a result, the volunteer activation process was not in place, nor, of course, had it been tested.  Because of this, TR cast a wider net for volunteers, offering the opportunity to the entire East Coast Region.

Team Rubicon itself mobilized 14 volunteers, 9 of which were military veterans.  However, once on the ground and working, multiple other veterans asked Team Rubicon to join their efforts.  Of specific mention, the University of Alabama Veterans Association had between 6-8 volunteers working with TR over the course of 3 days, and the local Marine Corps recruiting station had two active duty Marines come out and help for two days.

TR Volunteers, Tuscaloosa:

LAST NAME

FIRST NAME

MILITARY

Wood

Jacob

USMC

Pelak

Matt

Army

Sypher

Ford

Army

Brisco

Levi

USMC

Bowers

Todd

USMC

Green

Nicole

Air Force

Beidler

Shawn

USMC

McGreehan

JC

Army

Alo

Anthony

Army

Shaw

Bryan

Civilian Paramedic

Stafford

Nate

Civilian

Bauer

Micah

Civilian

Gale

Ryan

Civilian

Ogles

Alan

Civilian MD

JOPLIN:

After our first domestic mission in Tuscaloosa, Team Rubicon knew that it wanted to engage veterans on a large scale for similar missions.  The positive experiences in Alabama, combined with the incredible severity and destruction in Joplin, made it much easier to mobilize a response team in Joplin.  Peer to peer military connections brought in many of the volunteers that responded in Missouri, which simplified the vetting process and ensured a good group dynamic.

Building off of lessons learned, Team Rubicon was able to mobilize a larger team to Joplin, which had 29 volunteers, 25 of which were military veterans:

LAST NAME

FIRST NAME

MILITARY

Wood

Jacob

USMC

Sypher

Ford

Army

Hopkins

Roby

Army

Beidler

Shawn

USMC

Green

Nicole

Air Force

Young

Rich

Navy

Fortney

Tim

USMC

Neihls

John

USMC

Wells

David

USMC

Henderson

Adam

Army

Tannahill

Tyler

USMC

Johnson

Ian

Army

Brandes

Martin

USMC

Bailey

Sean

Army

Hampton

Marc

Army

Mease

Mark

USMC

Bridges

Ross

USMC

Homan

Nick

USMC

Pharr

Jonathan

Army

Kuntz

Bradley

Air Force

Friedrich

Marchus

Navy

Crescenzo

Brad

Civilian EMT

Hudson

Tom

Civilian

Jackson

Kirk

Civilian (video)

Matthews

Bernadette

Civilian (photo)

Volunteers in Joplin drove on average 248 miles to reach the RP, compared with 530 for Tuscaloosa.  What this allowed (and encouraged) was volunteers to drive in for only 1-2 days at a time, as their schedule allowed.  This gave a larger group of veterans the opportunity to contribute, and also showed just how important it was for veterans to participate.

One veteran, David Wells, a Marine Infantry veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, was so motivated to help and socialize with veterans again that he drove up to volunteer for the day twice—after working an all-night graveyard shift at a meat processing plant.  His dedication illustrates the character and dedication that Team Rubicon-Transition is trying to harness.

The domestic responses in Joplin and Tuscaloosa also revealed some potential problems with future responses.  First, it was very difficult to manage the veterans who were volunteering.  On a number of occasions, volunteers did not go through appropriate channels and, as a result, team leaders on the ground were unaware that volunteers were making their way towards the rally point.   This was made possible because of the ease of access anyone had to the DZ.  In the future this could cause major accountability issues.

Also, not all the volunteers that arrived to help were fit for the physical demands of a tornado response.  These situations can cause strain on the team dynamic and lead to frustration with the Team Leader.

RECOMMENDATION

Team Rubicon must continue to work through its three Regional Coordinators and their core teams to vet, engage and process the volunteers in their regions.  The more volunteers who have been pushed through the application process and vetted by qualified TR volunteers, the more options are available to fill necessary response billets.

Where necessary, Regional Coordinators should ask for and receive DD-214s from candidates claiming military service.  This will not only vet qualifications, but also put to rest disputes over service records that arise from exaggerated claims.

Finally, Team Rubicon must continue to explore the Team Rubicon-Transition program.  In order to engage as many veteran volunteers as possible, Team Rubicon will have to adopt a cellular model that allows for local chapters of TR volunteers to gather, fundraise and train together, with the ultimate goal being that these local chapters can then respond domestically as whole entities.

EOC COORDINATION

SUMMARY

When deploying to a domestic mission Team Rubicon’s first order of business must include coordination with the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).  The separate deployments to Missouri and Alabama have shown us two things:

One:  Team Rubicon is capable of establishing and running/manning an EOC (i.e. the Joint Operations Center established in Argo, AL).

Two:  Team Rubicon can work within a pre-existing network as volunteers or augmenters to those manning the EOC.

TUSCALOOSA:

Upon arriving in Tuscaloosa the TR team was able to coordinate and volunteer through the established EOC.  However, it was also found that a large galvanized response to such an urban area breeds chaos.  Realizing these are all par for the course, TR directed its assets to the less supported, rural hit regions of the disaster.

The driving force to the Walker County area was on sight intelligence obtained through the TR veteran network.  This finding continues to support the broader establishment of regional teams in order to support better application of TR resources in the future.

Upon coordinating with the local civil authority (mayor and local EMS) it was discovered that there had been no established EOC and that the group of TR volunteers were the highest trained medical professionals in the local area (being ALS certified).  Given the lack of structure and the apparent need for help, TR team members decided to move quickly in establishing an EOC/JOC.  The TR team was given two fire houses to work out of, one to sleep in and the second to run the EOC.  The second was already being used as a donation drop-off point and call center.  Team Rubicon quickly broke up into smaller teams and was able to do a sight survey of the entire area.  The station continued to perform its regular functions with all additional medical responders falling under our structure.  Because of the lack of good reference points and the need to ensure arriving volunteers could navigate their way through the area, TR team members personally connected with the county engineers and surveyors.  The team was able to obtain survey maps as well as print off digital aerial photos of the entire disaster zone.  These maps were then tailored to the team’s specific needs.  Hand held maps, that were laminated, were distributed to any Red Cross volunteer or EMS worker not familiar with the area.  TR was then able to construct a concept of operations that included phase lines and priorities for the influx of volunteers that were expected for cleanup operations.

The TR clean-up priority list from highest priority to lowest:

    • Houses that were occupied and needed to be cleared of debris to ensure occupants’ safety
    • Houses that were occupied that needed to be cleared so occupants had ease of access
    • Houses that were not occupied, but would be returned to in the future
    • Houses that were completely destroyed and simply needed to be cleared by machinery

Soon volunteers began to arrive and assist in clean-up.  Team Rubicon immediately began to break them down into different teams depending on their composition and level of training.  We then began a phase-lined approach to clean-up in the area.

*Note

When commanding an operation of this size, medical coverage was key.  The team broke down and built three ALS/Trauma kits in order to have coverage over the entire operation.  Response times were drilled into team members heads, as well as flight times from Birmingham, the closest Level 1 Trauma Unit in the area.  This required the pre-planned establishment of Helicopter Landing Zones (HLZs) using birds for the naming convention.  (Nuthatch-North, Sparrow-South, Egret-East, Wren-West).

JOPLIN:

The Joplin response was different in the sense that there was a pre-established EOC, with an extremely well trained group of responders.  The key take home from the Joplin, MO experience was the necessity of link-up with coordinating officials within the EOC as soon as possible.  This becomes especially true if TR has confined space personnel, dog teams, or highly skilled equipment operators with Search and Rescue (SAR) experience on hand.  These resources will be needed in the immediate SAR response after the event has occurred.

Another take home is making sure people realize that you have additional trained assets you can bring to bear.  The initial hours of response are extremely confusing and organization is key.  If the team is composed of highly trained individuals the EOC needs to be made aware.  On the flip side, if the team will be comprised of mainly volunteers with little or no disaster experience, the EOC does not need to be bogged down by additional persons with no special skills to offer and would be better directed towards the local volunteer muster points.

RECOMMENDATION

Team Rubicon needs to continue to develop local chapters in order to better share intelligence in the event of an emergency.  On-sight intelligence far outweighs any reports that may be derived from media bodies prior to arrival.  The intelligence will drive us to the appropriate location and will put us in the heart of the event during the formation of the EOC or direct us to the established EOC.

Realizing that an area and an EOC may be over saturated with resources also allows us to better affect change.  This realization may help drive us to more rural areas that need not only our physical assets, but also our intellectual assets in establishing structure.

LOGISTICS

SUMMARY

It was found in both Tuscaloosa and Joplin that most essential logistical needs are met through regional resources, both private and public.  Food and water, specifically, are provided in overwhelming amounts as volunteers flood the areas.  Fuel prices remain steady and, in the case of tornados, adequate facilities remain on the outskirts of the DZ to provide it.

The immediate logistical needs that must be addressed are a rally point and shelter.  In tornado situations, it is not adequate to simply pitch a tent and sleep outdoors, as storm systems may continue to roll through the area.  This was the case in Joplin, where on the first full night of work, the team was forced to take shelter in a basement stairwell as more tornados swept through the area.  This logistical need can most easily be solved on scene by the recon element or Team Leader, but can also be solved remotely by the HQ element.  Often, local churches and community centers will provide their common

areas free of charge to both volunteers and victims.

Following shelter, the most pressing need is the equipment and supplies that are necessary for a tornado response.  The logistical dilemma regarding equipment is that the obvious choice is to purchase equipment and it in storage until the next time it is needed.   The problem is that it requires selecting a storage site that ensures it will get from the storage facility to the DZ the next time a disaster strikes.  This is problematic since all responders are volunteers, and there’s no guarantee that any single TR Volunteer will respond to a particular event.  Team Rubicon currently has fully stocked medical storage facilities in New York and Los Angeles; had these facilities contained equipment for tornado response, the equipment would have made it to Tuscaloosa (Matt Pelak responded and would have hauled the equipment), however, the equipment would have remained idle for Joplin.

The alternative to buying and storing equipment is to rent it outside of the DZ, use it for the designated period of time, and then return it once finished.  The obvious pitfall to this is that it is money down the drain; the upside is that there is never idle equipment sitting in storage.  Team Rubicon decided to rent chainsaws for the Joplin response at a cost of $140 per saw per week.

In the future, Team Rubicon hopes to solve this problem through the implementation of local TRT chapters.  These local chapters would be able to fundraise on individual chapter basis and purchase and store their own equipment.  This does a number of things: one, it reduces the fundraising load that falls on TR HQ; two, it gets the local chapters engaged and forces their buy-in; three, it would make it more likely that the equipment would get to the DZ, since each chapter would have multiple volunteers ready to go; and four, local chapters would be specifically tailored to the types of disasters their region sees: tornadoes, floods, fires or hurricanes.

RECOMMENDATION

Team Rubicon should only purchase enough food and water to sustain the team for the initial 36 hours of the operation, on the expectation that local resources will be adequate to provide for the team following that window.

Team Rubicon should continue to look for shelter through both official and unofficial channels, with the final decision resting with the on the ground leader.

For the time being, Team Rubicon should continue to rent the heavy equipment that is required for responses to fill in the holes that cannot be filled through in-kind donations.  Over the course of the next year, Team Rubicon should continue to develop and roll out the localized TRT model, which will ultimately lead to more regional storage units that will maintain purchased equipment on hand at all times.

Upon deployment it has become clear that a member of the team should be put in charge of the logistical aspects of the team.  They should act in a facilitative and support capacity while the team is in the field.  The individual ensures the team has food on site and off, that equipment is in running order, and that additional equipment can be procured.   Additionally they ensure that lines of communication are open at all times with supporting agencies and organizations and that contact is kept with the Operations Director in order to better facilitate the deployment.  No mission can be completed without proper logistical support.

MISSION OBJECTIVES

SUMMARY

Due to liability reasons, Team Rubicon issued a strict non-medical mission directive for its teams in both Tuscaloosa and Joplin.  Until Team Rubicon can receive federalized medical liability for its first responders, or a similar option, it will not deploy teams with a medical mandate.

As a result, the team that responded to Tuscaloosa had a directive to help with debris clearing, home weatherization and to aid Emergency Operations personnel as needed for logistics purposes.  The mission mandate for Joplin was similar, except that Team Rubicon also aided local authorities in Search and Rescue operations.

Debris Clearing:

In order to make sure maximum impact was achieved, Team Rubicon established a tiered system in its debris clearing approach:

Priority amongst the Tiers was given to homeowners who lacked the insurance to pay for the tree and debris removal.

In both Tuscaloosa and Joplin, on average Team Rubicon removed between 20-30 full sized trees on a daily basis.  Many of these trees were threatening the structural integrity of homes.  The estimated cost for removing these trees was calculated to be $900 on average for trees not resting on homes, and $3,500 for trees which were resting on homes.

In addition to removing the trees, Team Rubicon members made their  best efforts at weather proofing homes that had received roof damage.  Often times, Team Rubicon members found themselves finishing tarping a roof just before the next major storm rolled through town.

Search and Rescue:

In Joplin, MO, the recon element found itself aiding local authorities in initial Search and Rescue (SAR) efforts.  The sheer magnitude of the disaster at first overwhelmed authorities, requiring groups such as Team Rubicon, and local citizens, to help.  All SAR activities conducted in that initial day were very basic; TR members did not conduct searches in compromised structures or use specialized equipment.

In the days following, Team Rubicon continued to augment local authorities as needed for additional SAR missions, most notably in the small town of Duquesne, MO, just east of Joplin.  During these SAR operations, local authorities blocked off specific grid squares that had previously only been hastily searched.  Team Rubicon then helped organize coordinated efforts to sweep through these grid squares and confirm or deny the presence of survivors or victims.  Team Rubicon members did not uncover any bodies themselves, however, an adjacent team did find a number of identifiable body parts that aided local authorities in confirming missing persons counts.

RECOMMENDATION

Within debris clearing operations, Team Rubicon often found itself trying to maximize its manpower.  The team often fell into a rhythm whereby volunteers would stand around and wait for the saw operator to cut off the next piece of tree limb, instead of proactively seeking other jobs to do.  While in Joplin, during nightly debriefs, the idea was hatched to break down the team into an infantry squad model.

In this model, “fire teams” were created based around the basic working unit of the squad: the chainsaws (ironically infantry fire teams are also based around the SAW, or Squad Automatic Weapon).  These Fire Teams each had four team members: One operating the chainsaw, one who was there to aid the saw, help with cuts, safety, etc, and two members whose job it was to haul the cuts away.

In addition to the Saw Teams, a scout team was developed.  The scout team’s job was to search the neighborhood for the next potential job sites, rating them according to the tier system that had been developed.  This way time was not wasted shutting down one job site and then searching for the next, sites were already lined up and waiting for the teams to arrive.  These two elements, Saw Teams and Scout Teams, dramatically increased the effectiveness and efficiency of the mission.

Regarding SAR operations, Team Rubicon should slowly identify what role it can play in this capacity.  Search and Rescue is potentially very dangerous, and in most circumstances requires very technical skills and special equipment.  Standard TR teams will likely only be capable of performing grid sweeps similar to those in Duquesne.  However, Team Rubicon does have amongst its volunteers civilian professionals, and some former members of elite Special Operations units, who have tremendous experience in SAR.  It is conceivable that TR could formulate and deploy a specialized TR-SAR element—in order to do so, Team Rubicon would need to have better interaction with government authorities and receive explicit clearance to conduct such efforts.

EQUIPMENT

SUMMARY

During the Missouri and Alabama deployments TR members learned many lessons about what is needed for future deployments to Tornado stricken areas.  Many of these lessons revolved around equipment usage and maintenance.

    

Every disaster makes one rethink what was useful and what was simply not used.

Chainsaws:  The chainsaw was one of the key pieces of equipment that was used during both deployments.  However, there is much to consider on the specific piece itself.  In Alabama we found ourselves with too few, while in Missouri we found ourselves with too many.    The quality of chainsaws differs, and there are other considerations when it comes to the operators of the saws.  In Alabama there was a substantial amount of felled trees, which posed a great risk to those clearing it and should only have been approached by TR members with significant understanding of the physics and danger involved.

Tools:  Consolidated tool kits are clearly something that is needed in any disaster relief operation.  The tool kits need to be standardized and marked according to what tool kit they belong to.  Given that disaster response is not basic home improvement, it should not be treated as such.  Robust and effective tools are needed to enhance the performance of the team.  We are not simply tacking up a picture frame in a house.  The tool may be used to free trapped persons.

Heavy Equipment:  The consideration to bring in heavy equipment (i.e. front loaders, backhoes, bobcats, etc.)  should be taken very seriously.  The need to have that kind of force multiplier needs to be addressed by the reconnaissance/survey team.  It also needs to be addressed whether there is any equipment that can be found locally.  Transportation costs are high for such high dollar item equipment and pose new issues in terms of logistics for the team as well.  If the equipment can be found locally then all efforts should be made to use it, not only for logistical purposes, but also to inject money into the local economy post-disaster.

Maintenance:  The practice of daily maintenance should be a habit that becomes standard.  The sharpening of chains, checking of fluid, and cleaning, should be a daily routine at the close of mission on each day.  PMCS should be conducted on all vehicles and heavy equipment each morning to ensure there are no mechanical failures that may set the team back.   

RECOMMENDATION

As regional commands develop within the TR network the overall logistical structure must grow with it.  The eventual purchase or procurement of high performance tools can become standardized and inventoried across the country.  Each command can have both a TR standardized set as well as a region specific set.  Purchase of such tools needs to be discussed and a standardized set agreed upon so that individuals who find themselves working within different teams have “tool familiarity” across the board.

SAFETY

SUMMARY

Safety is a primary concern in domestic missions, just as it is in international missions.  The first safety concern that arises in domestic missions is the POV travel that is utilized to get veterans in and out of the disaster zones.  As discussed in the Transportation section, having volunteers use POVs simplifies logistics and reduces costs, however, it increases the chances for catastrophic safety incidents.  These are incidents that are less likely to happen, but have a significant chance of serious injury or death if they do.  Having volunteers drive great distances, with potentially little sleep, raises concern.

Also, the use of heavy equipment always provides the chance for serious injury.  During nightly debriefs, chainsaw safety was always emphasized by multiple members.  Team Leaders began designating which volunteers were authorized to operate chainsaws, reducing the likelihood that someone without experience would operate and in turn hurt themselves or someone else.  In addition to the chainsaw operator, those volunteers around the operator can just as easily be safety violators.  It became important to create a list of rules for working around a chainsaw operator, listed below in recommendations.

Finally, weather played a significant role in safety.  As discussed in the Staging Area section, it is important that the selected shelter has adequate ability to withstand follow-on threats, whether tornados, hurricanes or earthquakes.  Also, while working in the field, it is important to pay attention to thunderstorms.  One volunteer, not associated with TR, was struck by lightning while conducting Search and Rescue operations in Joplin.  It is the Team Leader’s responsibility to monitor the ongoing weather patterns and direct the team to shelter as necessary.

RECOMMENDATION

TR HQ should establish a driving radius that allows adequate time and safe speeds for volunteers to reach the rally point.  Regional Coordinators should encourage volunteers that are deploying to get adequate rest, and to try to carpool, when possible, to avoid extreme fatigue on the road.  “Marathon” road trips should not be encouraged, and in fact, where TR leadership learns of volunteers attempting dangerous drives, should contact the volunteer and have them turn around.

Team Rubicon should develop a manual for chainsaw operation and safety, which should be immediately briefed at the beginning of operations.  Team Rubicon repurposed the 4 Weapons Safety Rules that every rifleman knows and used them for chainsaw operations:

TREAT-NEVER-KEEP-KEEP

    • TREAT every chainsaw as if its blade is running
    • NEVER point the chainsaw at anything you don’t intend to cut
    • KEEP the chain brake on until you intend to cut
    • KEEP your trigger hand off the handle until you are ready to cut.
    • Finally, saw operators should wear eye protection at all times while operating the saw

Additionally, for those not operating saws:

    • Never approach a saw operator from their blindside
    • Never get within arm’s length of an operator unless you have eye contact
    • Wait until the operator has removed his operating hand and applied the chain brake before reaching for logs

Finally, it is the Team Leader’s job to recognize and mitigate weather related risks, both in shelter and in the field.

SECURITY

SUMMARY

No security issues presented themselves in either Tuscaloosa or Joplin.

RECOMMENDATION

Have the Team Leader continue to monitor security related issues as they arise.

MEDICAL

SUMMARY

Team Rubicon did not have a medical mandate for its missions in Tuscaloosa or Joplin.  No medical issues arose within the team during operations.

RECOMMENDATION

Continue to deploy at least one licensed paramedic with every team to monitor team health and be on standby for accidents that occur.

COMMUNICATION

SUMMARY

Cellular networks were still intact and not overloaded in both Alabama and Missouri.  Communication between elements in the field and HQ was fully capable via both phone and email.

With Joplin, Team Rubicon established Zach Smith, Director of Operations, as the single point of contact (POC) to serve as the nexus between elements on the ground and volunteers wishing to link up.  This reduced miscommunication and freed up other volunteers to work on other aspects of the response.

Communicating all aspects of the response to all members proved difficult.  Often, different elements were getting conflicting information.  Luckily, none of this information was vital to mission success, however, confusion breeds frustrations, and steps should be taken to avoid it.

RECOMMENDATION

Disseminating information about the response to the larger group of key TR volunteers proved at times problematic.  Team Rubicon should establish a Google Site that is continually updated as the response unfolds, providing real time information to members with access to the address.

MEDIA, TRADITIONAL

SUMMARY

Alabama:

Team Rubicon did not have any appearances on traditional media mediums while in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Joplin:

Once again, traditional media played an enormous role in Team Rubicon’s ability to communicate its message and mission, thereby increasing funds raised and applications received.  While in Joplin, various media outlets reached out to Team Rubicon with interest in following the team and its efforts.  Significant media spots include:

CNN, Piers Morgan: Ford Sypher, TR Team Leader and recon element, appeared as a guest in a live interview on Piers Morgan.  Piers Morgan identified Sypher as a member of Team Rubicon and asked him to elaborate on the destruction and the emergency response over the first 24 hours.  TR raised roughly $9,000 the day/night the CNN piece aired.

NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams: Team Rubicon was shadowed for the first part of the day on Wednesday, May 25th by a crew from NBC.  That night, Brian Williams aired the piece under the “Making a Difference” segment.  Team Rubicon was instantly inundated with donations, applications and special requests.  Team Rubicon raised roughly $15,000 that evening and received approximately 50 volunteer applications.

Big Ten Network/Live Big: On Friday, May 27th, Team Rubicon was followed throughout the day by a crew from the Big Ten Network.  The Big Ten Network is highlighting alumni from each school within the conference who are making a difference in their “Live Big” campaign.  The ten to fifteen minute piece will air in September or October of 2011.

USA Today: Because of its appearances on CNN and NBC, Team Rubicon was approached by a USA Today feature writer who published a feature article on the third page of the main section on June 15th.

Media exposure is crucial to Team Rubicon for two reasons:

    1. 1. Traditional media allows Team Rubicon to tell the story of the disaster on a large scale.  One of Team Rubicon’s core beliefs is that donors should feel connected to the disaster; they should feel like they know where their donation is going—traditional media enhances TR’s ability to deliver this.
    2. 2. Traditional media drives fundraising.  Team Rubicon cannot exist without funders.  As TR continues to expand its operations it needs to expand its donor base; traditional media gives TR the opportunity to receive national exposure, attracting people to its core mission and hopefully convincing them to support the cause.

RECOMMENDATION

In order to continue growing Team Rubicon must continue to engage traditional media outlets.  However, Team Rubicon must be sure that media engagements never distract it from its mission.  In Joplin, TR President Jake Wood served as the Public Affairs Officer (PAO), while Ford Sypher directed mission execution.  This ensured that the team was never distracted from the mission.

Team Rubicon must also be careful to emphasize its most important talking points:

    • The current disaster response paradigm is inadequate
    • Engaging veterans and harnessing their skills and experiences can improve it
    • Pairing veterans with civilian medical professionals is a force multiplier
    • This continued service and healthy interaction is beneficial to the veterans’ transition

TR’s leadership must also be cognizant of critics who will make the claim that Team Rubicon’s focus is on getting media rather than helping.  While it is impossible to completely avoid such claims, TR PAOs should be prepared to defend its media outreach based on the above summary.

MEDIA, NEW/SOCIAL

SUMMARY

Newsletter:

Team Rubicon initiated its responses to both Tuscaloosa and Joplin with an urgent newsletter notifying supporters of its impending mission and asking for a $10 contribution to help support it.  Following the success of the Chile $10 campaign, TR was confident that the Call To Action (CTA) would elicit a high newsletter open rate and a high conversion rate of donations.

Title

# of emails

Open Rate

Click Through Rate

# of Donations, First Day

Tuscaloosa

“Team Rubicon to Send Team of Veterans to Alabama”

3044

28%

7.2%

(26%/open)

$5,520

Joplin

“URGENT: Team Rubicon Responds to Joplin, MO”

3064

29.3%

7.1%

(24.3%/ open)

$8,947

The CTR associated with these campaigns is nearly double the average CTR on campaigns without a specific Call to Action.  It is obvious that newsletter campaigns drive the largest spike in initial mission funding.

Facebook:

Team Rubicon once again used Facebook interactively to share live updates from the field with its supporters.  Utilizing a social media management program (Posterous), TR simultaneously updated its blog, Facebook and Twitter.

During the Joplin response, Team Rubicon encouraged supporters to change their profile picture to the TR X, which was specially developed and said “TR Nation.”  This idea should be continued and implemented during missions.

Twitter:

For the first time, Team Rubicon utilized Twitter to create an active dialogue with followers.  In addition to tweeting each blog post, Team Rubicon engaged followers one on one to thank them for support, encourage retweeting and to solicit help.  Team Rubicon also monitored Twitter to get real time updates from various news outlets that have active Twitter feeds.

Website:

Unfortunately, Team Rubicon’s Google Analytics code was not functioning properly on the website, so usage data is not available.

Photo/Video:

In Joplin, Team Rubicon deployed a professional videographer, Kirk Jackson from the TR Media Team, and a professional photographer, Bernadette Matthews.  There was a stark difference in the quality of product that was produced compared to the amateur photos taken in Tuscaloosa.  Updating the blog with professional quality photos makes an enormous difference and the visual impact is much more compelling to visitors.

Kirk Jackson, along with George Gabriel, is developing the TR Media Team with the goal of creating a common theme and feel to the professional videos that Team Rubicon creates to tell its story.  Kirk used Joplin to explore the idea of daily 3-minute video updates.  He created and uploaded the first video the first day, and then produced another one 2 days later.  The videos introduced TR followers to new volunteers, and connected them to the veterans that they were supporting with their donations.

RECOMMENDATION

Team Rubicon’s engagement of donors through social media is what drives the fundraising engine that keeps missions funded.  Team Rubicon should invest in a website overhaul that will streamline user experience and convert more visitors (driven by traditional media) into donors and social media advocates (See Appendix A).

Additionally, Team Rubicon should continue to encourage Facebook followers to change their profile picture to the TR Nation photo.  This will help drive new followers to the page.

Figure 8 TR Nation Logo and Profile Picture

Finally, TR must become more active on Twitter.  Twitter has tremendous potential to reach millions of supporters instantly.  There are instances of single celebrity tweets raising hundreds of thousands of dollars (see Justin Bieber and Pencils for Promise).  TR should have a dedicated Twitter handler while missions are being conducted, and that person should attempt to reach out to influential users.

FUNDRAISING

SUMMARY

For the first time since TR’s initial mission to Haiti, funds coming in (revenue) exceeded funds going out (expenses).  This could be attributed to one of two reasons: one, domestic, non-medical missions cost less because of reduced travel and supply cost; or, two, fundraising was increased because supporters felt compelled to give more to a domestic mission.

Total Raised:

Tuscaloosa- $12,642

Joplin- $36,740

The distinct Call to Action in the newsletter announcement led to a high donor conversion rate.  The $10 request is low enough that anyone can do it, and many will opt to donate more.  It is interesting to note that the average donation in the immediate aftermath of the disaster in Joplin was double that of Tuscaloosa.  The more powerful imagery that came out of Joplin in the initial hours may have led to the outpouring.

Newsletter CTA Conversion

Recipients

Donations

Total

Average

Tuscaloosa

3044

102 (3.3%)

$5,401

$53

Joplin

3064

87 (2.8%)

$8,947

$103

It is also interesting to note that in both cases, neither Alabama nor Missouri were anywhere near the top contributing states to their own respective disaster:

Top States, Number of Donors

Alabama

Missouri

California (34)

Alabama (88)

Texas (21)

California (38)

Colorado (11)

Texas (24)

*Alabama (5)

*Missouri (3)

However, it’s very important to note that two weeks after it was struck by tornados, Alabama skyrocketed to the top with 88 donations to Missouri.  TR should make note of how Missouri donations increase during its next event.

Joplin was also the first major test for Team Rubicon’s new third-party fundraising platform, Stay Classy.  Stay Classy’s implementation was finished only a few days prior to the tornado hitting Joplin.  In the first hours after the newsletter CTA was sent, there was an error on the website where the links were not working properly, causing many supporters to email TR and state that they could not donate.  Once fixed, the program worked seamlessly.  Stay Classy allows donations to process directly on the Team Rubicon website, never taking them to a separate URL as PayPal did prior.  This will hopefully streamline the user experience and cause less confusion in the checkout phase.

Stay Classy also provides several features that could help greatly increase fundraising.  First, it makes it easier for donors to make the contributions recur monthly.  Second, it allows donors to create their own fundraising website for Team Rubicon.  Finally, TR had Stay Classy integrate into its system a program called Donate Double, which eases the Employer Match process.

RECOMMENDATION

As has already been discussed earlier, the TR newsletter and media drive funding.  Team Rubicon must continue to convert site visitors into newsletter recipients and capitalize on media opportunities in the field, when available.

Additionally, Team Rubicon must push its new fundraising features onto its supporters.  By encouraging supporters to create their own fundraising webpages, supporters become force multipliers.

As it did after Haiti, Team Rubicon will offer donors who contributed through the TR website the portion of their donation that TR did not use, keeping in line with the theory of transparency that Team Rubicon has stood by from the beginning.

KEY LESSONS LEARNED

EXPENSES

SUMMARY

Tuscaloosa:

EXPENSES:

     TRANSPORTATION:

$3,100

     EQUIPMENT:

$760

     FOOD:

$923

     LODGING:

$0

     AUTHORIZED CASH DISBURSEMENTS:

$0

TOTAL:

$4,785

Joplin:

EXPENSES:

     TRANSPORTATION:

$3,346

     EQUIPMENT:

$2,463

     FOOD:

$962

     LODGING:

$0

     AUTHORIZED CASH DISBURSEMENTS:

$0

TOTAL:

$6,771

Once again Team Rubicon placed major emphasis on keeping unnecessary costs to a minimum.  The primary costs during both domestic missions were travel/transportation and equipment.  In the future, major equipment could be donated or purchased and capitalized rather than expensed.  Transportation costs will remain; however, they can be mitigated by increasing the organization of local chapters, thereby reducing travel distance.

It wasn’t necessary to purchase a lot of food for use during actual work; however, dinners were purchased at night for the entire team.  This was for two reasons: one, Team Rubicon often worked past the point that volunteers were serving free meals, and two, a good, hot meal at the end of the day is a worthwhile reward that increases socialization and morale.

RECOMMENDATION

Expense reports and receipt collection have proven very difficult and time consuming for TR staff to coordinate.  Many volunteers do not check email often, fail to respond to email in a timely manner or ignore emails regarding administrative things.  Additionally, many volunteers do not want to be reimbursed for costs associated with their efforts.

Team Rubicon feels that its volunteers’ contribution is their time and effort, and should not be financial.  Therefore, TR wishes to create a more streamlined process by which it can get volunteers reimbursed for transportation and incidental costs which always accrue in situations like this.

It is recommended that Team Rubicon move away from requiring expense reports for its volunteers, and instead institutes a policy by which volunteers that drive personal vehicles are automatically reimbursed for mileage from their home of record to the DZ.  Additionally, all TR Volunteers who have been authorized by a TR representative to participate will be eligible to receive a pre-determined per diem to cover incidental costs.

KEY LESSONS

    1. 1. Safety is paramount.  There are no explicit security threats, but complacency opens opportunities for injury, especially around heavy equipment.
    2. 2. Proper chainsaw maintenance is crucial to efficiency. It is impossible to effectively clear debris with inoperable chainsaws or saws with dull blades.
    3. 3. Properly utilizing human capital makes the team more effective.  Breaking the “squad” down into “saw teams” and “scout teams” maximizes efforts and time.
    4. 4. Have a daily debrief.  Nightly debriefs provide a forum for all the volunteers to express their thoughts and opinions of the day’s operation, as well as gives them buy-in into the team and concept.
    5. 5. Communication is key.  Top down communication (HQ to TL regarding volunteers, resources, etc) and bottom up communication (TL to HQ regarding situation, etc) ensure minimal friction.
    6. 6. Fundraising is driven by 1) Newsletter CTA and 2) media.  Utilize both!
    7. 7. Recon teams are essential.  Recon elements lay the ground work for the entire response—from EOC coordination, to rally point selection, to initial situational awareness.  Recon should always be conducted when possible.
    8. 8. Photography and video are best left to professionals.  The difference between final products is definite and worth the investment.

KEY ACTIONS

    1. 1. Create chainsaw safety guidelines.
    2. 2. Develop Google Sites to help with response coordination and communication.
    3. 3. Adopt new domestic mission expense policy that reimburses based on mileage and per diem.
    4. 4. Redesign website to optimize social media, newsletter sign up and donor conversion.
    5. 5. Identify volunteers capable of conducting incident recon and initial coordination.
    6. 6. Develop cadre of photo and video professionals willing and able to deploy with TR in the future.