WASHINGTON, September 19, 2013 — As Coloradans begin to assess the damages from the destructive floods that have only started to subside, many charitable organizations will begin mobilizing to help the thousands of Coloradans affected by the tragedy. According to the Colorado Emergency Management website, 17 counties were impacted, and more than 18,000 people were evacuated. As of yesterday, 306 people were still unaccounted for, and six people had died.
Responding to a disaster of this magnitude is a massive undertaking for relief agencies, and it could be days before larger organizations have established operations. While these groups are setting up, Team Rubicon received a green light form local officials and started moving into place yesterday to begin initial organization and damage assessment, as well as preparing for the influx of volunteers. The organization began its full volunteer response today, making damage assessments and beginning to clean out homes and other structures.
Team Rubicon takes its name from the phrase “crossing the Rubicon,” meaning to pass a point of no return, or to engage in a risky course of action. It came into being after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. Realizing their military training would be of great use in Haiti where traditional relief groups would take days or even weeks to get to the injured, four military veterans decided to fly in while the country was still feeling aftershocks, arriving only five days after the 7.0 earthquake. By the time they arrived in Haiti, they team had grown to 7, including 3 health care providers, 2 fireman/paramedics, and two marines.
Team Rubicon’s mission is to bridge the gap between the initial disaster and the point when more traditional, less flexible relief organizations can establish on-site operations and begin providing help. “Disaster zones can look a lot like combat zones at times: unstable populations, limited resources, and uncertain information,” says Mike Lee, TR’s Communication Coordinator. “Skills like emergency medicine, risk assessment and mitigation, teamwork, and decisive leadership are incredibly valuable in disaster relief.”
In Haiti, it was two weeks before non-governmental relief agencies began moving in to provide care. During that time, the flexible and versatile groups from Team Rubicon were able to reach thousands of injured Haitians and provide life-saving care.
The group has grown immensely in the past three and a half years, with ultimately about 60 volunteers involved in the first mission in Haiti. “We currently have about 12,000 volunteers across the US, with roughly 80% of them being military veterans,” says Lee.
The volunteers of Team Rubicon help in disaster situations all over the world, including some that don’t make national news. Last October, volunteers helped Alaskans in the Talkeetna floods in the fall of 2012. They make the decision on where to deploy based on where the volunteers can make the best impact. “We take a lot of factors into consideration, like our volunteer density in the region, as well as what other resources are in the area. Most importantly, we work with local authorities to ensure we’ll be able to help,” Lee says.
While the initial mission of Team Rubicon was to primarily provide emergency and immediate medical care in disaster situations before traditional NGOs could respond, their mission has evolved to encompass more, aiming not only to help victims of disasters, but to help veterans through service. Lee says, “Initially, we were a internationally-focused disaster relief organization that happened to use veterans as volunteers. After the death of one of our first volunteers and close friend Clay Hunt, we realized that the idea of continued service can be very helpful in helping veterans transition from military to civilian life.” In an effort to engage more veterans in service, Team Rubicon has placed a focus on domestic operations.
Even as members of Team Rubicon begin helping Coloradans dig out from the floods, volunteers to their south are watching the flooding in Arizona and New Mexico and getting ready to move out.
Interested individuals can volunteer or donate to Team Rubicon’s missions on their website.
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