Team Rubicon's mission: clean up Michael’s mess

Jonathan Kaupanger
October 11, 2018 - 4:02 pm

Photo by Team Rubicon


Harnessing brute force, technology and lessons learned from the previous storms, Team Rubicon (TR) is poised to start recovery efforts from Hurricane Michael.   

“We have 85,000 plus bad-ass, committed Team Rubicon volunteers across the country that are ready to step into the arena and help people on their worst day.  At the drop of a dime,” says DJ Sprenger, Team Rubicon’s Sr. Associate, Public Affairs.  According to Sprenger, about 70 percent of TR’s volunteers are veterans and within hours of sending out requests for help, hundreds said they were ready.

Started by veterans after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, TR is a non-governmental disaster relief organization. The reach of TR is global and can respond to winter storms, wildfires and hurricanes. 

TR’s response to Hurricane Michael will be different from prior recovery efforts.  When TR’s recon teams first hit the ground after Florence, they discovered lots of downed trees blocking primary and secondary roads.  First responders and local officials had to spend time clearing roads before they could provide support services.  Sprenger expects this to start by tonight.

Now, damage assessment teams are larger and travel with chainsaws and heavy equipment. Their objective, in addition to conducting recon, is to assist local officials with route clearance and help reopen roads.  This provides immediate benefits for first responders and local communities. 

Photo by Team Rubicon

“We learned a lot last year about how to scale our operations,” says Sprenger.  “We have a lot of processes in place now that allows us to get several responses stood up in the same state.”  TR is still working recovery efforts from Hurricane Florence in six North Carolina counties.  Springer expects the Florida operation to be larger in scale.

Finding where help is needed can be difficult, but this is where technology comes in.  Volunteers are currently combing through media reports, Facebook and Twitter to find where people are reporting damage.  “We’re also using satellite imagery to find before and after images of areas.  This gives us a better picture of what’s on the ground ahead of our recon team moving in,” says Sprenger. 

TR’s damage assessment teams use a phone app while on the ground.  First used in the North Carolina recovery efforts, the app uses GPS to track the team’s location.  If they see a tree blocking a roadway, but can’t move it, they take a picture and type in relevant information.  This is uploaded to the national operations center.  After a few hours of damage assessment, clusters appear on the map. 

Photo by Team Rubicon

Next, TR includes information from a social vulnerability index.  This identifies communities or areas that may not possess the financial means to start repairs.  TR can then direct resources exactly where they are needed.

“Based on what we’re seeing, we expect to bring most of our core capabilities to this operation because the damage in some places looks to be pretty devastating,” says Sprenger.

If you would like to help, cash is the best way to show your support.  You can donate at

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