The Potential for Technology to Scale Disaster Relief

Steve Hunt, CIO/CTO, Team Rubicon USA
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Steve Hunt, CIO/CTO, Team Rubicon USA

We in technology have the capacity to measure the impacts and drive resources for the increasing number of natural disasters taking place across the world like never before. The potential for disasters to impact more people is increasing due to the complex global landscape of rising population centers. To meet this growing challenge our objectives remain centered on enabling our organization as it integrates with the U.S. national and international humanitarian framework to deliver improved relief services at a reduced cost. We can’t simply buy or compete our way out of this great challenge. It takes a strong vision, dedicated leadership and most importantly a team of high-performing practitioners with complementary skills.

Team Rubicon is a disaster response organization that repurposes the skills of military veterans, first responders, and others across the globe. Many of our members have served in the most technologically advanced militaries in the world. Their expectation and aptitude for applying technology in support of disaster relief is high. So as our technology team works to support relief operations, build capacity and reduce cost like any technology group worth its salt, I work to keep a relentless focus on how hungry we are to meet scale. At the time of this writing we are supporting business operations and eight simultaneous field operations; six across the U.S. landscape and two in the EU. Our readiness strategy includes the ability to expand and contract the number of operations we support on a moment’s notice. Our layered support structure includes forward deployed field operations technology personnel backed up by centralized remote support, a small development team, and a business support team. We also benefit from regular participation by our philanthropic supporters comprised of Team Rubicon volunteer technology managers and partner companies whose engineers and management personnel are actively engaged in nearly all we do. As our technology architecture and vision is absorbed by personnel in these groups, the authority to contribute is distributed to help maximize our capacity. Disciplined systems engineering and information security principles, transparency, leader intent, and an orientation on responsibility drive how we accomplish our goals. Inspiration comes from empowerment, leading by example and ensuring that every technology we use is centered on the act of helping those in need. For those of us in technology at Team Rubicon, we remain vigilant working with our partners to serve up the best technologies for the task of helping and protecting those in need, while empowering one of our greatest national resources in service, our military veterans.

  ‚ÄčInspiration comes from empowerment, leading by example and ensuring that every technology we use is centered on the act of helping those in need 

I’m often asked, “How can technology possibly help in an austere disaster setting? How do you decide what technologies to use?” For the former question, we can tell in nearly every disaster setting what people need before arriving. Immediate needs include a mix of things like life-saving measures, medical aid, water, food, shelter and security. What we don't know early on is the scope or scale of those needs. Technology enables us to measure, record, and communicate the scope of these needs, on a timescale that matters beyond the disaster setting. This information drives how we do a better job of delivering the right aid to the right people. The types of technologies we use must help scale how we provide more opportunities for military veterans to continue their service. We continuously evaluate the contributions of each technology to ensure they meet these objectives. If we identify a new tool that supports these activities with increased capacity and reduced cost, we consider and plan an upgrade for when our organization is ready to absorb the change.

As an organization we’ve been fortunate to grow up with the Cloud; we are about 98 percent Cloud-based and use mobile extensively. The great capabilities we enjoy provide us an unprecedented ability to scale and report on how we engage our 40,000 member base across the globe. And given the forward leaning orientation of our personnel, we ask technology companies to let us be their action arm, to let us take the technology they create, in the office or the laboratory, the distance to where it helps people in the field. This means we seek to identify great problems, great technologies and great companies, all backed by great people. We actively ask, “Is our relationship merely a business transaction or is it about becoming a partner in success?” When we find great technologies we usually find great people behind them, so most of our partnerships in success, as humanitarians, come together naturally.

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