THE BLOG

Hurricane Sandy Counter Insurgency

12/11/2012 01:10 pm ET | Updated Feb 10, 2013

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy it is important to take a look at what transpired in the response and recovery period. Every disaster provides responders an opportunity to employ lessons learned from previous occurrences, as well as a chance to try new things. When Sandy levied unprecedented damage to the New York area, an unlikely task force made up of military veterans, tattooed entrepreneurial rock climbers and a rugged solar panel company, was one of the main leaders in the effort to combat the devastation. This collective of unlikely characters effectively deployed over 10,000 volunteers, and serviced 700 individual work orders submitted by those divested by the storm. This is less about the victims, however, and more about the system that was created to assist them. Highlighting the unique and slightly odd collaboration and capabilities of this community-centric task force is important to shed light on a system that could be replicated in the future to assist thousands of potential future victims.

Veterans learn to rapidly adapt, overcome and follow through on their objectives, regardless of unforeseen obstacles. This, combined with their unfaltering integrity, visceral understanding of sacrifice, and unwavering discipline makes them ideal leaders whether deployed domestically or abroad. Entrepreneurs are their counterparts in the private sector. They have a similar drive to create opportunity, identify solutions, and achieve success despite obstacles and limited resources.

When tactical operational modalities from the military community are combined with the business acumen of entrepreneurial start-ups, a uniquely effective dynamic emerges -- one that, it turns out, is particularly applicable to effective disaster response.

Historically, there is a major breakdown in the overall Humanitarian assistance disaster response mechanism referred to as HADR. The initial triage stage is simple, as all assets and resources available are focused on saving lives. When efforts shift from triage to recovery, the flaws often become apparent. Millions of dollars in aid supplies -- including medicine, experts, equipment and food -- sit in large, non-governmental organizations' (NGOs) depots, and staging areas. Yet nothing seems to make it the crucial last mile to the affected population. I saw this play out in Panama during flooding in the Costa Abajo region in 2009, in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and again in the past two weeks after Hurricane Sandy.

In disaster response scenarios, indigenous capacity and community resources are often overlooked as responders operate under preconceived protocols that exist autonomously from the realities of those who need assistance. This time, in New York and New Jersey, an unlikely Brooklyn-based business challenged the norm and set a new precedent in collaboration of assets in times of duress.

Brooklyn Boulders may just look like a climbing gym, but the organization lives and breathes an ethos of rapid innovation, creativity and community that enabled it to react quickly to the situation on hand.

When Sandy hit, Marcus Brooks, the General Manager of the climbing facility, and a trained wilderness EMT, decided to keep the facility open 24 hours a day. "In these types of situations, a warm, safe place to decompress, with electricity, could be invaluable to the community," said Marcus. In the immediate aftermath of Sandy, Brooks and his team transformed the gym into an operating base for Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization famous for rapidly deploying military veterans and medical professionals into crises scenarios more rapidly and effectively than almost anyone in the country.

When an out-of-the-box, unconventional approach is taken to disaster response, such as what transpired with Brooklyn Boulders and Team Rubicon and Goal Zero, tremendous accomplishments are rapidly achieved. Just relying on the traditional system and infrastructure is no longer good enough. As a result of the partnership, 700 individual work order requests made by people affected by the storm were fulfilled. These 700 orders ranged from search-and rescue missions right after the storm made landfall to chain sawing fallen trees, repairing damaged roofs, conducting transportation rout clearance, managing emergency shelters, to clearing houses of debris which the Team Rubicon veteran volunteers did around the clock for over two weeks.

"We have seen enough of these disasters play out to understand there is a fundamental break down in the response system. We wanted to leverage our community and local resources to facilitate a rapid response initiative, and to do that we needed partners," said Jeremy Balboni, Founder of Brooklyn Boulders. With tremendous space and human resources at its disposal, the gym team understood the vital role they could play in facilitating a grass-roots response effort. This is why they reached out to Team Rubicon, a high-speed, low-drag solution to accomplishing the goal of rapidly deploying assistance without waiting for municipal services to be restored.

Overnight a rock climbing facility was filled with soldiers in sleeping bags, a logistics center, supplies, and solar panels, batteries and lights donated by Goal Zero. "It was a bizarre scene out of an apocalyptic movie to see first responders flown in from all over the country, jet lagged and exhausted from work, walking around the cavernous 18,000 square foot gym turned Brooklyn military base, with head lamp beams bouncing off the walls after the lights were out," said Lance Pinn, President of Brooklyn Boulders.

To effectively help people in these disaster scenarios it takes a community, which is exactly what the gym team created in providing a space for Team Rubicon and Goal Zero to operate out of. By brining disparate communities together this unlikely task force worked together doing what they could to contribute, from working in the field to providing logistics support and lighting solutions to those without power. It is not often a local business identifies its resources, actively seeks out complimentary operational partners, and transforms itself, literally overnight. James Atkins, the CEO of Goal Zero put it best, "This awesome gym has turned into a post-apocalyptic warehouse full of equipment, sleeping areas, charging stations, and people in desperate need of help, It's our safe house as well as our headquarters." This is a great example of how impactful a small local business can be in times of community need.

"Brooklyn Boulders was a critical component in enabling Team Rubicon to respond to Hurricane Sandy and to carry out the organization's largest mission to date, " says Jake Wood, founder of Team Rubicon." Without the space, Team Rubicon would not have had the foothold it needed to deploy." When there is a major local disaster like Hurricane Sandy the amount of damage is overwhelming and the sheer amount of people in need of assistance can overwhelm the system. A great precedent has been set for a new dynamic in collaborative community response that should be replicated in light of future occurrences.