Wednesday, July 7, 2021   |   Case Studies, Public Safety

Disaster and Humanitarian Response Aided by Weather Intelligence

Team Rubicon was founded by two Marine Corps veterans who went to Haiti to help with relief efforts after the devastating 2010 earthquake. More than a decade later, Team Rubicon continues to coordinate disaster relief efforts led by military veteran volunteers, both internationally and domestically. The organization focuses on underserved and vulnerable communities and has deployed to over 440 disasters globally and boasts 135,000 registered disaster response volunteers. Teams on the ground focus on getting people back into their homes by mucking out flooded homes, removing downed trees, tarping roofs, and more.

A Team Rubicon volunteer clears downed trees after Hurricane Laura in 2020

Coordinating Relief

When coordinating volunteer efforts, the Team Rubicon staff looks at three factors:

  • Where the weather has caused or will cause damage
  • The location of vulnerable population, which is largely based on socio-economic data
  • The location of unmet need, which is determined by the response of emergency managers and volunteers during past disasters

“Weather is the most dynamic piece in all of this, it’s going to be shifting,” said Lauren Vatier, Senior Associate of Operational Planning at Team Rubicon.

Access to reliable weather data is key for Team Rubicon’s operations. It needs to identify areas impacted by severe weather quickly to get teams deployed to help communities in need as soon as possible. Monitoring ongoing weather conditions is also necessary to ensure the safety of volunteers on the ground.

Team Rubicon does not have a meteorologist on staff. In the organization’s early years, it relied on multiple weather sources to piece together forecasts when planning response efforts.

Baron has delivered a streamlined weather solution to Team Rubicon. High-quality, up-to-the-minute weather data is now visible throughout the entire organization, enabling more effective monitoring and forecasting of weather conditions. Utilizing Baron weather data, the staff can access in-depth data for severe events, including hurricanes and tornados.

Lauren who doesn’t have a meteorologist background says Baron delivers actionable current and forecast data when they need it most.

“Before I would look at NOAA and NWS, read their assessments, and try to understand by Googling what they were saying,” Vatier said. “Now I can go in and say ‘Ok, I understand this.’ I can see what it looks like and be in more control and make my own analysis.”

Throughout Team Rubicon’s time as a Baron customer, Baron has provided multiple training opportunities, including sending staff to the Team Rubicon Leadership Conference, to ensure the organization can capitalize on the features and functionality of Baron tools. Baron offers around-the-clock weather support from a staff of degreed meteorologists, a service Team Rubicon often takes advantage of before a major event. In 2018, Baron sent a meteorologist to Team Rubicon’s National Operations Center to help analyze the weather and plan relief efforts as Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the Carolinas.

“Having that deeper analysis is really helpful because it can help give perspective and help us make decisions further in advance,” said Vatier.

The staff at Team Rubicon will start tracking and monitoring when a storm is forming in the Atlantic. When they see it is a threat to land, they start ramping up volunteer efforts and doing daily briefings with Baron data as their forecasting guide. Lauren says they have a set of go-to Baron products. Lauren says they have a set of go-to products within Baron Threat Net to get a better understanding of the impact of a severe weather event that includes:

  • Tropical layers
  • Precipitation accumulation
  • Radar
  • Wind speeds

“In a hurricane, we want to pre-position our assets, so we need to determine where we think the disaster is going to strike,” Vatier said. “If it’s going to be a wind event, we’re going to see more tree damage and use chainsaws to remove vegetative debris. We’re going to use a different cache and specifically skilled volunteers. If it’s a more water-based event, we’re going to do more muck outs. Knowing what those threats are and where they’re going to hit is going to drive a lot of our decision making.”

A Hurricane Season Unlike any Other

2020 was the most active hurricane season on record with 30 named storms, including 13 hurricanes. Baron gave Team Rubicon an easily accessible tool to pinpoint impacted areas and proactively plan relief efforts throughout the year.

“Last year (2020) hurricane season started bright and early and it was just one after another. It felt like a never-ending series of hurricane monitoring,” Vatier claimed.

Two of the Hurricanes, Laura and Delta made landfall just 13 miles apart in Louisiana.

Laura was a Category 4 storm when it reached land on August 27th. It brought wind speeds as high as 150mph, storm surges that reached 15 feet, and up to 10 inches of rain. The storm knocked out power to more than 900,000 homes, caused $19 billion of damage, and claimed 26 lives.

 

A display of Baron data shows Hurricane Laura as it makes landfall in Louisiana

As Laura moved closer to land, Baron data helped Team Rubicon realize they needed to shift their response from a flooding event to a wind event. They positioned a road clearance team in Lafayette, LA, located just outside the forecasted storm surge area and safe from dangerous winds.

A Team Rubicon volunteer works on a damaged home in Lousiana

Hurricane Laura made landfall overnight. The first team quickly deployed to the hard-hit city of Lake Charles where they cleared debris and downed trees to ensure road access to critical infrastructure. This was done in conjunction with local authorities. The road clearance team was followed by waves of volunteers who were able to help hundreds of homeowners with clearing trees and debris, tarping roofs, and some muck-outs.

In early October Hurricane Delta was moving through the Gulf and projected to follow a strikingly similar path as Hurricane Laura. There were still approximately 100 Team Rubicon volunteers on the ground helping homeowners. Monitoring weather conditions was now important for planning an effective response and for the safety of those already deployed.

“Our volunteers were now at risk of getting hit by this new hurricane,” said Lauren. “We had to monitor not only for our volunteers but also for homeowners who were going to be affected again.”

Team Rubicon volunteers prioritize tarping roofs before Hurricane Delta arrived then evacuated to the Houston area. When the most dangerous part had passed, they returned to the Lake Charles area.

The Hurricane Laura relief efforts were extended to help homeowners impacted by Hurricane Delta. Crews stayed on the ground until November 30th. In total, Team Rubicon volunteers helped worked on 599 homes, cleared 12 roads, and helped more than 1200 people in the wake of the two hurricanes.

During a hectic hurricane season or any weather-related disaster, Lauren says effectively planning large-scale relief efforts would be much more difficult without Baron data at her fingertips.

“I’d be more at the mercy of less reliable information, which puts a lot more guesswork into what I’m trying to predict or forecast. That is going to slow down our teams. If we position them a little bit off, it might take days to determine the best location to go.”

Team Rubicon Summary

Challenges:     Safely deploy teams of volunteers before and after devasting natural disasters by quickly locating the area of impact along with a safe location for staging.

Solution:    Implementation of a web-based solution that provides high-quality Baron weather data. Baron delivers actionable weather intelligence including advanced forecasts, location-specific data and interpreted weather guidance.

Benefits:

  • Quickly pinpoint areas impacted or expected to be impacted by a severe weather event.
  • Weather visibility throughout the entire Team Rubicon organization via the web platform or the companion mobile app for use in the field.
  • Safe deployment of teams and supplies on the ground at target locations before, during and after the event.