Top Stories
Top Stories
Weather & Natural Disasters

Team Rubicon gears up for Haiti relief after Hurricane Matthew

Joseph Wade
A soldier carries relief aid after Hurricane Matthew passes in Jeremie, Haiti, October 9, 2016.
Carlos Garcia | Reuters

In the coming weeks and months, Haiti—ravaged by Hurricane Matthew—will see millions worth of international assistance and disaster relief organizations funneled into the impoverished country.

However, one of the nonprofit groups rising to the rebuilding challenge will be a rapid response team composed of veterans named Team Rubicon. In fact, they got their first start six years ago when they answered the call to Haiti's devastating earthquake. Last week, Democratic presidential contender HIllary Clinton requested people send donations to the organization.

Formed by two former Marines, Team Rubicon domestic and international units are organized under the umbrella of Team Rubicon Global. The organization is responding to areas devastated by natural disasters such as Matthew, and in Haiti, the need is particularly acute: More than 2 million people have been displaced by the hurricane while at least 546 are dead, according to United Nations estimates.

In the midst of cholera outbreaks and widespread devastation that led the U.N. to ask world governments for $120 million in emergency aid, the U.K.-based arm of Team Rubicon is stepping into the breach. The group's U.K. unit—which also circled the wagons for earthquake relief in Nepal recently —has 13 volunteers assessing damage and needs in the Hemisphere's poorest country, and collecting donations to fund its efforts.

"Over the next few weeks their primary tasks will be to clear debris, repair critical infrastructure, set up shelters and deliver supplies," John Leach, Team Rubicon UK's CEO, told CNBC via email.

"The significant skills of Armed Forces veterans are perfectly suited to this kind of environment and our teams are able to operate effectively throughout the affected areas and, critically, go that extra mile to ensure even the most remote communities can be reached and supported," Leach said. "There is a lot to do and Team Rubicon is working hard right where help is needed the most."

It all started on Facebook

Source: Team Rubicon UK

In 2010, Team Rubicon USA CEO Jake Wood, an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, said he was at home watching news reports about people suffering in the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude quake that struck Haiti that year. He then decided to volunteer and found others veterans to join him.

In an anecdote befitting the age of social media, Wood issued his call for action via Facebook.

Wood told CNBC many of Team Rubicon's missions are carried out by people meeting each other for the first time and notes that the pressure is high. Because of that, he says there is a certain kind of person that makes the group excel.

"We're looking for people foolish enough that think they can change the world and smart enough to have a chance," Wood said in a recent interview. Volunteers are trained in medical care, heavy equipment operations, building repair, debris removal, volunteer coordination and work order management among other skills.

"I tell them I'm going to pay them less than other people. I'm going to work them harder than other people," he said. "I'm going to ask more from them than they've ever been asked for before and they're probably going to fail frequently, but if they're up for it—there's a spot for them."

Team Rubicon arrives on site, ready with hand tools, medical supplies, solar power stations and Palantir's sophisticated geo mapping technology.

The nonprofit got its start by assisting with medical care after Haiti's 2010 disaster. At the time, the group touched down in the Dominican Republic, they rented a truck, loaded it with supplies and crossed their "Rubicon"—the 320 km Artibonite River that divides the two nations. Once there, they organized 60 volunteers in small mobile triage units and were able to provide life-saving care for thousands.

But when the original members of Team Rubicon went to areas in Haiti that were deemed too dangerous to go to that the fledgling organization, they developed a reputation befitting former Marines. Wood said that some of the skills he and veterans on his team learned in the military were beneficial, including "how to avoid conflict and work with unstable populations."

The group started with fewer than 10 volunteers, but six years later has completed 149 operations around the world and maintains a volunteer force of over 40,000 people.

Team Rubicon USA is actively assisting hurricane-hit states, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. The domestic operation has set an ambitious 2016 fundraising goal of $10 million, with more being requested specifically efforts toward domestic Hurricane Matthew relief. They also arrive in a hurry, able to scramble a team of dozens within 2-4 days.

Wood credited Team Rubicon's organization and readiness skills to "…really smart people. I'm not good at developing those things, so we went out and found great team members who just eat, sleep and breathe process improvement, and we adopted best practices where we could find them," he told CNBC. "We're not trying to reinvent the wheel."

Clarification: Haiti's relief efforts are being addressed by the UK-based arm of Team Rubicon.