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Robert J. Glogowski

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It is a long road to recovery from STORM SANDY
By Robert J. Glogowski
Monday, December 03, 2012

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This is a short story about my experience working as a Disaster Relief Team Rubicon Member while helping the residents in the Rockaways, Queen NY area hardest hit by Hurrican Storm Sandy.

 

   IT’S A LONG ROAD TO NORMAL AFTER STORM SANDY
                              By Robert J. Glogowski
 
            NBC News and news services updated 10/29/2012 12:37:45 AM ET 2012-10-29T04:37:45 Forecasters said Sandy has the ingredients to transform into a "super storm" as it merges with an Arctic jet stream, which could make the storm unlike anything seen over the eastern United States in decades. The storm is projected to make landfall late Monday. (The Storm’s effects on the East Coast are already beginning at the time of this news services update and the aftermath of the Storm will continue for the next 24 hours, days, weeks and months to come.) 
NBC News and news services updated 10/29/2012 12:37:45 AM ET 2012-10-29T04:37:45 Hurricane Sandy lumbered toward the East Coast early Monday, leaving potentially tens of millions of residents with only hours to prepare for its onslaught of punishing wind, torrential rains and, at higher elevations, heavy snow. (Possible damage from major flooding, high water, tide surge from ocean and bay areas related to this hurricane is never projected, mentioned or rationalized by most residents living near or in lower elevation areas or islands.)
A day before the storm was scheduled to make landfall, state and local officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for hundreds of thousands of residents while they also began the slow, grinding process of shutting down New York City’s massive transit system. (By noon on Monday, 10/29/2012 taking immediate shelter in eight to ten hours will be the only option left for most people living in low-lying areas and leaving to go anywhere will not be an option. If they haven’t already left and even though they have taken shelter, the next thing they will soon realize is that seeking higher ground might be the only means of surviving this storm.)   
Most residents of New York City, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, New Jersey, do not even own cars or vehicles and are mostly familiar with or dependent upon commuting by way of using the massive transit system. This massive transit system does not take people out or away from New York City or other surrounding city areas or more specifically remove them any safe distance away from the East Coast. For most residents living within the large metropolitan areas the most major obstacle for them to deal with for a few weeks after the storm will be coping without electrical power and a few weeks experiencing gasoline shortages.  
In order to evacuate a residence or home in the New York City areas for those that do not own vehicles requires taking a bus, a train or a plane which may also require a planned or schedule time to use them, hours, days or weeks in advance of leaving the city. In other words the transit system is being shut down which for the most part does not allow anyone to go anywhere, if they can’t access a bus, a plane or a train that is leaving according to a previously planned schedule, most residence in the New York City areas are not going to evacuate to anywhere. 
Other areas among those like Rockaway, Breezy Point, Queens, Stanton Island, Coney Island or lower lying areas along the New Jersey coast or any low elevation area along the East Coast use their vehicle only to commute into the larger city areas if not only to gain access to the massive transit system to commute to the other cities. 
If a person has always been safe in their home for so many years, the only “instinctive choice” that remains for most people is not to leave and remain in the safest place they have always known. One thing that seems to be overlooked by residents living in coastal areas subjected to hurricanes is that evacuation should mean “above all by whatever means relocate to higher ground”. The “duration of evacuation” should not require anything more than utilizing a safe shelter during any storm and awaiting receding water levels until it is safe to return to their community area and home. For whatever reason throughout the years of such occurrences, the simplest evacuation plan to “leave or find higher ground before an event occurs” still goes unrecognized as perhaps the first and most important step in preparation and protection to survive any such event or storm.     
October 30, 2012 Hurricane Storm Sandy has run its course and the storms aftermath begins with stories such as found within the New York Times: A rampaging fire reduced more than 100 houses to ash in Breezy Point, Queens. Explosions and downed power lines…. For the next few days and weeks search and rescue efforts for survivors continues, death counts are estimated, damages and associated costs speculation begins, local disaster agencies such as police, fire and medical emergency crews are immediately screaming for state assistance expecting the soon to follow a level of federal disaster agencies not expecting them to wait or be told they need to get involved immediately.  
(Federal disaster agencies won’t become involved in any devastated areas following any such disaster until local, and state requests are made for federal assistance. After the State has made a request to the federal government branch and governing decision makers after once receiving the proper approval can only then send relieve agencies such as FEMA and other agencies to provide assistance and direction and become more involved with local communities more so than individuals, which in this case would not occur until nearly ten days after the storm. President Obama did not hesitate and was on site in New Jersey on November 1, 2012 to see the devastation and push the federal sectors of assistance to move forward immediately baring the red tape of the federal approval process to not wait and get busy doing their part.)
Prior to the major hurricane called Storm Sandy there is only one voluntary organization on site that is immediately ready and waiting to respond to humanitarian requirements and needs that may occur in this storms aftermath. That organization is Team Rubicon. Team Rubicon will be there to support humanitarian aid and rescue crews as the storm subsides and will continue being a presents of humanitarian aid assisting communities in disaster relief efforts until weeks later when conventional aid organizations have arrive.
Prior to the first day of Team Rubicon’s presents in the area before the storm even arrived, Team Rubicon at a headquarters level had prepared if not already established, correspondence with local police and fire departments, other local city, state, emergency response and other government agencies such as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross among others. Team Rubicon considers the needs of home owners and residents when determining the hardest hit or areas in greatest need of immediate rescue relief; one of which being the Rockaways in Queens. The focus then shifts to establishing a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in the area.
Coordinating with an already strained city and state area’s resources is only one of the reasons why no one should ever venture to assist in a disaster relief effort by self-deploying or striking out alone to offer assistance to individual residents. Being represented by an organization that has been given authority to assist in disaster relief is for the safety and security of both the residents and the corresponding agencies and volunteers involved. 
Following guidance issued by local fire and police, city offices coordinating with power, gas, city government and officials, state, emergency response agencies, offers the residents some security against looters, outside or non-licensed, incompetent contractors offering various services and scalpers offering goods or services at the expense and vulnerability of the resident and community.
Team Rubicon – "Team" emphasizes the organization's military ethos of small, cohesive units. “Rubicon" has survived in reference to any group committing itself to a risky course of action. Bridge the Gap Engages Veterans, many returning home after war; find a renewed sense of purpose for their skills and experiences operating as a disaster relief organization and a veteran-focused enterprise, while redefining the meaning of veteran reintegration into society. 
Associating a natural disaster to similar problems that confronted troops in Iraq and Afghanistan such as unstable populations, limited resources, horrific sights, sounds and smells along with utilizing the skills cultivated on those same battlefields – emergency medicine, risk assessment and mitigation, teamwork and decisive leadership – are invaluable in disaster zones.
Team Rubicon - Our Mission - Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with medical professionals to rapidly deploy emergency response teams into crisis situations, since its creation on January 17, 2010, reaching victims outside the scope of where traditional aid organizations venture; victims on the fringe. 
Team Rubicon - Our Slogan - The "Gap" that exists between large natural disasters and conventional aid response. Team Rubicon serves to "Bridge" this gap; providing field triage and relief operations until large aid organizations and nations can provide definitive care. The "Gap" is primarily time; the crucial window following a disaster when victims have traditionally been without outside aid. When the "Gap" closes - once conventional aid organizations arrive - Team Rubicon moves on.
Team Rubicon was on the East Coast for Storm Sandy before the storm hit and on site after the storms affected areas were determined to begin assisting residents with aid and disaster relief assistance and to work toward recovery. Team Rubicon remained on site until weeks later as conventional aid organizations began arriving to begin their aid and disaster relief assistance and their recovery work they are capable of performing.
Being a veteran, I had applied to Team Rubicon months ago with an interest in becoming a Team Rubicon volunteer. I had been watching the events of Storm Sandy unfold during the last few weeks up until November 7, 2012. I received an E-mail requesting Team Rubicon volunteers interested in going to New Jersey to assist in the recovery efforts. I met with Erik Papineau who had recently become a Coordinator of Personnel and Training for Team Rubicon. After a brief meeting and a few phone calls by Friday I informed Erik that I was ready to leave from Chicago on Saturday Morning to deploy to New Jersey.
I had no idea exactly where we were going, what environmental conditions we might be subjected to and possibly living in or for how long. I did as Erik instructed and prepared for “in the field conditions”. The best way I know how to describe “in the field conditions” means possibly living in an open and unprotected environment most likely subjected to any weather conditions that may be presented or occur without the availability of shelter, food or water for an undetermined amount of time possibly up to two weeks or longer. 
For most volunteers in any other humanitarian organization they are not prepared for or capable of surviving “in the field conditions and then going forward with completing a mission”. The resident requiring humanitarian assistance are immediate and because of this storm they may find their living conditions have changed, may be living in an unhealthy or unsustainable home, may not have food or drinkable-usable water, heat, any means of communication or transportation for an undetermined amount of time. For most residents who remained in their homes in the Rockaway area such conditions were as stated.
The Team Rubicon military member is a veteran capable of surviving “in the field conditions” and going forward with completing a mission such as assisting those who are in need of stabilizing their home environment by making it livable space again until the necessities such as water supply, food or access to food can be made available and transportation avenues can be restored. Other necessities such as restoring electrical systems and heating systems, making minor wall repairs or rebuilding may take much longer and are not often the scope of the Team Rubicon mission.   
From the pretense of knowing to approach the unknown environmental conditions in the disaster zone or area with an “in the field conditions” approach and a mindset of “the mission at hand” may consist of: an absolute concern and respect for the resident and of their home, the home owners safety and what their needs are, how they are doing, if they needed anything other than or beyond assistance with stabilizing their home, lend an ear and let them talk or tell their story and let them know Team Rubicon was here to help in their time of need, removing material that may cause advancing hazardous living conditions such as bacterial situations, for example wet materials that promote mold growth by taking action to prevent these issues from becoming an issue immediately. 
The main objective in this recovery effort was to remove wet, contaminated and damaged materials from a home as soon as possible to prevent mold and other bacterial problems from occurring. Also a main focus was for making communication available to every resident immediately to locate Team Rubicon’s Forward Operating Base (FOB) and making available information to contact any humanitarian organizations assisting in recovery efforts or the recovery processes including fire, police and ambulance if required.
November 10, 2012 we arrived in Brooklyn just after midnight on Saturday night. We would not go to the Forward Operating Base (FOB) until morning to begin our first mission. A small amount of Team Rubicon members always remained out in the field at the FOB located in the Rockaways. Team Rubicon’s overall mission was to bring relief to one of the areas hardest-hit by Hurricane Sandy in Queens until other organizations could begin normal efforts in a few more weeks, which would be nearly a month after the storm hit the area. Had Team Rubicon not been there to fill this “gap”, the local residence within this disaster area would be left to rely only on local government for any assistance considering the magnitude of damage and number of houses affected, it would be impossible for any local government to keep up with such a demand for aid.
Our first night consisted of signing in at the temporary shelter known as Brooklyn Boulders, placing a sleeping bag down and getting some rest. We picked out a spot on a gymnasium floor type mat and went to sleep. At 5:30 in the morning we rolled up our bags and gathered our gear. We proceeded into the Brooklyn Boulders warehouse next door, which was our temporary shelter, central point of operations and main location to receive other arriving and departing Team Rubicon members from all areas of the country. After a morning briefing we loaded onto a bus to make the hour or so trip to the FOB in the Rockaways. We also took local residents who volunteered on the bus with us to work with Team Rubicon members for the missions of the day.   
The warehouse was not the same as in the field conditions; we had shelter, no heat, bottled water, construction sight portable restrooms and access to Brooklyn city businesses and streets in every direction. Team Rubicon was very graciously offered tremendous support from local Brooklyn businesses that allowed access and use of their showers, many provided breakfast meals and dinners to be catered in every day. Each morning between 70 to 150 Team Rubicon members would gather together the same way rising in the early morning hours from their cots, wash, eat and take in the morning brief and preparing to board a bus for the trip to the FOB in the Rockaways. 
After an hour or so bus ride each morning we would arrive at the FOB located in the Rockaways. Team Rubicon members and other volunteers from various areas signed in at the FOB and gathered together in groups as each followed the direction an appointed Team Rubicon Team Leader. The Team Leader started with an assigned work order which identified the Rockaways mission of the day, gathering tools for the task, assembling his team or group, providing them a safety briefing and completing a personal protection gear check. Dependent on the mission location we would hike or utilize Team Rubicon transportation vehicles to the location.
Arriving at a resident’s home was always the beginning of the day’s mission. All missions begin with the Team Rubicon Leader and the resident. The first and most important task for each group was to have absolute concern and respect for the resident and of their home. This was normally accomplished by allowing the Team Leader to introduce himself and his group as Team Rubicon to the resident prior to anyone else in the group entering the property or residents. The Team Leader would respectfully ask the home owner what their needs were, how they were doing, if they needed anything beyond assistance with stabilizing their home. A first priority was to lend an ear and let them talk or tell their story and let them know Team Rubicon was here to help in their time of need. After the home owner was ready and comfortable with knowing a group of total strangers were about to enter their home to help stabilize the damage to the home, the mission and work could begin.
The Team Leader verified power, gas and water utilities were accessible and turned off, make note of other safety concerns of the environment, review the damaged materials, furnishing and equipment or household appliances that the resident requested be removed, relocated or discarded and then make other team members aware of the situations.    The Team Leader then determined the capabilities and scope of what could be accomplished and what might be beyond a capability or a concern as any unsafe material or appliance such as a gas line, heater system pipe, electrical component, structural framing or other item not to be disturbed or might require an expert or specific contractor to address. 
As the work progressed, once the group was given how to proceed by the Team Leader, maintain constant communication with the resident while managing his team. If opportunity allowed the Team Leader would appoint a second Team Leader in charge to maintain communication with the resident and continue the work. The Team Leader could then assist other neighbors in the area that wanted to know the process of seeking Team Rubicon’s assistance and help them find avenues to retrieve other information and guidance they otherwise had no one and no other way to reach out to.
There is not one photograph, news report, news story that can relate what each resident is experiencing. Certainly everyone is viewing the stories and pictures in the media and on the news. The best anyone gaining information through the news and media can imagine is only a mere sense of what the reality is for these residences and the many volunteers helping them. What the media and photos can’t show is the cold temperature if not at less than those in the low 30’s or 40’s that the resident has slept in all night while covered under a pile of blankets. Some with candles to provide light throughout the night waiting for the next day hoping everything will get better. Most residents won’t leave their home even under such conditions for anything for so many reasons each of their own; some by choice, other may not have any other choice for perhaps many weeks to come. 
The media and photos taken can’t show Team Rubicon members entering a basement or lower living spaces that are dark and as black as a coal mines that don’t have so much as a door entrance of sunlight, which have to be cleared by use of headlamps and flashlights. Clearing the first basement area our group worked in was as dark as a coal mine, filled to the ceiling with what can be best described as “horded materials” retained over many years by various owners inundated with salt water for over two weeks, soaked clothes, trash, bins of stagnant water, sand, wet carpeting, bags of materials, old records, glass bottles, broken glass from many now busted picture frames book cases, a pool table and other wood furniture that blew apart because it had been soaked in contaminated water so long. Once the floor areas and rooms were cleared then wall and ceiling drywall demolition could begin which increased sun light from outside to enter through the door entrance across the basement areas. 
Cleanup work progresses inside while what has become discarded trash is being removed one trash bag or bucket at a time and haul outside to the curb, the street is filled up with debris that looks like a semi-trailer of destruction material from an industrial construction site was dumped. One can only try to imagine this stabilization process of removing such material to prevent bacterial situations to expand or grow where to other wise allow fresh air to stop further damage from occurring to the home. This same mission is taking place with Team Rubicon members located in other homes located throughout the Rockaways area. Cleaning out areas of each home consisted of basements, cross spaces and main floors or any combination of all three. There are several hundred homes that required this work to be completed if the current damage to the home was to be stabilized to make it a livable environment and possible to be repaired properly at a later date.  
Team Rubicon members know there isn’t time for utilizing generators and heavy equipment. As part of experience these Veterans will make due with time, tools and whatever means necessary to accomplish the mission. Accomplishing any mission is second nature to Veterans. Team Rubicon members know there are several hundred homes located in the Rockaways area that require stabilization and time is essential in respect to how long Team Rubicon will be able to assist in the relief efforts and how soon stabilization of homes can be accomplished before any effort becomes ineffective.
At the end of the day we left the FOB and returned to our temporary shelter in Brooklyn. Sure it’s not ideal, but it is a far cry better than what the residents are contending with 24 hours a day, every day until someday maybe six to eight weeks or more before their electric power gets restored and eventually their heat will be turned on. Team Rubicon began allowing access and accommodations at the Brooklyn warehouse to other relief organization volunteers. Within a mere few days Team Rubicon realized these other relief organizations members were not prepared or incapable of functioning in a limited environment of limited humanitarian comfort. In other words, not being Veterans, most volunteers from other relief organizations were not capable of “in the field exposure” even at the level of utilizing this warehouse as a shelter with its limited existing conditions. 
Team Rubicon makes every effort possible to work with other relief organizations. Team Rubicon had become concerned for the well-being of the other relief organizations volunteer groups and agreed to make arrangements to relocate to a facility in Queens that would better accommodate everyone including other organization volunteers as a group. Team Rubicon did not take on this mission for their own comfort. Team Rubicon accepted this mission to assist residents in stabilizing their homes and to provide them hope for some day returning to a sense or normality. Team Rubicon’s comfort begins when the mission is accomplished. Given the logistics and flexibility of Team Rubicon’s Veterans ability to adjust to any given situation no time was lost in making a transition to a new shelter in Queens while still commuting to the Rockaways and completing each daily mission. This is a prime example of the advantage of utilizing Veterans experience and it is what sets Team Rubicon apart from other disaster relief organizations.                
I also have to give kudos to every single one of the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) “49” volunteers that arrived in the Rockaways 147 street location in Queens on Sunday, November 18, 2012 whom participated in “A Day of Action for New York,” completing their part of the overall mission to bring relief to one of the areas hardest-hit by Hurricane Sandy. As the Team Rubicon Leader of this large group of volunteers, I had the honor of supervising and pleasure of working with the best group of volunteer workers anyone could ask for. In all, this team was able to stabilize ten homes hard hit by such a disaster. Because of these volunteers’ efforts by the afternoon on November 18, 2012 ten families were able to avoid any further devastation to their homes, move forward, begin rebuilding a be given the hope of soon seeing their lives returning to a sense of normal living conditions upon a distant horizon. Other team Rubicon Leaders had similar successes leading their own bus load of Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) volunteers, whom were also greatly appreciated.  
From arriving on November 10, 2012 until leaving the morning of November 26, 2012 each day consisted of a 24 hour effort to accomplish a Team Rubicon mission. Being a veteran, I really cared less how comfortable my conditions were, knowing my level of comfort was never going to be anything in comparison to what the residents we were helping were subjected to and certainly far longer than the mere time I spent helping them. I spent every day following a Team Rubicon Leader and whenever the demand of Team Leaders was short I accepted to be a Team Rubicon Leader. 
My first day in the Rockaway area there were no street lights operating, driving and walking on the streets was like walking on sand dunes and no house had electrical power. The day I left every street was nearly as clear as those in my home town, street lights were fully functional and electric companies were connecting power to some homes in the area preparing to turn the power back on. Many homes were still far from getting their electricity reconnected and restored but the progress of it happing is on their horizon. Other relief organizations are moving forward to continue their own assistance according to their capabilities. For most residents it will be a long road to recovery, but those residents are resilient in their determination to survive this Storm Sandy’s aftermath and continue moving forward.  
This was my first time working with Team Rubicon; first deployment working for or within any form of disaster relief organization; first time being involved with residents suffering such devastation of their lives and homes; first time seeing things for the reality of it; first time serving with and working alongside my younger brother veterans of other various military services such that most had served our country in the not too distant past few years in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no generation gap among military veterans, whatever diversity if there were such a thing present from my point of view, it failed to exist or went completely unnoticed. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had and also an honor to work with so many military veterans to complete a humanitarian mission of stabilizing over 750 homes in the Rockaway area.  
 
Copyright © Robert J. Glogowski, November 28, 2012

 


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