Veterans in Disaster Response

I’m really not a TED Talk junkie.  Honest.  But today, while surfing through my usual web sites, I hit the TED blog.  I came across a great short (5 minute) presentation on Team Rubicon by their founder, Jake Wood.  The concept of Mr. Wood’s presentation is the story of why he founded Team Rubicon.  Team Rubicon is a disaster relief organization that uses veterans.  It’s not a new idea, really – Reservists, National Guard members, and retired veterans have been an important part of emergency response going back to the days of Civil Defense.  It makes perfect sense, really.  These folks are trained in essential skills and they function well in an organized structure.  They have critical thinking skills and have worked in austere environments.  In emergency management and emergency response we have learned so much from the military – our organizational structure, the Incident Command System, is based on military principles.  We work with military components on a regular basis, and many state emergency management offices are still even components of their state’s National Guard offices – another throwback to the days of Civil Defense.

Veterans have an important value to us, yet we don’t do enough for them.  They have risked their lives for our freedoms and so many return home jobless and feeling lost.  I certainly can’t imagine what it’s like to live in Iraq or Afghanistan for such a long period of time seeing horrible things and wondering if the people walking by you, those who you are trying to provide a better life for, have a bomb strapped to their bodies.  How can anyone be expected to return to a ‘normal’ life after that?  We need to do a better job of reintegration, that’s very obvious.  The sheer number of homeless veterans and veteran suicides is staggering – and it’s shameful that we allow it to happen.

Team Rubicon provides a focus, a purpose, and an environment that veterans are comfortable functioning within – and even better yet they aren’t  carry a rifle.  They are saving lives!

Grassroots Recovery with a National Impact

This morning I took some time to browse through the variety of TED talks to see if anything struck some interest with me.  First of all, if you aren’t familiar with TED, they host a variety of free talks and presentations on various topics.  They get some great speakers and the presentations are short… usually 10-20 minutes.  Most of the topics are about something new and innovative – their tag line is ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’, and they certainly abide by that.  Sometimes I watch their presentations because the subject area interests me, and other times I watch it to see some innovative or refreshing presentation skills.

The TED presentation I watched this morning is titled: Caitria and Morgan O’Neill: How to step up in the face of disaster.  It’s a short, 10 minute presentation which I highly recommend.  Their background is on the TED page, but in short these two sisters, both in grad school, experienced an F 3 tornado in their hometown in Massachusetts.  From their explanation, it seems that there wasn’t much organization or leadership in their town relative to supporting volunteers.  If you’ve been in emergency management for a while, you’ve probably experienced this.  There are a wealth of volunteers who want to help in the event of a disaster, but they must be organized and supported.  Often times local governments either don’t have the resources to deal with spontaneous volunteers or simply don’t want to – they may not want the trouble, the liability, or would prefer that another organization, often times someone like the American Red Cross, to deal with them.

The main trouble is that most jurisdictions don’t plan for volunteer management.  A volunteer management plan is a plan that should absolutely be part of the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP) of any jurisdiction.  Yes, not for profits often times do take on this role, especially with a localized disaster and if they have the capability to do so, but in the event of a regional disaster they simply don’t have the people to dedicate to this task – and it’s not something that’s easily done or simply managed.  The bottom line is that local jurisdictions are responsible for taking care of their people, and this is one more way to make it happen.

The O’Neill sisters, learning from their home town experiences and leveraging their educations and other experiences, eventually put together a company called  They have applied simple but effective methodologies to manage resources, including volunteers, in the event of a disaster.  They have traveled across the country applying their system and seem to be quite successful in doing so.  One of the things that encourages me the most about them is that they advocate community preparedness.  They know that for any system to reach its potential of effectiveness, it must be integrated into preparedness efforts, not just show up after the disaster.  It seems they have a product and service that can be applied to any jurisdiction and would work well with existing structures, like a VOAD, and with volunteer management and recovery planning efforts.  The information on their website indicates that they are busy helping communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  It’s great to see local efforts and innovation in emergency management!  Best of luck to Caitria and Morgan O’Neill.

Presentations… Inspired

For those of you who may not know, I am, by trade, a trainer.  The emergency management stuff came after my early forays into training, and throughout my emergency management career I remained a trainer.  Obviously a big part of training is what we call ‘platform skills’ (aka being able to present).  I’ve been a trainer for over 17 years now and I’ve been sought after across the country for training and presentations – so I guess people like what I do.  I know, though, that I have a lot of room for improvement.  Through the years I’ve learned from many people – assimilating parts of their presentation style into mine, honing my skills.  I’ve learned to not be so stiff and to relax; I enjoy doing presentations and I learned that I’m a better presenter by simply showing the audience that I’m having a good time.  I try to always learn something from a speaker or presenter – and sometimes it’s not their content, but how they deliver it.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading material by Nancy Duarte.  Nancy is a communication expert who owns one of the most successful non-tech businesses in Silicon Valley.  Nancy has authored the books Slideology and Resonate, and just released a book for Harvard Business Review called Persuasive Presentations.  While I’ve not read Slideology, I can personally attest that Resonate was a great book – a great book made totally astounding in the ibook format.  Yes, ibook, not ebook.  If you are not familiar with ibooks, they are interactive books.  Resonate incorporated a great deal more content than could possibly be in the print version by including both internal and external links, video segments, and more.  Presentations, after all, are a multi-media experience – and she proves that point by the medium of the ibook.  Never fear – it’s not at all distracting, as the ibook format is a self guided experience.  Don’t want to watch a video?  Then you can skip it and continue reading.  Very user-friendly.  I believe the only means of getting it, however, is at the Apple Store.  Anyhow, Nancy’s approach to presentations is refreshing.  She has studied a history of great speeches, analyzed the patterns and flow of those speeches, and formulated methodologies to help bring you success by following those patterns.

As I mentioned, Nancy just put out a new book for Harvard Business Review called Persuasive Presentations.  I ordered it yesterday and I’m quite looking forward to receiving it.  It’s a paperback and Nancy explains that she has incorporated the best parts of her previous two books as well as some new content.  I find her material to be great for an experienced presenter as we continually seek to hone our skills.  While a new presenter or trainer might get a little overwhelmed, I still think they can learn a lot from her.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not being paid to advertise for Ms. Duarte – I’m just passing along some great resources.  I encourage you to check out her website.  She has some good info on there.  If you have 20 minutes to kill, sit through her TEDx presentation – it’ll give you a good overview of her philosophies.