I would like to take a moment and clarify our position on criticizing three entities operating in Haiti.
Team Rubicon feels that national media played a role in delaying aid organizations from conducting their mission due to a flurry of sensationalist journalism. Many major networks overplayed the security situation on the ground without any true knowledge, this led to risk-averse NGOs ceasing or delaying the deployment of doctors and the delivery of food and water. Many media personalities witnessed mobs of people only because they were a white face surrounded by camera crews sucking down bottles of water, essentially creating slightly unstable situation on a small scale. The media needs to understand the dynamic on the ground and have their crews operate in a more incognito manner. David Ono, from ABC 7, did this perfectly, travelling in a simple vehicle with only one cameraman, never announcing his presence. Conversely, Jesse Jackson had a large entourage of well dressed individuals and multiple cameramen. This caused a scene and could have led to unrest.
While we feel, as stated above, that the media did contribute to the problem, they also were an invaluable tool in bringing aid to the disaster. The 24 hour news coverage facilitated donations from around the world, providing a much needed influx of capital to major relief organizations. Additionally, they served as a platform for teams, such as Team Rubicon, to bring to light situations that needed immediate attention. For example, while Team Rubicon was running (yes, running) the Emergency Room of General Hospital in PaP, it took a combination of Dr. Griswell's interview with Anderson Cooper and my interruption of Jesse Jackson's interview with CNN to facilitate the UN's release of doctors being held at the US Embassy and the delivery of desperately needed food and water. Numerous newspapers around the country caught wind of our story and helped fuel the increase in "self deployers" who chose to come to Haiti against the wishes of the Red Cross and other NGOs. Finally, David Ono and ABC 7's three part series on our efforts flooded our budget with donations, making Team Rubicon a viable disaster response team for future catastrophes.
2. Large Aid Organizations/NGOs
Team Rubicon has been very critical of large aid groups such as the Red Cross, and for good reason. We feel that these organizations evaluated the situation on the ground and opted to accept a "zero risk" policy. Meaning that since the security situation, while stable, was potentially hazardous, they opted not to put the full force of their ability into play from the moment they arrived. We came across numerous doctors who complained of being "imprisoned" at the airport and embassies, unable to leave unless they had an armed NGO detail pick them up. Team Rubicon believes that, first, a thorough risk assessment must be done, then risks must be mitigated when possible, and finally, disaster teams must be willing to assume a certain remaining level of inherent risk. If this is not done, time is lost. And when time is lost, people die.
However, Team Rubicon understands fully the powerful ability of large NGOs such as the Red Cross. These organizations have significant funding, logistical capabilities, and experience in disaster relief. That being said, they also have a lot of bureaucracy and red tape, and it takes time for them to get up and running. Team Rubicon believes that it has the ability to "bridge the gap" between when disasters happen and when large NGOs can mobilize, organize and act. Once these large entities have their inertia moving, it is time for Team Rubicon to step aside and let the big boys play. Once this transition takes place, there is no one better to conduct disaster relief.
Team Rubicon includes many former military personnel on its teams. Because of this, we are very aware of the awesome capabilities, as well as the debilitating limitations of the military model. First, the negative. The US military responded quickly and was on the ground shortly after Rubicon arrived. However, from our perspective they did a poor job of coordinating with the logistical parties of large NGOs. What resulted was a company of 82nd Airborne soldiers protecting the General Hospital. This company was making logistics runs multiple times a day to supply its soldiers, but at no point did they think to utilize their armed convoys to help the Red Cross bring in food, water, medicine and doctors to the patients dying there. It took our own former SF medic Mark Heyward grabbing a Colonel and saying, "Listen, sir, I have a few things I need to tell you about the situation here." Within, two hours, convoys of troops were arriving, guiding in busloads of doctors and truckloads of supplies. Another problem, which has been discussed at length on this blog, was the military's closed-minded thinking with regard to our own supplies. I won't discuss the actions of a particular Army Major further, but her actions display the "power trip/ my war or the highway attitude" common in the military. Additionally, it took the Army too long to push out squad sized patrols, bolstered with doctors, into the local neighborhoods to conduct field triages. This was essentially what Team Rubicon was doing, but without the full might of the US military behind us.
Now for the positive. As I stated, the military arrived fast, that's a plus. We also had many positive interactions with lower lever leadership. I spent a lot of time at General Hospital liaising with a company commander and his first sergeant, developing plans to provide shelter, as well as enlisting the help of his men to move patients. Second, the Army patrols we did encounter later in the weeks were willing to conduct side-by-side operations with us to facilitate better evacuations for wounded (we took the lead on that). I also ran into an Army captain willing to "secure" us a tent that a British SAR team was leaving behind. Perhaps the best thing I saw can be relayed in the following story. When the General Hospital building was finally cleared to be re-entered following the 6.1 aftershock, we had hundreds of critical patients who had been roasting in the sun all day and needed to be moved inside FAST. At that same moment, a convoy of Army trucks was entering the gated compound (facilitated by Mark's 'discussion' with the Colonel). I walked up to a captain and said, "Sir, I need your men to help us move these patients inside. I suggest you have your men drop their gear and find me, I will be determining the order of importance for patients." He immediately turned to a truck and shouted for the men inside to begin stripping gear. Those men hopped out and walked towards me, ready to take my orders. A quick glance at their uniforms and I realized I was looking at one Lt. Colonel, two majors, a captain, one sergeant major and two first sergeants. Basically a "who's who" in the 82nd Airborne Brigade. I pointed to the four highest ranking and said, "you, you, you and you, grab that patient over there and take her inside." I expected some incredulous looks because of my appearance and apparent age, but, to the man, the nodded their head and said, "you got it." It was that willingness to do what it takes that reinforced my respect for my military brothers.
Jake Wood, Team Rubicon Co-Founder