Helping Near and Far

Adam MarlattAdam Marlatt is being honored as a Champion of Change for the leadership he demonstrated in his involvement in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy.

I am so very honored to be awarded the Champion of Change title and hope that this recognition can highlight our response work while further building connections to improve our capability and capacity in future disaster situations.

I founded Global Disaster Immediate Response Team (DIRT) in 2010 after the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people, wounding and displacing countless more, and decimating an already fragile infrastructure.  In the days following that disaster, Global DIRT volunteers worked to transport critically injured patients (ambulances were non-existent in the city) while connecting the small clinics and hospitals with the medical supplies and resources they needed most.  It was because of this experience that DIRT began to implement the concept of inserting a small team of highly trained operators from the first responder and prior service military community to volunteer as subject matter experts in large critical incidents around the world. In the past three years, while continuing to support the rebuilding in Haiti, we have responded to flooding in Pakistan, earthquakes in New Zealand, and the tsunami in Japan providing emergency medical support, potable water, and radiation monitoring.

I first came across Hurricane Sandy in Haiti where our team is working with the Haitian Government and Minister of Tourism to build a 911 and ambulance network to improve existing infrastructure and allow for the further expansion of business, tourism, and public safety.  After working non-stop for the first week, the situation in Haiti stabilized and I was able to take part of our team up to NYC where the storm had just impacted.  Our first assessment of the disaster was that there was a critical need for inter-agency coordination with the groups appearing, a reliable form of digital communication, and identifying the needs of individual families while connecting them with the appropriate agency that could respond.  We then brought in team members and associates from partner organizations around the globe to scale up our operation.  This included members of the Volunteer Army Foundation of New Zealand, computer programmers from Boston and Ireland, and more of our team from Haiti.

We first began assisting in the Belle Harbor section of New York, which quickly turned into a hub for private sector donations that were flowing in from the city.  At that location we credentialed volunteers, coordinated food delivery, and distributed hundreds of thousands of items to the Rockaways, NY.  DIRT then began working with various small groups that were being formed to do everything from debris removal to health and wellness checks.  It became clear that the disaster would require countless hours of volunteer manpower and support from the private sector to work with City, State, and Federal government agencies operating in the area.  We also began to see issues emerge from inaccurate or outdated information.  To better inform storm survivors we contacted Toyota and other private sector partners who were able to print tens of thousands of multilingual information packets to distribute at relief shelters.

The biggest challenge residents faced immediately after the storm was communicating with loved ones and agencies that could provide aid.  This was due to the collapse of all traditional utilities in the area (cable Internet, cellphones, land lines, radio, and print news).  From my past experience with the Marines, I knew that we needed a wide area network and several satellite fly-away systems to accomplish getting residents reconnected.  DIRT then contacted GATR, a company that provides inflatable ground antenna solutions for broadband Internet (think a giant beach ball satellite dish) and New Spirit Alliance for funding.  Within 48 hours, we had a working network up to provide Internet access to thousands of residents and shortly after Google came in with chrome books allowing our team to set up free cyber cafe sites across the city to facilitate resident enrollment in FEMA assistance and NYC's Rapid Repairs program.

Through our interaction with Super Storm Sandy survivors we began to see a critical gap where residents were in need, agencies were providing critical services to assist the problem, and the two groups weren't able to find each other.  The NY National Guard was tasked out to NYC's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and was going door to door to check on residents as the temperature began to drop and winter approached.  Realizing the human resources available through the National Guard, our team quickly developed a web based application platform that operated in the cloud to allow soldiers to enter information on resident needs into tablet computers.  Through funding with The Robinhood Foundation we scaled the project up and were able to complete over 140,000 home visits, collecting critical needs data.  This information was then sent in real time from NYC OEM to the NYC City Hall's Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence (CIDI), a health and human services data clearing house for the city, who then sent needs requests to city agencies in real time.  This allowed for residents to be evacuated to temporary housing, provided for food and supply delivery for homebound and disabled residents, and enabled critical utilities to be turned on in resident homes.  We then implemented Immersive Media's Street View technology to further identify damaged areas and map the recovery progress.  These technology innovations allowed for our team to stay connected with residents in need for months after the storm, ensuring that no resident is left behind.

On behalf of Global DIRT, I would like to thank all of the donors, volunteers, and partner city agencies who made our recovery effort efficient and effective.  I hope that this award will further connect us with City, State, and Federal Agencies to improve future domestic disaster response incidents.

Adam Marlatt is a Marine Reserve Infantry Sergeant and the founder of Global Disaster Immediate Response Team (DIRT).

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