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Team Rubicon lends Savona residents a helping hand after flood

Veteran-led recovery team helped Savona residents dig out and clean up after flooding on June 30

Members of Team Rubicon Canada were in Savona over the weekend of July 6, helping residents dig out and clean up after flash flooding on June 30 swept water, mud, and debris into the community, causing significant damage to around 20 homes and rendering many of the contents unsalvageable.

Team Rubicon is a veteran-led disaster response charity that was founded in 2010, when a group of American military veterans saw the devastation in Haiti following an earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people. They felt they had the skills to assist, so self-deployed to Haiti and began helping, then built out Team Rubicon as a humanitarian group that was a way for veterans to leverage their skills.

A Canadian version was founded in 2016 after the fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta. There are now around 3,400 volunteer members across the country, and Brett Simms — an information officer with Team Rubicon Canada — says that members are always monitoring the national news, and keeping an eye on what's happening in their area, to see where their help might be needed.

Simms — who was underneath a house in Savona clearing out mud when the Journal called — says that when they heard about what had happened in Savona on June 30, Team Rubicon reached out to the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, with whom they've worked in the past on other disasters in the area. They also liaised with the Savona Improvement District and the Savona Community Association.

"Once we have an initial report that something has happened, we reach out to emergency management to see if help is required," he explains. "There's a standard process to assess the scope of the disaster: does it fall within our scope of services and are we allowed to go there? We get an initial situation report to see what happened and how many homes and people affected, assess the needs against our budget, then start putting it together."

Team Rubicon is mainly funded through corporate donations, and Enbridge is a sponsor. They provided funding to assist with the clean-up in Savona, and Simms says they put out a call for volunteers. "People have to think of their availability. If there's enough interest and volunteers the operation goes live."

A team of six people travelled to Savona. Simms says they never send out fewer than two or three people, but have deployed as many as 80 volunteers at a time, depending on the nature and scope of the disaster. "This was a fairly small event, so we were just there for the weekend."

He says that Team Rubicon is about response and recovery. "We can be on the ground very quickly to do damage assessment, reconnaissance work, and site surveys to see what the needs are. We do the initial steps in helping clear up the mess so people can start to rebuild. We help people get in and out safely, clean up, muck out basements, tear out drywall.

"We focus on getting our hands dirty, and get in there to do work for people unable to do it themselves."

Simms says that on July 7 he was at the home of an elderly resident who had mud under his home. "He was underinsured, with no resources to pay for help, and health conditions that precluded him from doing the work. That's the sort of thing Team Rubicon digs right into."

He adds that in cases of disaster, it's often better for people to step back and let Team Rubicon do the work.

"People in these communities are very hard-working and self-sufficient, but they're tired. They've been dealing with it since the moment the disaster happened, and they need that break. They can trust us to do the work. We don't stop people from entering, but we discourage them from coming in because of the risks. We're in full hazmat gear, doing decontamination work. When we explain what the risks are, people are generally very understanding.

"We’re there to take people out of the moment where they feel compelled to go in. Just being there and giving them that moment where they can take a step back and don’t have to do it themselves can be the first step to recovery and moving forward, thinking about what comes next instead of what just happened."

Another of Team Rubicon's strengths, says Simms, is that the group's volunteers are among the first people who come into an area hit by disaster and don't ask for something.

"Insurers are asking questions, people are asking for money, and we're someone who shows up saying 'How can I help, we don’t need anything from you?' That experience is very important to a lot of people, and can make a huge difference to someone badly affected by disaster."

Simms notes that the organization has grown a lot in recent years, which he feels is a reflection of the times. "We have lots of people willing and able to step up, and we're always looking for those kinds of people to join."

He says that many of the volunteers have a military or first responder background, so are used to working under austere conditions as part of a team, but adds that almost anyone can be a volunteer.

"In Team Rubicon there's a role for everyone. You don't require a skill set of any sort to start. We provide all the training and equipment and tools necessary. People do everything from crawling under houses to working remotely from a computer and providing logistics and membership support."

Team Rubicon is always looking for volunteers and donations to help support their self-funded operations, which come at no cost to those who are helped. To learn more, or help support Team Rubicon, go to

"Savona is a great example of how a little can go a long way," says Simms. "We didn't need much to get the team here. We're neck-deep in mud, and smiling."