A suicidal veteran needs our help immediately


We have a suicidal, wounded veteran who needs our immediate help. As far as I know, we are his only advocates at this point in time. I will call him Jonny (not his real name, but I want to protect his privacy). He lives about 50 miles east of Charlotte, NC. He has 100% disability. As a Navy Riverine, while serving in Afghanistan, he was shot and blown up- suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

I have not met Jonny in person but have spoken with him numerous times over the past 72 hours. He first called the Red Cross National Dispatch Center (which I direct) to report that his house had burned down. He has been living out of his burned-out garage with his service dog, Molly. He tried to hang himself recently but a friend/neighbor found him in time. His wife is in prison as she recently stabbed him after getting into his VA-prescribed medications.

We have a treatment center located just north of Charlotte, NC that has agreed, pro-bono, to do a full evaluation of Jonny and begin treating him. There are a lot of moving parts, and in full disclosure, we do not know everyone that Jonny is talking to (his short-term memory is almost entirely shot). What I do know is that the police have been sent to check on him 3 times in the last 24 hours. We have been in contact with the VA, suicide hotlines, the Charlotte Bridge Home, and many other groups. My situational awareness isn’t perfect on this but I know that Jonny needs help and he needs it now. We can get him treatment once he has a stable place to stay close by. I/my family have been paying for a hotel room and meals for him off our credit card (this is work done entirely separate from the Red Cross- so I’m speaking as just Luke here). When we first talked to him he hadn’t showered in over a week and hadn’t eaten in 3 days.

Here is my ask: We need to get Jonny into a safe place with a roof over his head. Room plus meal would be $100/day. I’m asking for one month of coverage so that we can get Jonny the help he needs. This would be a total of $3000. Anything over this amount will go to Jonny’s treatment and ongoing care. Since things are so dynamic, we may need to shift this money to use for a cab, dog food, medicine, or some other critical need. If you can help, please go here to donate. Even $20 will be a huge help. http://treatnow.org/  Click down on the right hand side (the website is a work in progress) and click the Donate to IHMF button.

Also, for full disclosure- Jonny does not know that we are doing this. He does know that we are trying to get him help and a safe place to sleep for awhile. He also know we are trying to get him some mental health assets.

I’ll keep posting updates here on my blog. Every hour is a new hour.

Thank you all for your help and service


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Calm after the storm- response to Typhoon Haiyan


In early November, 2013, Pacific winds started to circle in an all-too-familiar pattern. These winds quickly intensified into a typhoon (a typhoon, hurricane, and cyclone are the same thing- just in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, respectively). The world would shortly learn the name Haiyan, the international name given to the storm. When typhoons enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility, they are renamed for reference inside the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan was known to most Filipinos as Typhoon Yolanda. In this story, I will use the name Haiyan. Typhoon Haiyan would make landfall in the Central Visayas as the strongest storm ever recorded at landfall.

We have all probably been notified of big events through text message. Haiyan, for me, was no different. My close friend, Jenn, sent me a text message asking “are you going to the Philippines?” I immediately knew some disaster had occurred or was threatening the country because Jenn always asks if, and when, I’m going to deploy somewhere, as well as what I will be doing once I hit the ground. She’s like my forward observer: always knowing what I’ll be doing before I go and do it.

I got on the computer and did a quick search and saw that there was an inbound typhoon. On average, six to nine Typhoons make landfall in the Philippines each year and around 19 enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility. When I looked up the stats of this storm, I realized this one was the real deal. The strongest storm recorded up until Haiyan was Hurricane Camille in 1969 with a wind speed of 190 mph. Hurricane Katrina made landfall (actually its second landfall) with wind speeds of 125 mph. Haiyan had wind speeds of 195 mph.

The views expressed in this story are solely my own, and are, by definition, one-sided, but I have tried to be fair, thorough, and balanced. I have tried to represent what happened as accurately and fairly as possible. In my account, you will often read of frustration. I have tried to capture what I was thinking and feeling in the moment. Naturally, with time and distance from the response, I can better understand and rationalize some of the things that made me frustrated. Now, even with time and separation, there are many things that still give me great frustration. At the time of the Typhoon, I was employed by the American Red Cross working at the National Manager of Situational Awareness. My service was requested by the Manila Observatory, on behalf of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Once on the ground, I reported to General (formerly Colonel) Rodolfo (Boy) Santiago. Because of the national and international mission of the American Red Cross and due to the fact that there were American Red Cross teams deployed to the Philippines to respond to the typhoon, in order to not confuse anyone, I officially stated that I was deployed as just Luke, the civilian, with no affiliation to the Red Cross. If I had an official title while on the ground (which I do not believe I did), it would have been as the Operations and Logistics Lead for the Multi-National Coordination Center, working under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This was confirmed only by the name tag given to me by a lead from the Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation Committee (NDRRMC) that I wore for the duration of my time in the Philippines.

I can’t thank enough my Red Cross leadership team who allowed me to serve; initially for one week- then an extension for another week. These include Wendy Harman, Clayton Kolb, Trevor Riggen, Richard Reed, and Harold Brooks. I also am very thankful to the Manila Observatory, specifically Toni Loyzaga, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for putting trust in me to lead. Without Toni and the backing of the Manila Observatory, none of this would have been possible. The Observatory also covered my travel, lodging, and meal costs.

What follows is the story of my experience on the ground in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. I have written this story excerpt-by-excerpt. I feel that these little vignettes better-encapsulate what happened as opposed to writing everything in chronological order. Due to my lack of sleep and the fact that everything happened so fast in such a blur while I was deployed, including specific dates for many vignettes would be difficult or impossible.

I have written this story primarily for my own records and memory. I never want to forget what I experienced, what I learned, and how I grew. Secondarily, I wrote this to share my story with my family and friends- many of whom have asked me “what was the Philippines like?” Over the past year, when asked, I have tried to tell each person what I went through, but it gets tiring and I feel that I don’t do each of them justice telling them about little snippets here and there. The last reason for my writing of this account is that I hope that other disaster relief decision-makers read it and that disaster relief in the future may improve as a result.

To see video of logistics operations taking place at Mactan and downrange airfields, click here http://youtu.be/uCZ-xNHAPAA

To see a speech that details, in 15 minutes, some of what I describe below as well as lessons learned and strategies for  improving humanitarian operations, click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWVvW1ZDjGk

And now for my story.

Preparation and Staging

After being notified of the storm, I immediately sent an email to an old friend of mine, Toni Loyzaga, the Executive Director of the Manila Observatory. I asked Toni if she needed any help with the storm, wondering if there was a way I could support remotely. The Manila Observatory is a nonprofit research institution focused on studying and addressing global environmental concerns. Toni is, by far, one of the most well-connected people I have ever met. I first met Toni almost three years earlier, in 2010, when I was in Manila responding to Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana in the Philippines) as part of a two-man element from InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases, and Disasters), the nonprofit I worked for during and after college. Toni comes across as very unassuming. She is short, brilliant, and has a very bubbly personality. When she walks into a room, everyone- from generals, to politicians, to strangers greet her warmly. It appears that she has grown up, and gone to school with nearly everyone in a leadership position in the Philippines. Within hours after emailing Toni, I heard back from her asking if I could come to the Philippines to help with “situational awareness.” The Philippine government response, largely being conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) (under the authority of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)), desperately needed a situational awareness capability and they thought I could help, as my day job was serving as the Manager for Situational Awareness at the American Red Cross out of national headquarters in Washington, D.C. I was emailed a briefing book explaining the storm, its path, and the geopolitics of the regions most likely to be affected. I studied the topography as well as cultural, social, economic, and political demographics, trying to understand things like the structure of a barangay (the smallest administrative division in the Philippines). I was asked to support with the damage assessment and storm surge mapping to support the search and rescue and recovery missions. Working for the American Red Cross in domestic operations, a foreign deployment was something not in my job description. Toni’s request, coming from the Philippine government through the Observatory, had to be passed up my chain of command. 36 hours after forwarding the deployment request up my chain for approval, I was on a Delta flight to Manila trying to get as much sleep as possible. I had packed for high level government meetings as well as for the field. Between a carry-on bag and a backpack, I had my laptop, a power strip, extension cord, satellite phone, a suit and tie, dress shoes, cargo pants, tactical boots, my water purification and cooking kit, and a mosquito net and bivvy sack. I tried to prep for anything. Having deployed to crises around the world before, I knew sleep would be a rare treat once I hit the ground. As I tried to wedge my head in between my seat and the window to get some shut-eye, my mind was moving at a thousand miles per hour thinking about the scene I would soon enter. I never could have imagined that the next two weeks would be the most exhilarating, exhausting, rewarding, and empowering time of my life.


I arrived in Manila on Nov 10, 48 hours post landfall. As I looked at my passport to go through customs, I saw that I left Manila exactly three years prior to the day after concluding my Typhoon Ondoy deployment. I went straight to my hotel, exchanged emails with Toni, and planned to meet her in the hotel lobby the next morning to head directly to the island of Cebu by commercial plane to check in at the main humanitarian logistics hub with the AFP and Colonel Rodolfo “Boy” Santiago, the AFP lead in Cebu for the response. On the plane with Toni that next morning, she gave me the low down on the situation.

The first place to bear the full front of the storm was a place called Guiuan (pronounced Gee- Wahn), a town built around the coconut industry. Haiyan also devastated other coastal areas as it ripped across the Philippines. Most people who would come in to respond would focused on Tacloban. Many other foreign names that Toni mentioned would would quickly become all-too-familiar to me: Ormoc, Roxas, Ilo Ilo, and Catbalogan. The storm had such force that it looked more like a tsunami than a typhoon in many areas. Actually, the terrain immediately looked like it was hit by napalm and then by a tsunami. Over and over again, for as far as the eye could see, trees were knocked over or ripped out of the ground. Boats smashed into houses and then those houses smashed into other houses. In many areas, the primary cause of human devastation was either the lack of evacuation or a poorly executed evacuation. Multiple evacuation centers flooded, killing most or all of everyone inside. By final count, the storm would kill over 6,300 people. Many people took shelter from the wind and water behind cement walls only to have the walls crush them. Many people were being rescued from the water floating miles away from where they were washed away.

The geographic layout of the Philippines made the response all the more complicated. Since the country is made up of islands, it meant that all inbound response and relief personnel and supplies had to come by air or water. Most would originate from Manila, staging on Cebu, and then spread outwards from there. Aside from the majority of U.S. military and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) relief supplies, almost all humanitarian supplies made their way through Cebu.


Toni and I arrived midday to the Cebu International Airport. I quickly saw that this area of Cebu was untouched by the storm so I understood and realized that this would quickly become the major relief hub due to its close proximity to the most heavily impacted areas. We immediately took a quick cab ride to enter the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base (Mactan air base for short). The ride took 15 minutes, but as I would later learn, the runways for Mactan and Cebu are shared, so that as the crow flies, our commercial plane landed about a quarter-mile from the military aircraft. We met immediately with Col. Santiago, who was expecting us. My role became increasingly clear in that 15-minute conversation. In short, my role was to run the logistics, coordination, and situational awareness activities for the humanitarian hub of the Haiyan response. This meant coordinating the offloading, sorting and loading of supplies onto coalition military and civilian aircraft. This also meant coordinating flight operations, schedules, and determining, which supplies needed to go where, and when. I was also responsible for coordinating evacuees moving out of the affected regions, evacuees returning back to their homes, and inserting and extracting humanitarian aid teams. I also had to make sure that both supplies and people went to the right locations, that they arrived as quickly as possible, and that aircraft always had full loads. I was constantly balancing the competing needs of food, water, and medical supplies as well as the decisions to be made between inserting teams versus delivering cargo via aircraft. Col Santiago was accountable and I was responsible. He delegated the work down to me and made sure I was empowered to act effectively.

There were others present from both the AFP and DSWD who were tasked with managing logistics, but they were not able to effectively coordinate movement of the massive volume and variety of international personnel and supplies at the speed they needed to be moved. Additionally, the most critical and needed asset, that I was able to bring to the table, was the logistical civil-military coordination aspect. Many of the AFP and DSWD leadership worked most-effectively in their specific areas of responsibility, for example, making sure that food sacks were supplied, loaded, and ready for transport and ensuring that flights were cleared to land and take off.

Col Santiago introduced me to the civilian and military leadership at Mactan. He introduced me as “Luke from the Red Cross who has brought a situational awareness system that will help us manage this response.” As I stood in that air-conditioned room, surrounded by Colonels, Philippine National Police (PNP) chiefs, DSWD directors, and humanitarian logisticians, a little powwow started happening in my head. I rolled my eyes up so that to everyone in the room I would look very thoughtful and pensive. Meanwhile, upstairs, I was running through a fast-paced thought process: “what system? I don’t have a system! Did I forget something? Not a chance! I even asked that question before I left. Ok, well then, what DO I have? A laptop. My brain. Lots of energy. Lots of experience. Oh! And I was born to do logistics. This will be a blast. Perfect.”  Right at that moment, Col Santiago looked me straight in the eyes and asked “so you think you can help us, Luke?” Without skipping a beat, I replied “yes, sir!” He then said to the group “very good, just let us know what you need.” The meeting ended and I was left there standing next to Toni with my head spinning in a thousand directions. Toni looked at me, patted me on the shoulder, smiled, and said “you’ll do great.” She had to catch a flight back to Manila in the next few hours but assured me that she’d support me however possible. She slipped off through the throng of officers, aid workers, and reporters to attend to some business.

A little smile broke from my lips because I fully realized what I just signed myself up for. The first lesson I even learned in disaster response six years earlier during Hurricane Katrina, was that if you raise your hand and you are able to deliver, people will let you go as far as you can go. In some ways, it doesn’t matter if you have zero experience. You just need to be able to collaborate like a banshee, learn to work with anyone, be able to process overwhelming amounts of information, and know when to throttle your energy level up and down so you don’t burn out. If you fail, or begin slacking, you’ll be replaced very quickly.

Learning my way around:

When I was first introduced to Col Santiago, he quickly introduced me to other senior Philippine officers telling them that I was here with my system that would help them run everything. I hadn’t brought a system and had no idea what “run everything” meant. My education in “running everything” was swift and began immediately. It turned out that over a dozen nations had promised relief supplies and aircraft. Evacuees were starting to show up at the base and all international humanitarian organizations were being directed to move through Mactan. There was no tracking system. Nothing on paper. No whiteboards. No laptops. Not even a daily meeting schedule, or what we would later call our battle rhythm. My first objective was to learn what WAS in use and to map out the flow of information at the base so I could understand what kind of system was even possible. This task would take me three days. In addition to trying to figure out a situational awareness system, there were immediate needs; cargo was arriving, it needed to get to affected areas, and it had to go by air as ports were non-operational, naval assets were scarce, and roads were not an option to any place besides Northern Cebu.

The first questions I started asking were: how are flight plans determined, who is in charge of cargo, how are we determining needs on the ground, how do we track air movements, and how much control do we have of flight schedules? I realized there weren’t many answers to these questions, and if there were, they existed only in the heads of a few people. I learned to introduce myself to people standing with Col Santiago. He could make things happen and I was just the random tall blonde guy running around with a laptop. Col Santiago wanted the two of us to build trust with people over time so as not to overstep our invitation (he was an Army officer and we were on an Air Force base). While understanding this desire, I realized that every flight that didn’t take off meant thousands of pounds of life-saving supplies remained stationary on the tarmac. I realized that for planes to be loaded with the right cargo in a timely fashion, I would have to oversee their loading myself. There was also the civil-military dynamic to worry about. Due to my upbringing in a military family, previous jobs and disaster deployments, I have spent a lot of time working as a civil military coordinator. I understand the humanitarian sector and that has been my primary role in disaster operations. I grew up in a military family and speak the language, understand chains of command, and work very well with both officers and enlisted personnel. Many of the NGOs present at Mactan had never (or rarely) worked with the military. Since all of our air assets were military, this was the only option for humanitarian transport.

At its most basic level, logistics is simple. You move something from point A to point B in the most effective manner possible. Effective can mean many things, depending on your objectives, but it usually means getting the thing there in one piece, cheaply, and quickly. What makes it complicated (and for me- fun and exhilarating) is that there are a million things that can screw up your movement plan and they can be tiny little things or big massive ones. You may require many people and transportation mechanisms to get something from A to B and humanitarian situations just add to the unpredictability. For this operation, running logistics operations meant coordinating the offloading, sorting and loading of supplies onto coalition military and civilian aircraft. This also meant coordinating flight operations, schedules, and actual movement logistics. I was also responsible for coordinating evacuees moving out of the affected cities and islands, evacuees returning back to their homes, and inserting and extracting humanitarian aid teams. I also had to make sure that both supplies and people went to the right locations, that they arrived as quickly as possible, and that aircraft always had full loads. I was constantly balancing the competing needs of food, water, and medical supplies as well as balancing the competing needs of delivering people or cargo via aircraft.

Daily Life at Mactan

In the months after the Typhoon, people regularly asked me “how was it?” This is a complicated and loaded question. It is asked as if you were on a vacation, and the canned response would be something like “great!” In the case of massive natural disasters, great doesn’t really jump to mind. My response is generally something like: intense, crazy, rewarding, insane, tiring, unimaginable, inspiring, draining, sad, emotional, devastating, or even complex. When someone who really knows me, or has been in this kind of an environment before, asks me the question, my response is all of the above, but it also is fun. If you don’t like working in this environment, it will crush you and tear you apart faster than you could imagine. To me, responding to, and coordinating a hugely complex humanitarian crisis is fun. I feel more alive than I do anywhere else. You see tremendous human feats of selflessness, courage, bravery, compassion, and love. Over the past eight years working in humanitarian environments, I have come to learn that this world is where I operate best. Things just make sense to me. I often think of a humanitarian event in musical terms, or as if I am playing a massive board game. The complexity is unmatched, but you have to be able to think strategically and tactically at the same time, while trying to establish order and procedure while constantly improvising. If you are a musical person, think of a 100-piece orchestra coming together to play a concert. The curtains have gone up and the audience is ready. You are the conductor and the baton is about to drop. When you look out at your musicians, three of them have sheet music. The trumpets and clarinets are switching instruments last minute. You’re not sure if some of the percussion section will show up. 10 of your flutes haven’t even sat down and the trombone players forgot their bow ties. The tuba players are drunk. You have to conduct a song that only 20 people have practiced and the alto saxophones really just want to get on to the next piece. It turns out the piano player is sick and you’re going to have to fill in for the solo but you only just learned about that as you were walking on stage. The audience thinks and expects everything to sound brilliant. That is what the Philippines was like for me. If you think of a response as a board game, you have hundreds of pieces, but you don’t even know how you can use all of them until you are well into the game. You learn the rules as you’re playing (assuming there are rules, and if there are, you probably only have half the rule-book). Sometimes your pieces just disappear on you, and other pieces are moving without your knowledge. I constantly find myself picturing things as a board game or as an orchestra, because it is the only way to manage the complexity and think at that very high, strategic level.

What did this specific operation look like? Mactan Air Base (located on the Southern part of the island of Cebu) was tapped as the central hub for all humanitarian operations immediately after the typhoon. All humanitarian cargo that arrived by air and personnel were supposed to move through Mactan. I served as the head of operations and logistics for the Multi-National Coordination Center (MNCC). For almost two weeks, the MNCC consisted of me working at a bar countertop. I had a terrific team to work with that was comprised of people from many nations and many more organizations. We worked 20 hour days and we moved approximately one million pounds of cargo and close to 2,000 people (evacuees and humanitarians) every day on close to 30 flights with a total of 14 countries at the table flying to up to six airstrips.

We started with no system. This eventually turned into a Google Spreadsheet (that was in use until the end of the response operation, several months after I left) that was shared across the entire operation (you can see the spreadsheet here at https://tinyurl.com/lfc9sno. I created a short, or “tiny,” URL so that it was easy to write down, copy, speak over the radio, and memorize. We had to establish a battle rhythm and daily standard operating procedure. It took us about 11 days to get that full meeting schedule in place. The purpose of a meeting schedule was so that operations could be planned 24 hours in advance and that we could have some level of predictability. Once we had the meeting schedule in place, Murphy was always at the table. Anything that could go wrong, went wrong.

Picking flights

Getting flights approved was a dance I still don’t fully understand even though I lived it day-in and day-out. It felt like the process changed daily, but more or less, it was like bidding on a horse race. By 1100 (11:00 AM) we had to have a list of all proposed flights for the next day. The easiest way to plan this was to say, what cargo do we think we will have and where does it need to go? The answer to that question was paired with another the question of “what priorities does each landing site have (do they need more shelter, food, water, or specific medical supplies)?” The answer to the latter question was almost always “yes” to everything. We were always short of all essential supplies. Once we had a general idea of the needs on the ground, we had to look at available aircraft. Planes would break down, crews had to rest certain days, certain crews could only fly in certain conditions, certain planes could only carry certain types of equipment, and sometimes planes would be offline for reasons like “an American Marine drove the forklift tongues through the back of the Australian plane” or “the newly-arrived Japanese C-130 clipped the tail of the other Australian plane while they were taxiing.” Every day was a new day. Once we knew what planes were available, we had to write down our bid. For example, we had two Australian planes to use the next day, and we needed to move a lot of palletized cargo, so we had to rig them for pallets. We wanted to go heavy with cargo and not passengers and we were going to multiple destinations in close proximity to one another, so we estimated three flights per aircraft. The maximum number of flights a plane could fly each day was three, so we wrote down that we wanted Australia A to fly at 0700, 1100, and 1400. Australia B would fly at 0730, 1130, and 1430. Again, these bids were due by 1100, so that Philippine Air Force (PAF) Major Santiago and his team could review to make sure we didn’t conflict with any civilian takeoffs or VIPs visiting the airbase. Once they de-conflicted, they would pass up the bids to Manila via radio. Manila would take our bids and measure them against American military aircraft flying out of Clark airbase. We never knew what was happening at Clark nor did we know how many aircraft were flying or where they were flying. It was a black hole, but believe me, we tried dozens of times to find out but no luck. We would find out by about 1500 (3:00 PM) which flights were confirmed. We found out by watching Major Santigo write the flights down on the whiteboard in the briefing room. We learned a trick; anytime we put in a flight to take off before 0800, it was automatically approved (I guess the American military didn’t start taking off until 0800 so there was no landing space competition until 0830). Each day, about two of our 30 requested flights would be rejected and we would find out that Australia A is actually flying at 1530 and not 1430 and that it would be going to Guiuan and not Ormoc. This was normal. Once we had the flights locked in, we could start loading. The issue here was that since we didn’t find out until late afternoon, our loading crews didn’t have enough time to load pallets with the proper cargo for the proper aircraft. This forced us to pre-stage cargo. Approximately five days after I landed at Mactan, we were able to get Major Santiago to sit in on our 1100 briefing so he could approve or disapprove requests in real time. We then pushed Manila to respond to our requests by 1300, giving us an extra two hours to load. Once all that happened, we actually had a repeatable pattern and it was common to see pilots jockeying for new routes and cargo each day to keep their crews engaged and on their toes rather than slacking into monotonous routines. The changeups kept morale high.


Usually between 40 and 80 pounds (averaging 60), these white rice bags were used to hold food for three days for a family of four and were tied shut at the top. The loading of these sacks was overseen by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). The food came from all over, often donated by locals, or purchased by the government. The loading, at least at Mactan, was carried out by police officers and police academy cadets. They were like bees in a constant swarm in the gym filling these sacks and piling them up to the 30-foot ceiling. Old army trucks were used to move the sacks on the five-minute drive from the gym to the airbase. They were stacked in a hangar just to the right (facing the runway) of the bar. From 0600 to 2000, Philippine Air Force (PAF) personnel would oversee the movement of sacks on to the airfield. The primary logistics chain for the sacks went from the gym, to the hangar, to hand carts and small trucks, to the tarmac at the rear ramp of an aircraft, and usually up into PAF C-130s. These sacks were loaded onto non-palletized planes. The sacks were loaded best by carrying them by hand up into the aircraft and stacking them and strapping them to the floor. We commonly loaded them onto the Swedish aircraft because the Swedes did not have a loading crew. The default loading crew for the sacks were the police officers. They could load a plane in about 20 minutes. We were never really sure how fast a plane could be loaded with 30,000 pounds of sack weight. At an average weight of 60 pounds, we could put a max of 500 sacks on a plane. Usually, due to volume restrictions, we could get about 300 sacks on a plane with very little math. If we had a plane that needed to be loaded in a pinch, we often used the 300 sack number. For every planned flight, we loaded every single sack possible, often sitting passengers on top of a sack, serving as a makeshift first-class seat.

Loading the planes

Let me paint a picture of a very routine occurrence that can be extrapolated to just about every organization that was working on the ground…The lesson here is that no matter how much we planned, the plan always changed, and quite often fell apart entirely. We had to be ready for anything and laughing it off and moving on was never an option because it would usually mean that someone’s life was at stake.

Doctors Without Borders (Medicines Sans Frontieres- MSF) operates through national organizations. At Mactan, we had the French, Dutch, and Belgians. The French contingent was run by a Brit, the Dutch was run by, I think, a Frechman, and the Belgian contingent was run by an Argentine. All three were moving largely the same kinds of cargo: medical supplies, inflatable hospitals (that could be setup in a matter of hours just with an air pump and give you a sterile surgical ward), and generators, to name a few big categories. All cargo looked the same and cargo was dropped off in the same location. Many people would just treat all of this as “medical supplies” and send it to different locations. The problem with this strategy was that each contingent had very specific needs from their medical teams on the ground and all supplies were very-specifically ordered. I used to think of MSF as one big, well-coordinated organization. You may think the same of other international organizations, like the UN or the Red Cross. The reality is that each national subgroup has their own styles, cultures, and in most cases, their own standard operating procedures. MSF is the same. The French section was working in Tacloban, the Dutch section was working in Ormoc, and the Belgian section was working in Guiuan. A pallet of medicine bound for Tacloban had to get to Tacloban and not to Guiuan. To avoid massive confusion and mission failure for MSF, I had them all label their cargo with big duct-tape letters (T for Tacloban, O for Ormoc, and G for Guiuan) so that our logistics crews could better check their loading work.

We had been waiting for the Tacloban-bound French MSF cargo for some time. We had promised MSF France that when the cargo arrived, they would be given top priority (although everything was top priority, we made it top, top priority). It showed up one afternoon and we labeled each side of each supply bundle with a T. We had the Korean loading crew (Crew A since Crew B had their day off) load up the MSF cargo onto the Swedish C-130. We had to prep the loads later in the day because the Koreans needed to borrow straps, pallets, and a forklift. The beautiful thing about the Korean team was that they had two loading crews, but since they arrived light on gear, to load any type of palletized cargo, they had to borrow from others. We timed the prep for later in the day so that we could borrow Australian pallets that were loaded back onto a New Zealand C-130 by American Marines in Tacloban, New Zealand straps that came back on that same flight, and the Australian 10-ton forklift. We were prepared to load the plane to its maximum weight, carrying six pallets of medical supplies. The plane to load was the Swedish C-130 but it had gotten stuck on the runway in Guiuan so it was late in arriving for the evening and the loading crews had to stop for the day to avoid going over their daily number of work hours. We agreed that this plane would be loaded first the following morning at 0600 (6:00 AM) and ready for takeoff at 0700. While all of this was going on, all other MSF cargo (and all other NGO cargo) was being prepared onto flight pallets in a similar way. The next morning, the loadies (loading crews) got to work at 0600 getting the first round of flights ready to go. I was prepping for morning logistics briefings when Rolfe, the Swedish air commander, burst into the ops room. He asked me where the Swedish flight was headed. I looked up to the white board, confirmed on the Google Spreadsheet, and triple-checked in my notebook that the plane was headed to Guiuan with 30,000 pounds of MSF cargo aboard. He nodded his head indicating that he had the same, but told me that I needed to get out to the plane right away. He told me that the plane had the wrong cargo. I looked down at my watch and realized we had 15 minutes to sort this problem out.

It was a one-minute sprint out to the airplane but I ran through all our backup options in my head. Clearly, something had gone wrong with the loading process and our options were threefold; reload the proper cargo (which could mean losing the flight since we would lose our takeoff and landing times and we would have to retask a loading crew to do this, throwing off the entire planned loading process pushing most cargos back 24 hours), take off and deliver whatever cargo was on board (at this point the cargo could have been anything), or try to get a new flight plan. As I mentioned earlier, getting a new flight plan was not easy. The time taken to do this could mean losing the flight entirely, meaning that someone in Manila would decide that they didn’t want to deal with a change and just scrap the flight off the daily roster. If this happened, we would have to unload the plane some point during the day, potentially losing the mid-day and evening flights we had planned for the Swedish aircraft.

As I ran, I put my earplugs in, knowing that the plane’s engines would be on with all four propellers turning given that it was less than 15 minutes to takeoff. I arrived at the aircraft in full sweat (it was 110 degrees outside, plus I sweat more than most people on this planet anyways) and was met at the side door by the crew chief. He motioned me back to the cargo bay. The first thing I saw was a pallet loaded with cargo marked with the letter T. Rolfe was right- there was Tacloban cargo on the Guiuan flight. I climbed up on the pallet so that I could see the loadmaster in the rear of the aircraft. He had just finished checking every pallet and waved to get my attention. He started pointing at each pallet using his arms to make a T or using his hand to make a G. There was one Guiuan pallet in the middle of the plane. The rest were all Tacloban pallets. I climbed down from the pallet and ran up into the cockpit to talk with the pilot. I got on the radio and called to Rolfe confirming that we had six pallets for Tacloban and one for Guiuan. I asked to be patched through (connected) to Colonel Santiago. I made a top priority request up to Manila for a flight plan change. Col Santiago asked where we needed the plane to go. I asked the pilot how much fuel we had and after some quick math he and the loadmaster (who was now up in the cockpit with us) confirmed that we didn’t have enough fuel to make it to Guiuan, Tacloban, and back. I asked if we could take on the extra fuel and they responded with a thumbs up. I radioed for an extra landing slot in Tacloban (which almost were never granted due to constant crowding of the runway). Col Santigo said to give him five minutes. We waited the five minutes with the engines at full throttle in case the request was denied. Col Santigo came back on the radio five minutes later, as promised, and said we had a green light to Tacloban and discussed the landing time with the pilots, who immediately throttled down the engines so they could take on more fuel. We called the other AFP Major on duty for fuel and he radioed the fuel truck to retask it off another aircraft. We worked out a plan for the C-130 to take off from Mactan 20 minutes late (to finish refueling), fly to Guiuan and offload the first two Tacloban pallets with the Guiuan pallet, use the US Marine Corps forklift (that had just arrived to the Guiuan airstrip) to reload the two Tacloban pallets, take off from Guiuan, and land at Tacloban 30 minutes later. I gave everyone the thumbs up and sprinted back inside to deal with the next issue of the day. That entire changeup had taken 20 minutes. Every day was full, 20 hours, nonstop, of those 20 minute fixes, but that’s what happens when you have cargo from one of three identical nonprofits being loaded onto a Swedish plan by two Korean loading crews using Australian, New Zealand, and British equipment. Despite the chaos we experienced every day, the level of teamwork and cooperation was unparalleled, and it was all done to help people they had never met from a completely different country. It was beautiful.

Making history

I’d like to share two historic moments (one smaller and one much more significant globally) that I witnessed while at Mactan. First, on the topic of MSF, I want to share a potentially historic moment of MSF-military collaboration I witnessed take place. I say potentially because I imagine there has been some collaboration between MSF and foreign militaries in the past. I was told by each of our three MSF leads on the ground that this response was the first time MSF had ever moved cargo via military transport. When I first heard this, I was shocked, but quickly realized that this wasn’t all-too-impossible because of MSF’s fierce independence and neutrality. When MSF first arrived, they immediately turned away from military resources, instead looking for their own means of transport. I knew that this civilian avenue would be impossible for at least the first week because all logistics movement was performed by the AFP, whether by sea or air because of the degraded conditions of the runways and docks. I remember having many long conversations with Mario, my main partner with MSF, about how difficult it would be to move things via military transport. My background in humanitarian operations stems from public health and in another life wanted to be an emergency medicine physician. I also cut my teeth in this field working under, and learning from, an emergency physician with decades of military disaster response experience. Mario and I spoke the same language from the beginning and I understood his needs. We worked to find a comfort level of risk and build relationships between Mario, his team, and military personnel at Mactan. In some ways, we peeled the masks off each group of people in helping military personnel fully understand the medical needs and requirements and in helping the medical personnel understand the military mission and culture. Facilitating and building this relationship was probably my proudest accomplishment. There were times when I was not present that I caught MSF personnel and military air crews in full argument of movement and loading of cargo. I stepped in well over a dozen times to sort through and clear up the issue. At the end of the day, it came down to helping those who needed help, and not about organizational policies, personalities, and egos. The military crews and MSF were all dedicated to providing humanitarian relief and, at the end of the day, the military crews were the best at moving supplies quickly and efficiently. It was a wonderful, fascinating partnership to watch.

One of the most mind-blowing things I have ever seen was the inflatable MSF field hospital that we flew in to Guiuan. It came completely palletized on aircraft pallets and took three full aircraft flights to move. It was also completely sterile. Getting the hospital to Mactan was also a challenge because of its size. It had to be stored off-base because of its size and inability to fit on the cargo ramp, and coordinating the drivers, trucks, forklifts, and airplanes to all be ready at the exact moment they were needed was near-impossible. The first time we came close, the truck drivers hadn’t shown up to work because they had gotten drunk the night before. From that point on, Mario made sure they were paid and ready-to-go 24/7.

The second historical moment I witnessed was the arrival of the Japanese Self-Defense Force to Mactan. They brought a very large contingent. World War II is still very much alive for many Filipinos. I swear that Douglas MacArthur is still, today, the most popular person in the country. According to many of the Filipino political and military leaders at Mactan, the arrival of the Japanese contingent (encompassing ground, sea, and air forces) to Mactan culminated the largest deployment of Japanese military assets since World War II.


Focusing on building relationships between the civilian leads and military points of contact was critical. Normally, in disaster relief, the World Food Program (WFP) serves as the United Nations lead for logistics as the head of the Logistics Cluster. It took a while for WFP to arrive on scene, and once they did, they were focused almost entirely on moving their own foodstuffs. A little over a week after I arrived, Sean, the WFP logistics coordinator and “systems guy” arrived. Sean is an American who grew up as the son of a diplomat. I thought he was my age but I think he was about 15 years older…must have been his energy, enthusiasm, and that pep in his step. He and I hit it off right away and began mapping the information and supply landscapes. We both spoke the language of process mapping and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to find a kindred spirit who hated inefficiency, understood resource optimization, lean six sigma, and kaizen (lookup the Toyota Production System if what I just said lost you. It is fascinating and will change how you look at the world. If it doesn’t, maybe I’m just a crazy person). Our goal was to understand every movement that a relief item made once it arrived in the Philippines. We wanted to create a standard operating procedure for every process, every moving piece, and every variable in the operation. The good news was that I had been mapping the landscape for a week before Sean’s arrival, so I had many of the steps mapped out and the relationships built.

While trying to learn the strategic objectives and map the processes, my role became tactical almost immediately. I started to coordinate ground movements of supplies. 747, C-17, C-130, and Antonov aircraft began arriving full of supplies. In many cases, there was nobody at the base to receive the cargo. We had to clear space for additional aircraft to land and needed to sort and organize supplies.  We were constantly short of forklifts, forklift drivers, or both. I taught myself how to drive forklifts at world-record speed and I was often moving supplies around at 0500 (5:00 AM) to prep for the day’s flights. We had 5-ton and 10-ton forklifts. Thank the good lord that safety inspectors weren’t anywhere to be seen. I probably violated just about every rule in the book and then some more beyond that. Depending on the load, we needed one of the big guys (20-ton) and they were in high demand. Supplies arriving by air were packed on wooden pallets that were then placed on 747 aircraft pallets. We had to unpack the 747 pallets and build loads for the C-130 pallets. Once a 747 pallet load was broken down (meaning everything was just sitting on wooden pallets), the C-130 ground crews would build their loads. DHL’s disaster response team arrived a few days after I did and their support and leadership was vital to the success of the entire operation. They made everything tick and I let them do what they did best: move stuff. Chris (an efficient Aussie) and Fionn (the happiest and most energetic Irishman you’ve ever seen- which says a lot, I know) were the glue that held it all together. With their logistics expertise, they immediately started to organize the “ramp” (part of the tarmac closest to the operations center that was reserved for cargo). Slow moving supplies were kept furthest from the aircraft and the “fast lane” allowed us space to break down pallets that needed to go on aircraft in the next 24 hours. DHL helped to coordinate forklift movement and prioritization. By being a neutral agent that was focused entirely on effective movement of cargo, they treated all NGOs and military priorities equally, helping to keep competition for forklifts at a minimum. DHL’s professionalism, efficiency, and skill quickly earned them respect with the military crews and their neutrality and equitable distribution of assistance earned them respect with the NGOs. Working with the DHL team was almost too much fun. Anytime I had a problem or some last-minute chaos, they’d look at me, smile, and say “is that it?” to which I would respond “for now!” with an even bigger smile back as I ran off to go break something else.


Haiyan displaced millions of people and those most seriously impacted were those from Tacloban, Guiuan, and Ormoc. As soon as planes carrying relief supplies arrived, people were trying to get onboard. The AFP had to setup a security perimeter at each airstrip to ensure the safety of relief personnel as well as to make sure evacuees didn’t themselves get injured trying to board aircraft or helicopters. The mass of people was enormous. Often, there were 5,000 people piled up trying to get on planes. Some nations were originally not permitted to bring evacuees out on their aircraft. Once the policy folks were made aware of this gross oversight, these policies were quickly reversed so that each country’s aircraft could carry people out. An empty C-130 could carry anywhere from approximately 10-200 people, depending on how it was rigged, how much fuel it was carrying, and the aggressiveness of the load master. Everyone had to have a seat, meaning that something could strap them down. One could be strapped into a fold-down bench along the side of the aircraft. These benches were used when the plane was outfitted to carry aircraft pallets. We couldn’t strap people onto an aircraft pallet and thus on these flights when a plane was loaded for pallets. On these flights, we could bring back about 40 people, depending on the number of benches. If a plane delivered loose cargo such as food sacks, the entire floor space could be used to strap in people on the return trip. This was when we could really move large numbers of people out. For every four or five palletized loads that we sent to a destination, we would try to send a loose load in order to keep evacuations moving smoothly. This also created some form of reliability in the humanitarian air service. Given our volume of flights, we would usually have a morning, afternoon, and evening flight dedicated to carrying out evacuees and responders.

Getting evacuees out from the impacted areas quickly became an easy process. Once we got them to Mactan, many wanted to go elsewhere to stay with family or friends and that became a much more problematic issue. There were also a lot of people who evacuated to Clark airbase and they usually wanted to go elsewhere. At any point in time, there were at least 500 people waiting and holding in a fenced-in area at Mactan. We would regularly use U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) V-22 Ospreys to move people to or from Clark airbase.

We also learned quickly that many young people who had evacuated wanted to return home. This proved to be a much more problematic issue than evacuating them or moving them around outside of the affected areas. There was a group of about 200 evacuees who had been in a holding facility on Mactan for 72 hours. They were the first people we had evacuated from Tacloban. It turns out that they had evacuated to purchase food, water, and essential medical supplies for sick and homebound relatives. They all wanted to return home to get these life-saving supplies to their family members. The evacuees had been sitting for 72 hours because the perspective of the responders was that while noble, the intentions of the evacuees were misguided because none of them were carrying more than a few days-worth of food and water. This would mean that the evacuees would again become victims and need to be rescued another time. I heard about these evacuees from Commander Enriquez of the Philippine Navy. He told me there was an issue with some of the evacuees that I might be able to help with. I brought along Heath (the U.S. Army Chief) to see what we could make happen. The evacuees were sitting in a courtyard inside a barbed-wire-lined metal fence. I was let in to the courtyard by the armed guard who was posted at the gate. As soon as I entered, I was swarmed by about 30 teenagers who wanted to tell me their story. Every one of them had a similar story; they evacuated and had a mother, father, uncle, aunt, or grandparent who desperately needed some special medicine (most often insulin). Most medical personnel who deployed in to the affected areas were most concerned with trauma rather than chronic, pre-existing medical issues. In almost every family’s case, medical responders hadn’t even reached the areas where the diabetic patients lived. These kids had evacuated to Cebu, gone into town to buy whatever they needed, and wanted to go back home. I thought to myself that I would have done exactly the same as these kids, and I would have done everything in my power to get back home. Being a responder, I also saw the other side of the coin.

As I thought, I also realized that we were on the clock. The Philippines has the highest social media penetration (percent of population) in the world. All of these kids were on their phones trying to reach their family members. Some kids had sporadic contact with relatives, but by this point in time, the relative’s phones had died due to lack of power for charging. The last words many of these kids heard were that they needed to hurry back home before that family member had died. I was quickly convinced of the need to get these kids home. I also realized that we could map out where these kids lived so that we could direct future relief teams and items to follow up on these families. In a way, we could use these kids as information gatherers and responders themselves. The reality was that while response leadership was concerned about these kids becoming victims again, many responders would arrive with only several days-worth of supplies, and at most, a week. All of these groups would expect resupply from either their organization or from the general relief operation. In this light, the evacuees were no differently prepared than the responders.

I left the compound with a promise that I would return as quickly as possible. I left Heath behind so that he could start writing down names of people who needed to go back, what they needed to bring with them, and where they needed to go. I found General Santiago and told him the plan I had and he agreed and gave me the green light. I now needed to find a flight crew that would take people. As I mentioned before, there was a lot more red tape putting foreign nationals on outbound military flights, especially since these flight logs were recorded much more closely and a lot of foreign ministry officials were present at Mactan overseeing the types of cargo that moved on their planes. Bringing people back was easy for the primary reason that as soon as the plane landed, they could be offloaded quickly from out on the airstrip and herded, single-file, off the tarmac.

I found Chuck, the irritable but clearly-in-charge Australian Navy Chief who was in charge of the Australian relief effort for the first few days of the response. Every time I went up to Chuck, I had to get ready to plead my case. He owned his aircraft but he was very restrictive and not a disaster responder by trade. Per usual, as soon as I asked my question, he took a deep breath, leaned back, looked his clipboard, and starting pointing as me while he talked. When I asked if we could start moving evacuees back home, you would have thought that I was asking him for money a day after robbing him. He started with the usual “now let me tell you” and went on about how this would be impossible and broke this rule and that law and that other policy. I asked him if we could ask the Australian AID (Agency for International Development and now a defunct agency) representatives. Fortunately, they were standing right next to us. Before he answered, I threw the question at them, and they said it could be possible as long as we documented who was on the plane. I told them that we were already getting names. Chuck then asked me how many needed to go. I realized 200 would be a big number for him to deal with right now so I asked “how many can you take?” He repeated the question “how many need to go?” I responded “I think 50?” He said “now let me tell you…that is way too many!” I responded with “how about 30?” He said “Ok, but how much stuff do they have?” I thought back to the courtyard. The reality was that each person had about 5 large bags or cardboard boxes. I asked again “how much can they bring?” He said, “no more than one bag, and that is pushing it.” I told him I’d make that work and get him a list of names ASAP.

I ran back to the courtyard and told Heath the news. He confirmed that we had about 200 people who wanted to go back to Tacloban and I let him know that we could only start with 30. He said “you’re going to have a riot on your hands.” I realized we would need the Commander to keep some order and explain this to everyone. I ran back to the bar (my desk) and found Commander Enriquez. I pulled him out of a meeting and headed back to the courtyard explaining the situation. Commander Enriquez and I realized that we would need the group of evacuees to prioritize among themselves. We had no way to know who had family members in most need of medical assistance so they’d have to vote on it themselves. Commander Enriquez explained the situation to the group saying that we could only take 30 and they could each only bring one bag/box. The news wasn’t received well but we figured we would give them 10 minutes to figure it out. We left the courtyard and came back in. Two leaders had emerged and they said they could get a list of 30 and that each person would bring one box. An Australian came over and told me that we had 10 minutes to get everyone ready to go because the plane that had been cleared to take everyone was leaving in 10. If we missed this plane, there wouldn’t be another shot for another 24 hours. Now we had to rush. The way everyone started moving and repacking made me think of wartime evacuations. Things started flying out of bags with people comparing what was in their left hand to the item in their right. People started giving medicines to the group of 30, writing down addresses and names. Someone asked me for my full name and I handed him my business card which I carried in my left breast pocket in a plastic bag to keep from sweating through it.


We formed a line and marched everyone double time to the edge of the tarmac. Heath handed the list of names to the Australian and we got a thumbs up to walk everyone to the plane. Chuck walked out from the bar and looked angrier than usual. He yelled “this is NOT one bag per person.” A few folks had snuck in a second bag or had a backpack and a box. I looked at Chuck square in the eyes and said, “we need to make this work or you can explain to the General why these kids didn’t get on the plane.” I quickly followed that up with “Oh, and then explain to the kid that their parent died because they had two bags instead of one. The plane has space.” Chuck glared back at me and we kept walking the line to the plane. Once we reached the plane, the loadmaster came out and I leaned in and yelled in his ear over the engine noise “they have a few more bags than expected, can we take them?” He replied with a big thumbs up. I ran back inside to deal with the next problem. As I ran, I heard Chuck saying, “next time, one bag means one bag.” Some fights in life aren’t worth it, especially when you’re both on the same team trying to help save lives. Egos and pissing matches are just dumb. Leave your ego and agenda at home.

This flight began the re-entry process and almost every flight from that point onwards had returnees onboard. Heath managed the whole process brilliantly and worked like a day trader getting people five people on a flight here, and two people on a helicopter there, and then five more on an Osprey with two-minute’s notice. A few days later, when I checked Facebook, I had about 60 friend requests. They were all from kids in the courtyard who saw my business card who had been able to get back home and make it to their relatives in time. I’m pretty sure I accepted all of them and most wrote notes thanking us for saving the life of their family member. Even while evacuating from Haiyan, everyone was on their cell phone: texting, updating statues, and uploading pictures. I didn’t fully comprehend the level of social media use until I got caught in the middle of it.

The little things

As I wrote in the beginning of this story, telling the story of Haiyan in a chronological order won’t work. The main reason is that I don’t remember which day most things happened, but I also think that vignettes do more justice to the story. Here are a few:


On the days that I was able to sleep, I had a hotel room that was about 10 minutes away from the airbase. The way I got to work was that I walked outside and got into the police car that was waiting outside. As best I can tell, every hour that I was in the hotel, there was a car waiting for me. I never had to call and they were always waiting for me. The car usually had three police officers and me. They all looked to be about 18 and each carried an M-16 assault rifle. One morning, they were in an unusually chipper mood and had the radio on. Cher came on, and the guy riding shotgun immediately tuned the radio up to full blast. They all started singing and put all the windows down. It may have been my massive sleep deprivation, but I just started laughing and started singing along. I don’t even remember the song and I didn’t know the words, but nobody cared. There we were, the four amigos flying down Cebu streets and right past the guard at the gate who gave us a giant wave. I think Cher blasting out of the windows doubles as lights and sirens in Cebu because that morning we made our ten-minute drive in five.

The Barf Bag

On one flight back from Tacloban, there were about 80 people belt-strapped (think seatbelts that go directly into the floor) in an Australian C-130. Most of these people had been waiting to evacuate for about three days. They had been standing in the sun and sleeping in place outside waiting for a ride out. It was a stormy day with low cloud cover and very poor visibility so the airplanes had a tough time landing and a few actually had to abort their landings. The flight crew loaded everyone up onto the plane. They handed all the kids earplugs (for the first week of the operation, there were not enough earplugs for everyone so we prioritized kids because of the sound of the plane engines). The plane sat on the runway for about 30 minutes waiting to get clearance for takeoff from the U.S. Air Force Combat Controllers. Once taking off, the turbulence was terrible and people started throwing up left and right. There were only a few airsick bags so the crew didn’t want to distribute them unequally. One person asked the loadmaster for an airsick bag and a pen. Confused, he went and grabbed one and thought it odd that all the passengers were passing it around not using it. When the plane landed, everyone sat quietly until unstrapped by the crew. The flight crew was lined up outside the plane to see everyone off safely. As the passengers exited, every single person (most covered in vomit) thanked every single crew member with a handshake. The last person off the plane handed the airsick bag (not used) to the pilot. The top of the bag said “Thank you for saving our lives.” Every single person on the flight had signed it. Once everyone had cleared the tarmac, the pilot passed the bag around to each crew member. The loadmaster, normally a very tough and playful guy, sat down and cried. When I talked to him later that afternoon, he told me that he’d never before in his life felt so good. He also said something that will stick with me forever “Filipinos are unbelievable. They’ve been through hell and back, they’ve lost everything, including family members, they’ve thrown up all over themselves, and they still are smiling and thanking us. We have a lot to learn.”

The Search and Rescue Sack Race

Sacks on sacks on sacks. I’ve described these 60-pound beauties before, but when you move thousands in a day, and often by hand, over your shoulder, you gain a new appreciation for them. After your first thousand, carrying one becomes second-nature. A slow bend of the legs, a tight core, a hand around the twine-tied neck, one hand grasping the bottom, and a twisting motion much like the reverse of swinging an ax, and the sack is over your shoulder. You might be a left shoulder type of person or a right. You might even be ambidextrous! A crew of a dozen could load and secure a plane with sacks in about 20 minutes. The fastest record I clocked was 17 minutes, and it was set by the PNP loading team one morning. I had previously bet Rofle, our Swedish team commander, that it could be done in under 20 minutes and he didn’t think it possible. The bet was one cold beer, and I celebrated this small victory by splitting the bottle with him.

Loading a plane in 17 minutes wasn’t enough for the PNP teams. They wanted challenges wherever they could find them. Challenges were easy to come by with so many international relief personnel sitting around waiting for mission taskings and assignments. Search and Rescue (SAR) teams were always milling about. One thing I’ll never understand is how national governments think that Search and Rescue continues ten or more days after a disaster. We must have had a dozen SAR teams show up well after a week after the typhoon made landfall. The teams do give governments great press, and are a wonderful way to show good will and solidarity. Very few, if any, rescues occur more than a week after a disaster strikes. The best SAR teams are kitted, outfitted, and deployed within hours post-impact. They arrive on the ground one or two days after impact and do have some rescues. I use the word some intentionally, because most rescues are due to local teams and neighbors digging people out of rubble. The most cost-effective (currency in this case being lives saved instead of cash) use of foreign personnel is almost always with well-equipped medical teams. Medical teams often travel much-lighter and with a lower profile than search and rescue teams, they are more easily-able to sustain themselves, and they can reach more people and impact more lives.

Despite this disconnect, SAR teams still show up. When they show up to a staging area like Mactan, they take up a lot of space and then the wait for their assignment. Like most responders, they want to go downrange immediately and help. The problem is, they usually arrive unannounced, and because of their space requirements, they take up several aircraft with their people and gear. When aircraft are preassigned a day in advance, this can mean that a SAR team will be hanging around for a few days. Most SAR personnel that I have ever worked with are firefighters. They’re funny, energetic, strong-willed, kind, and always willing to lend a hand.

What pairs well in the middle of a disaster? SAR teams and sacks. When you have thousands of heavy bags and a bunch of bored strong men and women milling about, put them to work. Very quickly, you’ll see that you have a bunch of free labor at your fingertips. In fact, you’ll actually find that they’re loading sacks before you can even turn around.

One afternoon, a South African SAR team showed up. As they waited, several of them paired up with some Filipino National Police officers and started loading a C-130. What started out as a relaxed loading process quickly turned into a heated strength and speed competition. By the time I heard the cheers and made it over to the aircraft, there were about 150 people going crazy. It felt like the Olympics as I counted representation from about a dozen countries. All eyes quickly turned to one South African, who was trying to clock a world record for sack loading time. A female SAR team member joined him and starting picking up the pace. A tiny Filipino police officer joined them and kept pace. They each picked up two sacks a piece and kept up the breakneck rhythm. Between the aircraft engines and the cheers of the group, I felt like I was in a stadium packed to the brim. The group erupted when an even-tinier female PNP officer picked up two sacks and ran them into the aircraft. With no officials to call the race, the flight crew picked the clear winner and the policewoman was hoisted up by the multinational team and everyone broke down in laughter and hugs. She was awarded grand prize, which was, I believe, a sun-baked bottle of water an airman found lying in the cockpit of the plane.

The Dream Team

The most amazing thing about my time at Mactan was the team of people with which I had the pleasure and honor of working. I served under General Santiago, working within his scope and vision. He allowed me to be innovative and his authority provided me great flexibility and decision-making power. I would never have been able to accomplish my mission without a strong and tight-knit core team. Keno (pronounced Ken-O, short for his last name, Kennedy), the lead Royal Australian Air Force loadmaster, became a close friend and partner. His leadership was invaluable and he could load, unload and balance an aircraft in his sleep. He is the most light-hearted guy you’ve ever met, and even in the face of great pressure or stress, he is all smiles. There were countless times I’d coming running in from the flight line complaining about some terrible problem or breakdown. Keno would look at me, put his hand on my shoulder, and say, “it’s all good mate. We’ll get ‘er straightened out.” Keno replaced the irratble Chuck and it was a night-to-day attitude transition. With a nod of his head and a quick explanation, he could get anybody to snap to work: it didn’t matter what country they were from. My favorite Keno moment was when the Japanese C-130 arrived. During its taxi on the tarmac, the Japanese plane clipped the tail of one of the two Australian C-130s. Keno and I both got the news at the same time. We both screamed “WHAT?!” I immediately started re-planning the flights for the next three days. After he put his eyes back into their sockets, Keno headed outside to inspect the damage. He walked back inside with the two Australian pilots and, slapping them each on the back, said “look at that, you get the day off!” When I asked him how bad the damage was, he said “well we just need a new tail. You packed one with you in your carry-on right?” Later that day, while working on flight plans, he looked up, with his pencil tucked into his cap, and said “somebody needs to teach those blokes how to drive!” and then looked right back down at his pad of paper. Keno’s ability to stay calm in the face of extreme stress, and more importantly (to me at least), was his ability to find humor in just about any situation. I’m sure some famous person once said that laugher cures all. They were right.

Aiding in the comedy were two American service members with whom I was locked at the hip. Jimmy, the U.S. Air Force Special Operations major, and Heath, a Chief Warrant Officer (CW4) with the U.S. Army, were serving in the role of coordinating U.S. assets at Mactan. While not technically assigned as civil affairs personnel (we never could find civ-mil teams to support operations at Mactan), they were both sharp, wicked-funny, and very good at their jobs. Jimmy could be found running around with an aircraft headset around his neck and his iPhone in his hand. He was constantly texting U.S. military air crews to get estimated times for arrival (ETAs), cargo loads, cargo capacities, fuel loads, and destinations.

Heath always had a clipboard in hand. He was always calm, smiling, and cracking jokes with a clipboard in-hand. If you changed the scenery, he could have been the most successful bookie the world has ever known. He moved slowly- always scheming (I was always yelling at him to keep up, and he never once joined me on a sprint across the base). His scheme was how many passengers he could move and on which aircraft they could be moved. Heath excelled at filling every conceivable space with either an evacuee, a returnee, an aid worker, a camera crew, a medical team, or cargo. Next time I move my apartment, he’s in charge of packing the loading van. Heath got people onto flights that were overflowing.

In addition to Keno, Heath, Jimmy, and Sean, there were numerous other core team members; Butch (Col Guevara, Philippine Air Force), Mark (Commander, Philippine Navy), Mario from MSF, Henrik (lead on the ground for WFP), Joel (UNHCR), Cam from the Royal Australian Air Force, Sylvie and Matt from the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Rolfe from Sweden, Sean from the WFP, and Chris and Fionn from DHL. . The beautiful thing about this team of world-class human beings was that I never once saw someone’s ego get in the way. You notice that I call everyone by their first names. I knew and respected their rank (I grew up in a military family and currently have a brother who is active-duty Air Force), but I actually noticed that most military personnel were referring to each other on a first-name basis. Despite widely different life paths, careers, specialties, and ranks, I saw this group of people come together in a way rarely seen in this world; actually and truly dedicated to helping people and working together with a singular focus to make that happen. I think that most people spend their lives looking for and hoping to be a part of that kind of a selfless and effective team. Some days it just looked like magic. I was blessed to be a part of it all.

Lessons learned

I have so many lessons learned that I’m not exactly sure where to start so I’ll just start and see where it goes. I will try to organize these thoughts categorically in bullet-point fashion. Some of these may seem small and obvious, but they are often forgotten, and when they are, they can break a response.


  • Establish your battle rhythm early. In the U.S., and in many parts of the world, teams leverage the Incident Command System (ICS). It is worth training your teams on ICS, which teaches you to organize around a term called the operational period.
  • Define your priorities (highest level goals- like medical, food, sanitation, and water), then objectives (What, Where, and When), then strategies (adds in How you will accomplish your objectives), then tactics (adds in Who will accomplish those objectives and strategies). This is another principle within ICS. We do this every day in the Red Cross. It works.
  • Establish a clear chain of command and organizational chart that define roles and responsibilities, post those in an easy-to-view area, and share them.
  • Power. Lift. Focus first on establishing solid, two-way communications with your teams. Second, focus on establishing power and reliable energy. Third, focus on lift. Lift is movement- by land, air, or sea- and getting things and people from Point A, to Point B, to Point C.


  • Realize that in most international responses, civilians will be in charge, but the military will have the resources to get the job done- especially when it comes to logistics. Respect this duality, and integrate civil-military liaisons early and anywhere and in any critical coordination point.
  • Figure out who your fixers are. There will always be some people who just seem to be able to make anything happen. Leverage their talents to the full potential but make sure they feel appreciated/rewarded.
  • If you don’t understand a subject area (such as medicine, water sanitation, aircraft operations, etc.), find someone who does, keep them close, and make them your best friend. Learn everything you can from them and be a sponge.

Information management

  • Share information. Share it early and share it often. People are always hesitant to share. If you are the first to do it, you’ll set a healthy precedent and others will be much more likely to share back with you
  • Leverage a common platform. Every team will come to the response with their own system. Pick the one that is most-common and/or works best for leadership.
  • Back up your data
  • Leverage the internet where you can, but plan for offline.
  • Building relationships ahead of time is golden. Training and planning around common systems is mission critical, but it isn’t always possible. If everyone comes in with different systems, pick a platform early, and stick to it, driving everyone onto that platform. The pain you experience early will pay off many times over in a short period of time.


  • One of the quickest ways to go downhill and fade when things get tough is to not drink enough water. I can’t emphasize this enough.
  • Keep food with you at all times. Meals may be few and far between, but without calories, your brain doesn’t work as well and you will make poor decisions. If you don’t have time to focus on food, delegate it and have people bring you food and make you eat it.
  • There is always more to do that can get in the way of your sleep, but if you don’t sleep, your energy levels drop, your reaction time decreases, and your ability to make decisions degrades rapidly.
  • Take time to think. There will always be things happening, and chaos will be swirling around you constantly. You need time with your own thoughts. You may need to yell, scream, shout, laugh, or cry. Taking your own time to think will help you to reset, maintain a calm balance, keep your spirit and energy levels up, and function more effectively.
  • Exercise resets your body, cleanses toxins, moves lactic acid throughout your body, helps make you more alert, and release tension, among many other things. Don’t feel like you have to run a marathon. Even 15 minutes a day of small things like pushups, pullups, squats, jumping jacks, or situps can make you feel like new.
  • Remember that everything is a trade-off. Realize that you will never be simultaneously hydrated enough, full on meals, adequately rested, in top shape, or at peace internally. Despite this reality, keep trying for balance.

Supplies (I could go on for hours about supplies, but here are a few quick, easy, and common things)

  • Order a whiteboard and many colors of markers
  • Get a printer up and running quickly
  • Make the local internet service provider technician an early best friend
  • Carry a set of at least four radios and headsets
  • Have someone get a generator in place with plenty of spare fuel
  • You can never have too many power strips and extension cords


  • Map the ideal process
  • Map the current, or initial process
  • Identify gaps, shortfalls, and inefficiencies in the process
  • Bring decision-makers to the table and work to get buy-in and agreement around inefficiencies.
  • Fix one problem at a time
  • Identify a critical supply flow path so that supplies do not get clogged, backlogged, or slowed-down
  • Have people label cargo- giant permanent markers and duct tape are great for labeling
  • Become best friends with forklift drivers. Find the person who owns the forklifts and get them to agree to let you drive the forklifts
  • If anyone asks “do you need any more forklifts,” your answer should always be yes!
  • Leave the keys in the forklifts and make sure they are always fueled up
  • Establish a “ramp” that is reserved for the fastest moving cargo
  • Establish an area with “fluff” cargo- meaning supplies that can go anywhere at any time and that has no restrictions. You can always use this cargo to fill loads
  • If you are moving people- keep them in a staging area so you always know how to find them at the last minute
  • Build a map of your logistics and cargo space. If you can make this dynamic- perhaps on a whiteboard, you can move vehicles, cargo, and teams around in real-time. Dedicate someone to this map/whiteboard who is tasked with keeping everything up-to-date


  • Define your battle-rhythm/operational period early
  • Establish priorities, objectives, strategies, and tactics that fit within each operational period and that may change between operational periods (take Incident Command System, Incident Action Plan training to better understand what these mean)
  • Create an Incident Action Plan that includes your priorities, objectives, strategies, tactics, maps, contact rosters, and meeting schedule at a bare minimum
  • Plan at least one day out.
  • An ideal schedule looks like this:
    • In the early morning, review your priorities and objectives only with senior operations, logistics, and planning leadership (Operational Planning Meeting)
    • Following this meeting, let each team work on their strategies and tactics for the next day
    • After that, hold another meeting (Tactics Meeting), still in the morning, that finalize the operations strategies and tactics for the next operational period
    • Following this meeting, give your planning team time to finalize the action plan for the next operational period
    • In the early afternoon, review and approve your incident action plan in a Planning Meeting with senior operations, logistics, and planning staff
    • In the late afternoon or early evening, brief the following operational period’s plan to the full team in an Operations Briefing

UN, Government of the Philippines (AFP and NDRRMC), and U.S.

(Note: I fully realize that writing about potential lessons learned for the AFP, NDRRMC, UN, and U.S. is a touchy, highly political subject. I am writing this based on my own observations under no influence of outside actors. I would be neglecting my humanitarian duty if I did not include these lessons learned. My intention here is not to cast blame, but to affect change. I also realize that I do not have the full picture and that decisions were made above my head, but at the same time, I was serving at the tip of the spear, as one of the forward decision makers. If I didn’t know of something, it means it was not communicated up or down effectively. Many people suffered and died as a result of imperfect operations and poor or delayed decision-making and my hope is that through these observations and lessons learned we, as a team, can prevent further death and suffering in the future during the next disaster)

  • The absolute biggest problem we encountered was the lack of communications up to Manila and to downrange air fields. This should be a top priority for resolution
    • Manila: Some group of AFP personnel called the shots on flights, times, and landing slots. Our base of operations at Mactan was the largest hub of flights outside of Clark airbase (as far as we know). We believe that we flew more flights than Clark but I have still not been able to confirm this. I even managed to connect with several U.S. Air Force Colonels who ended up being based out of Clark. It seemed that once anyone got to Clark, they went radio silent and we couldn’t get any information from them by either email or phone. This, by itself, is a huge issue. At Cebu, we were tasked to run the international response operations yet the majority of U.S. assets (aside from the V-22s and the occasional C-130) were operating independently of the coordinated, global effort. Additionally, it appeared that rather than listening to our requirements, the AFP operations in Manila were making decisions in a vacuum.
    • Downrange: The way that we learned of field requirements was to specifically task an air crew to ask several questions when they landed downrange at any one of our six airfields. They would ask questions of AFP, PNP, international NGO, and U.S. military personnel. The air crews would then bring this information back several hours later on pieces of paper and in their heads. We did our best to piece everything together but we never had solid, real-time communications with information collection teams on the ground who could have fed us endless, useful intel about the status of infrastructure and targeted needs on the ground. This could have been established through satellite phones or internet connected to a laptop. This could have been done by any number of teams.
  • Imagery and Analysis/Planning Unit
    • To say that we were flying blind in terms of our tactical supply distribution decision-making capabilities wouldn’t be too far from the truth. We had hoped, from the beginning, to have useful satellite imagery to help determine the hardest-impacted areas by wind and storm surge. The Manila Observatory tried flying a small aircraft over the impacted area with limited success. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) contingent handed me a hard drive full of raw imagery that I was able to access for about one hour before they scooped it up and left Mactan in their 747. As I tried to look through the imagery, I realized that their imagery was 64-bit and my computer was 32-bit and I couldn’t do anything with the imagery. I also had about 30 other things to do during this hour. I know that the UN Charter for Space and International Disasters was activated during Haiyan and this made imagery available from a large number of sources.
    • The International Crisis Mappers network, established shortly after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, was not tied into our operations at Mactan. It is possible that this intel was used elsewhere on small scales by individual organizations or the UN, but I couldn’t find a single person (UN or otherwise) on the ground who was working with this group or leveraging crowd-sourced information. The information provided by this group was never operationalized. I am affiliated with this group but I had neither the time nor the bandwidth to coordinate with them. Going back post-Haiyan, I didn’t see all that much information that I could have readily made actionable had I spare cycles.
    • Despite these numerous efforts, we had little bandwidth available for analysis at Mactan. The only time I had available to do any kind of planning or analysis was between the hours of 11 PM and 4 AM.
    • We desperately needed a team of effective and intelligent planners and analysts, and we could have used them in our operations center at Mactan. This type of a team is a capability that should be planned, budgeted, and resourced for.
  • Disaster Collaboration Center
    • The Philippines desperately needs a national disaster collaboration center that has full participation from the private sector, the government, the AFP, nonprofits, and the international community. The Manila Observatory, because of its vast connections and high-level of trust throughout the country and around the world, is best positioned to lead this center. The biggest level of buy-in should come from the private sector because of its ability to move quickly, decisively, and because of its ability to support this level of collaboration financially.
  • Unified Command
    • One of the core tenets of the Incident Command System (ICS) is Unified Command. In almost every complex humanitarian emergency, having a single person in charge (Incident Commander) will be near-impossible to achieve. When multiple agencies have lead, these agencies should form a Unified Command structure where each organization’s lead is equally in charge, joined at the hip, and makes decisions only in concert with the other co-Incident Commanders.
    • When I first arrived, the NDRRMC stated that they were in charge, that they had a plan, and that they were acting on that plan. After 24 hours, it was crystal clear to me that there were no decisions being made and that if there was a plan, it was not being shared with everyone. The political situation for General Santiago was a delicate one. At the time, we was serving as the deputy Civil Military lead for the AFP. He had been sent in to advise and lead if necessary, but hadn’t been given a green light to take charge. He knew full-well that the NDRRMC was supposed to be in charge and he wanted to respect that. After three days of nonstop briefings to senior Filipino civilian and military leadership describing the inaction, hesitancy, and lack of control exhibited at Mactan, he was finally given the green light to take charge. From that point forward, he was the commanding officer in charge of the humanitarian relief effort at Mactan. All civilian and military decisions flowed through him. As his deputy, my responsibility was to make things happen. Despite this authority, he still was not able to serve in a coordinated command and control structure with few clear orders, priorities, and objectives coming down from General Headquarters (GHQ) in Manila. In the future, and as General Santiago fully realized and acknowledges, this Incident Command responsibility should fall with the Office of Civil Defense (of which the NDRRMC is a component). The AFP has the logistical manpower and capability to make things happen, so perhaps a Unified Command structure makes the most sense. The OCD is now currently run by a competent leader who has vast experience serving with the Filipino Navy. This is a step in the right direction, but clear authorities, and designation of responsibilities needs to be presented and enacted.
  • Civil Military Liaisons
    • The U.S. has well-trained civil affairs teams that are available to respond to natural disasters globally. These teams are often, but not always, comprised of U.S. Army Special Forces personnel. During my entire time at Mactan, we did not have a civil affairs team. I routinely asked Jimmy, Heath, and anyone in a U.S. uniform I could find to locate any civil affairs personnel and get them to Mactan immediately. I was never able to find any or get any assigned to Mactan. It was only six months after Haiyan made landfall while at a civil-military conference speaking to cadets at West Point that I met civil affairs personnel who were assigned to the operation. I met two Army Special Forces captains who led teams on the ground in Tacloban. Why no one was ever assigned to Mactan remains a mystery to me.
    • The UN also has civil-military liaisons to deploy to these types of disasters. There was an individual, Mark (former British Special Forces), who was assigned to Mactan, but he arrived approximately a week after me. Speeding up the deployment of these personnel should be escalated, and there should be one assigned to every major operations, planning, or logistics location where civilian and military personnel work together directly. In this case, these locations should have been, at a minimum, in Clark, Mactan, and each of the six downrange airfields.
  • Holding Relief Supplies
    • Both the WFP and UNHCR withheld aid to various locations. The leads on the ground at Mactan did everything in their power to move cargo to all areas, but evidently, in each organization, there were individuals (I believe at headquarters) who decided, for one reason or another, not to place program managers on the ground in certain sites (such as Guiuan and Ormoc). I also heard, through the grapevine, that these influential individuals were actually quite junior and not experienced logisticians or operators. The failure to place these program managers caused headquarters to hold aid for fear that it might “disappear” or be “misued.” This aid included food from WFP and shelters. The food was a paste that came as a hard block that needed water to be added. The shelters were individual family tents. For well over a week, we were not able to send aid to certain locations. The only way that we broke this was by me “accidentally” placing aid onto planes and informing the WFP and UNHCR personnel that I had made a mistake. This accident caused them to urge their chain of command to get a person on the ground immediately. Headquarters responded and program managers were on the ground rapidly. Knowing that this cause and effect would play out, I had planes already loaded and waiting for takeoff with food and shelter. Once these program managers were on the ground, we immediately hammered the neglected areas with this aid. Note that WFP was allowing the movement of high energy biscuits to all affected areas, but just restricting the movement of the paste. UNHCR was withholding the movement of all tents to certain areas. This inaction was the most frustrating part of my entire experience. If anyone reading this has more information or can enlighten me as to why these decisions were made, I am all ears.

My Growth

  • When people ask me “what did you learn?” from this experience, I always smile and laugh. My default answer would be “everything” but that never satisfies them. Appropriately answering this question forces me to dig down deep inside my psyche- to the core of who I am. When I think about what excites me the most in life, it is helping people and fixing big, complex problems in crisis environments. I value deep, meaningful relationships. My role in this response maxed me out in all those areas. This was, by far, the most I have ever been stretched personally or professionally. Prior to Haiyan, I had significant roles responding to large-scale disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and Hurricane Sandy, but this response tested me in so many new ways.
  • For two weeks, I was maxed out physically, mentally, and emotionally. I usually worked 20 hours daily. Even when I was supposed to be sleeping, I was planning, building, innovating, and strategizing. Due to our lack of unified communications, I resorted to running everywhere. Because of the urgency of each little task or problem, those runs usually turned into sprints. I think that I ran and sprinted seven miles daily in a humid, 110 degree F, sun-scorched heat. My brain was in overdrive; at any point in time I was storing, calculating, and role-playing cargo loads, logistics flows, and supply counts. There were times I was caught having four simultaneous conversations while holding a laptop in one hand and typing or placing a phone call in the other. To have a meeting with me, someone had to move with me. I’d often have three or four people walking alongside me while we all went to fix a problem somewhere. Did I get everything right? No way. Did I mess up? Absolutely. Did I give my all? Unquestionably.
  • Not too long before the typhoon hit, I had gone through a very rough breakup with someone whom I loved very much. Ever since, I had been looking to rebuild that kind of deep, meaningful connection. This experience distracted me from the breakup and put my mind to rest. I fell in love with the Filipino people- with their kindness, their generosity, their smiles, their laughter, their humility, their resilience, and their way of life. I refocused on my internal dive and mission in life. As weird as it may sound, I broke through my shell and saw my full potential. I regained confidence and strength and realized that I could tackle a crisis of any size or complexity. I felt like I could accomplish anything, and based on what people told me, I realized that I could take on any challenge and conquer it.
  • I’ve had numerous conversations with many of my closest friends about figuring out what we’re meant to do in this world, about finding our true passions, and maximizing our full potential. There was a point during my time in Cebu, probably about day ten, where I had that out-of-body “this is what I’m supposed to do with my life” moment. I remember exactly where I was standing. We had just finished loading an aircraft and I had a few spare minutes to breathe and think. You know those scenes in movies where inspirational music comes on, the character looks up at the sky, and the camera circles around them in their moment of triumph? That’s exactly what happened to me only there was no music and no camera. All of a sudden, it hit me. I was struck by the fact that I was world-class at what I was doing. I realized that I was doing the work of a dozen-person team. People had been telling me these things for almost two weeks but I had blocked it out. I try to stay humble and keep up the armor to brush off compliments, but at that moment, the words broke through the armor. Equally as important, as I looked around and did my own personal slow-motion movie circle looking at forklifts moving, trucks cruising by, aircraft engines starting up, planes taking off, and people running, I realized that there was no other place on Earth I’d rather be. This was the one exact spot in which I wanted to be standing, and this was the only work I wanted to be doing. The high I had during those five minutes of internal peace was something of which I had only dreamed. It hit me so hard I had to sit down and soak it in. I had found my calling and it floored me. I’ve been going off that high ever since.
  • I returned to the Philippines for the first time post-Haiyan in late February, 2015 to speak at a conference on global resilience that was sponsored by Shell. I used this opportunity to work on some of the after action items mentioned throughout this piece. Having drinks with General Santiago (now a one-star General and the Commandant of the Command and General Staff College of the AFP- the equivalent of National Defense University) and his aides one night, he paused the conversation to ask me a question that had been on his mind for the past year and a half. He was under the impression that I had been visiting the Philippines on other business as Typhoon Haiyan struck and that I had agreed to help out. I told him that I came out specifically at the request of the Manila Observatory to support him. He looked me straight in the eyes and asked me “why did you come to help us.” After taking a second to realize he was dead serious, I answered “because there were people suffering, they needed help, and I knew I could help them.” He asked the question several more times, in different ways, yet I responded identically. After the fourth round of interrogation, I read him a quote that sits inscribed on a memorial outside of Red Cross headquarters. It reads “wherever disaster calls there I shall go. I ask not for whom, but only where I am needed.” He smiled, crossed his arms, leaned back, and said “do you know that there’s a hospital named after you in Manila?” “Oh really?” I respond. He cast a knowing glance over at his deputy, Commander Manual (a playful and hilarious enlisted Filipino Marine-turned Navy officer who has both Navy SEAL and Marine Recon certifications), and the Commander took the lead from his boss, looked at me, and said, “Saint Luke’s.”Even though there is a hospital named Saint Luke’s in Manila, I knew that the naming of a hospital after me was a joke. Nonetheless, the way in which Commander Manuel brought the subject up, and the course of the entire conversation up to this point, made me lean back and take in the enormity of what they both had just said. While I would never claim to be a saint, or ever come close, I took the General’s and Commander’s comments to be directed to humanitarians across the globe. Like firefighters who walk calmly into burning buildings as everyone is running out, police officers who move towards gunfire, not away from it, medics, doctors, nurses, and public health professionals who run to the aid of people in death’s grasp, sometimes at great risk to their own lives, and military personnel who put themselves in harm’s way to defend a nation, disaster responders fly, drive, and ship into the most-devastated places in the world to keep alive, and alleviate the suffering of, people they don’t even know- regardless of race, class, or creed. I can’t explain what brings each of these people to their own respective calling, but I’m proud to call myself one of them.




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Gays in Scouts

The recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to openly ban gay scouts and leaders has re-sparked the debate on the place of gay people in American society. In reading through stories, report, blogs, comments, it seems that for every person who objects vehemently, there is someone who feels that the BSA made the right decision and has “stood its ground.”

I fall on the side of objection. As an Eagle Scout (there are very few things you can claim in life forever- being an Eagle Scout is one of them), I feel that I need to voice my opinion on the matter. The BSA will ultimately lean the way of the majority of its constituents and donors. In the world of talk show media, I feel that too many issues are boiled down into short clips that are feat neatly into one corner or another. I’m not going to address the larger issue of gay rights, but what I will draw upon here are my personal experiences and why I feel the way I do. If this article/letter serves any purpose, I hope that it shows people a new perspective into the life of someone who has spent a lot of time around Scouting, and I hope that my words reach those who are calling the shots for the BSA down in Texas. I hand-wrote this letter and it is already on it’s way down to Irving, Texas. I typed it up to share with others. I hope that my action here inspires others (especially Eagle Scouts) to speak up as well. If nothing else, I’ve drawn my line in the sand.

If you are an Eagle Scout, please read this letter and add your name if you would like to sign on: http://tinyurl.com/bo8eg6z

To Bob Mazzuca, Wayne Brock, Rex Tillerson, and the National Council,

My name is Luke Beckman and I am an Eagle Scout. I received my Eagle from Troop 111 in Arlington, VA in 2003. I have two younger brothers who are both Eagle Scouts out of Troop 111. I am writing to you today to express my feelings on the recent decision to openly ban both gay scouts and leaders from the BSA.

Please allow me to provide you with a little background on who I am and where I come from. I joined Troop 111 with a cohort of my best friends: most of whom I had known since elementary school. The adults all called us the “lab pups” since we were such a tight-knit group going through life together. Seven of us are Eagle Scouts today. I fell in love with Scouting right away, with the exception of the uniforms. They were hot, uncomfortable, the shorts were always way too short, and the socks never fit quite right…but you can’t have everything in life.

Uniforms aside, my Scouting experience was shaped by my peers, my adult leaders, the trips we went on, and the leadership and life lessons I learned. Through Scouting, I traveled to Canada two times, Switzerland, London, Philmont, the Wind River Range, Yosemite, and the Appalachians. I performed self-arrests on glaciers, I rappelled, took survival courses from world-class instructors, completed my canoeing merit badge paddling through four foot waves during a freak storm on a lake, cut fire lines, treated my crew for hypothermia, sang Night Rider’s Lament and Ghost Rider’s in the Sky around too many campfires to count while watching the sun dip below mountain peaks, and carried out an Eagle Project that still is in use by the community ten years later and counting. I will never forget those who shaped me into the man I am today: Dr. Bob, the Smiths, Rich, the Gerardens, Dan, Danger Rick, and dozens more.

I was so proud of my Scouting experiences that I wrote my college application essay to Stanford University about one of my High Adventures. Because of my experiences in Scouting, I became involved in disaster response. I have worked to save lives across the United States and around the globe. Whether it was Hurricane Katrina, the highlands of Guatemala, the jungles of Southeast Asia, the Haiti earthquake, wildfires, floods, or famines, I have never once backed down from the mission at hand. I would never have done any of this if it weren’t for Scouting, and I also believe that because of my training that started in Scouting, many people are alive today who otherwise would not be. I am not good at sitting passively on the sidelines when people are in need.

When people hear that I am an Eagle Scout, they know the prestige that is associated with this high honor. They have respect for the code and values that I have taken a lifelong oath to uphold. I have always been proud to call myself an Eagle Scout. Until today.

When I heard that the BSA publicly stated that they would ban gay scouts and leaders, I was appalled. Going through Scouts, we always knew that there was an unspoken policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but there was no overt, explicit discrimination posted on the walls to keep gays out of our Troop (even though there has technically been a 102-year rule banning gays from Scouts, but don’t forget we were driving Model T Fords back then). We all pretty much knew who was gay but we stuck by the motto of “Don’t Care. Doesn’t Matter.”

I realize that this decision has been debated internally at a very high level for at least two years, and I realize that a large percentage of Scouts adhere to either the Mormon or Roman Catholic faiths. In this light, due to the stance on gays that each of these faiths take, I can see that this was as much of a business decision as it was a religious/(im)moral decision for those involved in the debate. As a private organization, I respect the BSA’s right to choose, but I write to you today to let you know that you have deeply offended one family of Eagle Scouts, and my family never backs down without a fight. I was raised Roman Catholic and I have my own set issues with stances taken by the Church, but that’s a different issue. The good news is that the BSA, the Mormon Church, and the Catholic Church are all separate organizations. Imagine that. I remember swearing an oath to do my duty to God, but I don’t remember swearing to the God that disliked gay people by loved everyone else equally.

I understand the religious reservations that so many have that make them scared of gay people, but I will not convince you here to change your religious beliefs on account of my letter. What I will say is that gay people do exist, and if I ever learned anything in Sunday School, it was that God loved all of us for who we are, so who are we to put others below us? Doesn’t Scouting teach us all to rise above the bigotry and hatred in this world and to be the better man? Perhaps those Scouts who believe in the discrimination against gay people, or in the discrimination against anyone for that matter, aren’t worthy of the honor of calling themselves Scouts.

What kind of message do we send to young boys in America when some are welcome among our ranks, and some are not? I never once wondered or worried if a fellow Scout was gay or if he would hit on me. Many of my adult leaders were women. I never once worried about them hitting on me. We all smelled bad together.

I have always viewed the Boy Scouts as the unofficial youth version of the military. We wore uniforms, memorized oaths, assembled in formation, went through our own version of basic training, worked in service of others, trained in units, had awards and ranks, had strong connections to God and America, and so forth. With the recent decision to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell within the military, I was hopeful that the BSA would take a similar path towards desegregation. The military did not explode overnight, gays have not ruined the service (they were already serving), and it turns out that when you are out in the field, you don’t really care much about the sexual orientation of those who serve beside you as long as they have your back.

I don’t want to be all about criticism here so I would like to propose two alternate paths forward for the BSA.

1. Why don’t we let each Council or Troop make the decision on their own whether or not to include gays? That seems like a nice middle ground to me.

2. Why doesn’t the BSA ban all overweight and obese Scouts and leaders. I think that would have to include people Scouts and leaders living with disabilities if we believe in equality. We all pledge to keep ourselves physically strong, so why not? It’s pretty easy to pick all of them out of the crowd.

Through Scouting, I was taught to be strong, to stand my ground in the face of oppression, to respect and serve others, to put others before myself, and to live an honorable life of which I could be proud, and of which my descendants and ancestors could be proud. I hope that I am able to live up to these highest of standards. I hope that one day, the BSA will wake up and realize that they too, must live up to these standards. In the Eagle Scout charge, I was told that “An Eagle Scout lives honorably, not only because honor is important to him but because of the vital significance of the example he sets for other Scouts.” In banning gays from Scouting, we set the example that a very specific group of people are not welcome in our community because of who they are. Show me the honor in that stance.

I mentioned earlier that I was once proud to call myself an Eagle Scout. I hope that one day, soon, I will be able to look someone directly in the eye and say that I am proud to be an Eagle Scout, and that I am proud to have been a member of the Boy Scouts of America.

Yours in scouting,
Luke Beckman

PS- please look to the pictures below.

My first trip!

My cohort in the Swiss Alps. We are all now Eagle Scouts.

My last handshake as a Life Scout.

My brothers and me with our Scoutmaster, Dr. Bob, at my Eagle Court of Honor. All three of us are now Eagle Scouts and I’m now the shortest.

Mug shot.

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Congressional Support for Brain Injured Veterans

Please copy and send this letter and the following language to your Member of Congress.

Request: Contact Chairman Bill Young to support Appropriations Bill language to treat brain injury and PTSD //

Subject: Help Civilian Practitioners Solve the Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD Crisis among Veterans //

Dear Congressman/woman ______

War veterans today are in crisis. Are you satisfied with the way they are receiving treatment?

HR 396, the TBI Treatment Act, endorsed by the Brain Injury Caucus, requires payment for treatment that works for an individual patient, and collection of the treatment data under medical evidence rules to speed technological innovation. The attached suggested language is for the Defense Appropriations bill.

VA and DoD medicine have stated they are doing all they can do. On July 21, 2010, the House Veterans Affairs Committee heard from many civilian practitioners. Real treatment that actually improves patient outcomes was described. But practitioners could not get reimbursed for these treatments because the DoD and VA medical bureaucracies are requiring higher levels of evidence for these innovative, effective treatments than they require for drug treatments that only mask symptoms.

Many innovative and ethically available treatments discussed at the VA Round-Table have peer-reviewed literature and evidence to support their use. DoD and VA medicine have stated there is not enough evidence. Congress sent billions for research to DoD and VA, but those bureaucracies never tested many of these treatments that have been developed in the civilian sector. Many of these treatments are not patentable, which makes them very cost-effective, but they cannot attract private sector research dollars.

To solve this crisis a structural and strategic change to veteran medical treatment for TBI or PTSD is needed. Would a physician treat a broken leg with only counseling and drugs? No, they would address the underlying organic injury and work to enhance healing. It is little wonder that counseling and drugs (that only mask symptoms) have not repaired injured brains. Treatment needs to enable and enhance brain healing. The staggering costs of the current ineffective treatments plus injured service members leaving the services, undiagnosed and untreated, represent $millions in recruiting and training as well as follow-on care. These costs and losses are having, and will continue to have, significant budget impacts.

It is time to change this unjust situation for the Battle-Wounded. Private provider solutions are available, but there has been no mechanism to allow payment or allow scientific evidence from these available treatments to be collected. HR 396, the TBI Treatment Act, is designed to get these innovative treatments to our war veterans quickly. The language attached follows the TBI Treatment Act’s philosophy. We urge you to write or call the offices of Reps. Young (FL-10), Rogers (KY-05), and Sessions (TX-32), to assure support for appropriations language to treat brain injury. If you have not done so, we urge you to co-sponsor the Sessions’ TBI Treatment Act that authorizes immediately available, totally ethical and effective treatments.


Suggested Language for the Defense Appropriation Bill

The Committee is aware that there are several innovative treatments for Brain Trauma Injury (BTI) that are being promulgated and feels strongly that promising new treatments should be supported. Therefore the Committee strongly suggests that within the amounts appropriated $10M a year for five years ($50M) be provided by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct a five-year pilot program under which each such Secretary shall provide payment for innovative treatments (including diagnostic testing) of promising, beneficial technologies to treat traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder received by members of the Armed Forces and veterans in which the treatments are conducted in health care facilities other than military treatment facilities or Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities. The following criteria must be met for treatments to be funded: any drug or device used in the treatment must be approved or cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for any purpose and; the treatment must have been approved by an institutional review board operating in accordance with regulations issued by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Payments for successful treatments shall be made directly to the health care facility furnishing the treatment, and must occur not later than 30 days after a member of the Armed Forces or veteran (or health care provider on behalf of such member or veteran) submits to the Secretary documentation regarding the beneficial treatment. A plan for this pilot program shall be provided to the Committee within 30 days of the passage of this bill.

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Americans Helping Veterans

I feel very strongly about supporting our military. I have tried about a dozen times to join any one of the branches of our Armed Services and I have been turned down about a dozen times because I only have one kidney. My life as a Special Forces operator/pararescueman/flight surgeon/fighter pilot was not to be. Many in my family have served and my brother is in Air Force ROTC. I have many friends who I grew up with who are currently serving in uniform.

I learned long ago that joining the military was not the only was to serve our country. There are many ways to serve- I’ll get to that in a bit. Many of us are disconnected from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as many of the other places we have men and women standing guard so that we may face and confront our enemy on our terms and not theirs. I hope to close this disconnect just a little bit with this post.

I have worked a good number of years in the humanitarian world, and I have seen, first-hand, what war can do to individuals, families, and towns in places you hear about on the nightly news. War is messy: it always will be. It is our responsibility to elect leaders who will use our military might only when it is absolutely necessary, and we must also hold them accountable every step of they way- that’s why God invented the telephone, internet, democracy, and pen and paper– oh, and legs.

Now- we agree that we are at war, and we will be for the foreseeable future. There are a lot of people out there that disagree with American ideals, and many that disagree with our presence in their country, right or wrong. I am not trying to argue one way or another on that today.

I do believe that we send many of our young men and women into harm’s way and leave them behind once they do their duty. Remember how I said I would come back to how we can help serve our country? We can serve by serving them. Advances in battlefield medicine today keep more of our wounded alive when they previously would have died within minute, hours, or days. Roadside bombs (Improvised Explosive Devices and Explosively Formed Penetrators) rip through just about everything, and they are everywhere. Here’s a video of what one looks like exploding…
Here is a picture of what a HUMVEE looks like after it is hit by an IEDOne soldier was killed and three were wounded in the HUMVEE

Here’s a picture of what one of our service members looks like after getting hit by an IED

Here is another picture [Warning, very graphic] http://jameswagner.com/images/Lucian_Read_american-soldier-ramadi-wounded-by-ied-iraq-2006.jpg

And a few more

Now here’s the thing. Having talked to many of these wounded warriors, most don’t want you to feel bad for them. They want you to understand what they have gone through. Many would go back and serve with their units in a heartbeat. They all want to live a normal life. Normal… At this point, what is normal for them?

Normal, today, oftentimes, is being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. They battle depression, can’t sleep, get arrested for starting fights that they have no knowledge as to why they started them, they get divorced, lose their job, can’t remember their child’s name or day of the week. Many take upwards or more than 20 different pills. Most of these pills are prescribed off-label, meaning that they are being taken to treat side effects that other pills are causing. Many of these pills have “Suicide Warning” labels. “Normal” is seeing a psychologist a few times a week who tells you that you need to “learn to overcome your brain injury and fight through it.” They are taught how to balance better and remember things more easily. We work to reprogram their brains. That’s all well and good, but it is extremely hard to do when you brain is physically damaged and not functioning properly. In fact, life is hard when your brain is messed up.

It is estimated that 1/3 of all of our veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from TBI/PTSD: that’s 600,000 people.

If you really want to hear a story of how much a hidden injury can hurt, look no further than this story NPR: Suicide By Cop

Here’s the thing; I firmly believe that we must do everything in our power to make sure our wounded veterans get every last bit of modern medicine that they deserve. The honest fact is that our men and women are not getting all the treatment they deserve. This is why I decided to do my part. I joined forces with the National Brain Injury Rescue and Rehabilitation (NBIRR) Project. We are trying a revolutionary new treatment that we hope may heal the brain by using hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). HBOT is used all over the world for burns, the “bends” from diving, diabetic foot wounds, and many other treatments. HBOT is not yet approved by the FDA for treating brain injury, but I have seen it work on the few patients we have treated thus far.The goal with the NBIRR Project is to cover the costs for wounded veterans to be treated with HBOT, collect the data, and hopefully demonstrate that the treatment works to heal the brain. From there, hopefully, the FDA will approve the used of HBOT to treat TBI, and from there, hopefully, military health insurance providers (TriCare and the VA) will reimburse people who choose to get treated. From there, we hope that this becomes available to the general public. The reason we need to pay for the treatments is because service members don’t make enough money to pay for the uninsured treatments (A hospital will normally charge $1,300/hour. We have gotten providers to charge $250/hour.) Oh, and also- I do not receive any of this money. You can ask Chase or Wachovia and they will prove it.

Here is some more information and resources on HBOT: http://nbirrfund.org/, http://www.hbot.com/, http://www.slideshare.net/lukembeckman/nbirr-briefing.

Dealing with brain injured veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, doing only what we are doing today- treating symptoms and not healing the brain- will cost over $1.35 trillion…that’s more money than Congress has actually allocated for combat operations in both wars combined.

This cause has become my passion, and if you know me- once I get started on something, there is no stopping me. Here’s my challenge to you- it’s simple.

Pledge that you will help to treat, and hopefully heal or improve the health of a wounded veteran. Imagine your son, daughter, friend, brother, sister, mom, dad, cousin, teammate, wife, or husband experienced a traumatic brain injury. Would you do everything in your power to make sure they got the best treatment possible? I would. I hope you would. I have three very close family friends who have suffered a severe brain in jury in the past few years. I will not stop until I know I have done everything in my power to ensure they have tried everything to get healthy. It is the least I can do. I would hope they did the same for me.

If you are willing to serve with me, to serve our veterans, join me here

Americans Helping Veterans: http://www.thepoint.com/campaigns/campaign-0-2358


Or here

Campaign to Treat TBI and PTSD: http://www.razoo.com/story/Nbirr

And remember, if you see a veteran and don’t know what to say…it’s very easy to just go up, shake their hand, or hold their shoulder, look them in the eye, and say “Thanks for your service.”

Thank you for your service.


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San Bruno Fire After Action Report/Technology Debrief

San Bruno Fire Blog Post

This is transcribed from the After Action Report from the unofficial Technology Debrief after the San Bruno Gas Explosion and Fire.  The Debrief was called by me (Luke Beckman), formerly the Director of Disaster Operations for InSTEDD, and 32 people participated in the debrief hosted at Google. The After Action report and its excerpts were compiled by Carnegie Mellon University-Silicon Valley’s (CMU-SV) Disaster Management Initiative (DMI) team. There was a wide range of participants, representing many critical organizations involved in disaster operations in the San Francisco Bay Area in California.

Case Study- San Bruno Gas Pipeline Explosion:

At 6:00 PM PDT, on Thursday Sept 9, 2010, there was a rupture in a two-foot gas pipeline in San Mateo County, California, escalating to a six-alarm fire by 7:23 PDT that ended up completely destroying 37 homes and damaging an additional 18. There were eight fatalities, dozens of injured, and hundreds were evacuated.  At 8:52 PM, a CAL-EMA Fire Management Assistance Grant was submitted. Strike, search and rescue, and damage assessment teams were all ready and staging by 9:00 PM, but would ultimately not go out until the scene was safer at first light Sept 10. At 10:25 PM, I sent out an email to emergency managers across the Bay Area asking “how can we coordinate effectively?”

This email triggered a complex set of coordination activities that interlinked formal and ad-hoc crisis response capabilities for the rest of the event. In response to the email from me, the Planning Section Chief on scene requested advanced mapping and imagery capabilities. Mapping personnel would not ultimately affect fire suppression operations, but rather allow certain members of the incident command team to have better situational awareness, and to allow fire investigators and search teams to have a more accurate picture of the scene prior to deployment.

The first team of three mappers was dispatched to the Incident Command Post, at no cost, at 1:12 AM Sept 10, and they arrived at 2:00 AM. All information that had been requested by the Planning Section Chief was ready by 7:00 AM for the Incident Planning Briefing. Shortly thereafter, aerial imagery had been taken by one of the mapping team, working in tandem with a CalFire Air Attack crew. Over the next several days, approximately six mapping teams would work in direct support of incident operations, exceeding the requests of the Incident Command staff.

This adhoc capability was only unleashed and leveraged because of close personal relationships because of the high level of flexibility exhibited by the volunteer mapping teams, and because of the swarm potential of the volunteer technical community. This is NOT standard operating procedure, and emergency managers cannot, today, reliably depend on this level of capability, working with this level of speed and flexibility—but they could be. We should expect and demand this level of efficacy and response across the country, from the neighborhood to the federal levels.

Menlo Park Fire Chief, Harold Schapelhouman, who was the original Planning Section Chief at the incident, wrote an email to me and a few other individuals a few days after the fire was suppressed. It read:

“I can’t begin to express our appreciation for what you all did and continue to do for this incident. Thank you for reaching out and allowing us to take advantage of not only our relationship but also the talents of your organization and network. I haven’t seen all of the good work that was done but I know you guys were considered super stars and I think in the days, weeks and months to come the quality of your work and capabilities of merging advanced mapping and information technology with first responders will be seen for the tremendous benefit that it was to this incident.”


Excerpts from the After Action Report: Some Observations and Lessons Learned

  • The initial volunteer teams, once assembled, were coordinated and dispatched using a GeoChat text message group (with zero previous training and the group was stood up on the fly). This was a highly effective means of communication, but the mapping component of GeoChat was not utilized. GeoChat is a free and open source, multi-channel group coordination tool that was developed by InSTEDD.
  • There was duplication of mapping effort, by several different actors including: relief teams lacking information or access to previous work; by teams on the ground (e.g., ESRI folks mapping in the Emergency Operations Center [EOC] and volunteer mappers at the Incident Command Post [ICP]); by different agencies (e.g., work conducted by a volunteer working with PG&E which overlapped with volunteer mapper work).
  • Even several weeks after the incident, all professional and volunteer activities are not known. For example there are stories still floating around that this group has not been able to check: San Francisco Fire Department saved a neighborhood from being burned by covering homes in fire retardant foam, many animals were rescued, burned victims were found by local citizens, etc…. On the law enforcement side, a lot happened as well, but these entities have not been involved in this specific process- it is heavy on the fire side.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) job improved with early GPS tags (provided by the mapping team) of fluorescent-tagged blast sites before scene was disrupted. This made data analysis possible; they did not have that level of detail before this specific incident.
  • Information was lost in hand-offs. For example: At the EOC, the point person’s email address was lost in the transfer of teams around 6:30am Saturday; URL location of google team “my maps” did not get transferred to next team. Reasons include: not knowing who to hand off information to; not giving information to the right person (e.g., The Google team gave login information to people working in their area, but it didn’t make it to the hand-off team). The first wave of volunteers transferred KML files to the Google team, but they did not receive GIS or paper maps.
  • Communication among professional groups initially was with face-to-face meetings. (Teams would initaially drive in a truck from the ICP to the EOC to show the Google team’s maps). The team eventually got the main email address for the EOCso that mappers didn’t have to drive to the EOC.
    • Missing communication links: San Bruno EOC feedback needed to field EOC – names of people needing transport. Need help in search phase. Need who is missing. ICP did not know that the CISCO Networked Emergency Response Vehicle (NERV) had been put on alert or even stood down.
    • San Mateo Sheriff Search and Rescue team didn’t know about availability of map products from mapping volunteers.
  • Mapping was done online and offline. Transition across online and offline was not always smooth.
  • Paper maps were initially made by driving to Kinko’s or by using printers in the EOC.
  • Cell phone connectivity was patchy and especially poor at night. Mapping teams established connectivity with a combination of phones of different carriers, and used a mobile WiFi hotspot.
  • Maps showing impacted area, total number of dwellings were priceless for American Red Cross for planning and locating evacuation and shelter sites. [Note – this statement was recorded from George Smith, but Mark Lowpensky notes: “I know the evac site was identified before any mapping was done and I believe the shelters were also all identified before any mapping was started.” (These items both occurred Thursday night and that statement has been corroborated)]
  • Missing data cross-linking. APN numbers and who owned what homes would have helped.
  • Volunteer mappers were deployed to the ICP and EOC.
  • How volunteers were recruited – tenuous connection, relied on personal relationships. The only way that volunteer mappers were recruited was because Harold Schapelhouman had worked with Luke Beckman and knew of his work in Haiti. Chief Schapelhouman was working with e-mail to send the FMAG (CAL-EMA Fire Management Assistance Grant email) when he saw e-mails from both Peter Ohtaki of the CA Resiliency Alliance and Luke Beckman offering assistance. Luke used his personal connections to activate volunteers in the field. Jeannie Stamberger, of the DMI, used Twitter and volunteer group to recruit mapping volunteers. Concern on the tenuousness of this connection (e.g., what if Luke was asleep?), and the lack of availability of volunteer resources to those without these personal connections. This needs to change to a system which has more connections (making it more robust) and where use of volunteers is not dependent on personal connections.
  • Could have provided more volunteer mappers. Two volunteer mappers were sent to the field on Saturday, based on known needs. However we received 7 offers of assistance within 2 hours of the notice going out, with 7 additional offers and an offer of a gigapan by noon on Saturday, and 4 additional offers of assistance Saturday afternoon including a trained survey mapping and 3-D mapping team (Terrain Lab from SRI) and a forensic anthropology team (Foothill college Dept of Anthropology. Because the request went out at 8pm on Friday night, offers of assistance were low because many people had logged off for the night. Because it was over a weekend we only received notice on Monday about the availability of the Nokia/Navtek 3-D laser image car; requests would have pursued availability if the need was expressed. Note from Mark Lowpensky of San Mateo SAR:  “I am not sure if it was the volunteered Gigapan, but NTSB did take panoramic pictures of the scene.”
  • Difficulty of Volunteers Offering services: Cisco knew the event happened immediately and were prepared to offer their services, however, they couldn’t contact the EOC because Cisco didn’t have cell phone numbers of people in the EOC. Harold noted phone numbers aren’t usually helpful because everyone is calling them. Solution: be part of a pre-packaged process incorporated into Computer Aided Dispatch so you get the call rather than calling them.  Mark Lowpensky notes re Cisco and the EOC: “It is better to call dispatch and use land lines and not rely on cell phones (being in CAD is the best, but you could always get a message to someone in the field through dispatch.”
  • Cisco observed ICS worked– fire and law worked well together. Harold Shapelhouman said they used a “border-drop” system that was very effective. This system essentially allows resources from one jurisdiction to seamlessly support efforts in another jurisdiction when summoned. Each area covers the back of other areas.
  • For the first time a public “my map” generated for the emergency was spammed and had to be shut down.
  • Data accuracy was a problem in the field. It would have been helpful to have phone numbers of people providing data or making previous iterations of maps to call when a data conflict arose.
  • Manual geo-tagging was conducted. Google team went out with cameras and GPS and pen and paper and recorded images of damaged cars (spray-painted with a number) and GPS waypoints of damaged cars and houses. This process was manually cross-referencing uploaded photos in picassa, and linking them with geotagged waypoints, (B for building). Data was not complete. Photos are very useful (worth a thousand words).  Geotagged photos are really helpful…When data were aggregated.. with paper mapped data, and data was incomplete and inaccurate. Orientation of image is important.
  • Mappers received data dumps from responders. People would come by and drop off paper – written on paper, hand drawn things. Responders didn’t know how to effectively interface with volunteers.
  • Primarily one way data transfer. While people gave data to be entered into maps, maps containing this information were not widely requested. This could be 1) people didn’t know about mapping efforts 2) didn’t know how to use
  • Observations from Mark Lowpensky
    • – Need for hardware for outputting maps
    • – Confusion caused by open vs secured wireless access points (concern of media using networks is one of the reasons for them to be closed)
    • – Volunteers need to come up with a list/cheat sheet of things we might ask the EOC for, such as to use ArcView to export the parcel data for a specific area so we don’t need to deal with data for the whole city/county, or access into ESRI. (Google Earth Pro may not choke, but it will take a LONG time.)
  • Aerial Imagery– The Incident Command Team wanted aerial imagery- they immediately thought super high tech and “Satellites.” Due to the lengthy process of getting the required permissions, retasking a satellite, possiblity of smoke or fog cover, and the short time window in which to shoot before an 8:00 AM briefing on Friday morning, the decision was made on around 5:00 AM to use a Cal Fire plane and a digital camera. These photos were then geocoded on Google Earth and delivered to the State, federal entities, and the Governor’s office.

Background for Technical Volunteers/Responders

  • There are two types of maps: strategic and tactical. Strategic maps may be produced every 12 hours and will be used to provide a situation summary to city managers, media etc. Tactical maps are small-scale maps specific for a task/team and are produced every few hours. Tactical maps are printed maps used in the field with constantly updated information.
  • Professional first responders want to use paper maps. Getting color maps in the field is still an issue; these are often needed. Laser printers are preferred to inkjet, because ink from inkjet printers run when paper is wet. Additional mapping features may improve utility of printed tactical maps such as shrinking placeholder, universal utility in black/white or color printing, and optimizing for small-scale maps (e.g., the scale of a few houses).
  • Not having to pay for civilian services speeds use of services. Payment requires figuring out who will pay, delaying use of services. Or if things were prepaid or covered…
  • What is an ICS Information Unit? The content of an “Information Unit” depends on if it is Fire or Law. It can be for public information or investigation purposes (e.g. curates clues in an investigation for detectives); however, it is not general information support for emergency ops, such as maps, computers, IT, communications. The latter is an unmet service by the ICS that we could create and civilians provide.
  • When generating maps, must be careful about the level of detail which is made publically available, or put on strategic maps shown to the media. For example, maps made presented to media removed location of fatalities. However, this information is extremely important on tactical maps.
  • ICS does not have a post for interacting with civilians. The ICS post who knows who has pre-existing intel is probably logistics.
  • Incident Action Plan (IAP) is normally updated for each operational period (8 or 12 hours – according to Mark Lowpensky),  and printed for the next period (although Jim Varner notes they are produced every few hours). These are needed as hard copies (printed on paper) and digital copies (because most emergency operators are using computers (Word Docs or PDF forms to fill in) to generate the IAPs). Integration of maps into IAPs is needed: For example, South san Francisco chief who asked for printouts to embed into IAP.
  • Difficult to offer services currently. Even if you have the phone number of a commander, they receive so many calls you will be unlikely to get a hold of them. Cisco had the problem of not having phone numbers to call when they heard about the event.
  • How to get through. It is better to call dispatch and use land lines and not rely on cell phones. Being in  CAD is the best, but you could always get a message to someone in the field through dispatch. (-Mark Lowpensky). Pre-event training and familiarization can work to solve this problem.

Comprehensive Timeline of Events

September 9, 2010 (Thursday)

  • 18:00
    • 18:11 – USGS Richter Scale 1.1 event due to explosion
    • 18:12 – Initial dispatch SMC Public Safety Communications Center
    • 18:14 – Second Alarm
    • 18:19 – Third Alarm
    • 18:22 – Fourth Alarm
    • 18:25 – Alameda County Strike Team Request
    • 18:33 – Fifth Alarm
    • 18:44 – Chief 1 – Attached to Incident
    • 18:46 – Alameda County Strike Team Request
  • 19:00
    • 19:23 – Sixth Alarm
  • 20:00
    • 20:52 – CAL-EMA Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) Submittal
  • 21:00
    • CISCO NRV requested Thursday night by CalFire around 9pm/10pm to provide comm. (later stood down)
    • Chief George Devendorf teams are ready to do a damage assessment at 9pm, but could not go out until the morning because of safety.
    • UNKNOWN TIME: From Mark Lowpensky- I know the evac site was identified before any mapping was done and I believe the shelters were also all identified before any mapping was started. (These items both occurred Thursday night)
  • 22:00
    • 22:25 – Luke Beckman’s email – San Bruno Fire – How can we coordinate effectively?
  • 23:00
    • over 6 hours later at the command level people don’t really know the situation. This is not unusual, because early stages of disasters are  dynamic situations. For example, the pipeline was open for 2 hours,  People dead, etc

September 10, 2010 (Friday)

  • 00:00
  • 01:00
    • 0112 – Luke email – Names of Mapping team (Clay Zach and Jake)
  • 02:00
    • Arrival of time of mapping team briefing (estimate) and 3 initial objectives.
    • mapping team collects at 2am, give maps to everyone at the command post, but not good connectivity from ad hoc field set up to the EOC. Zach and Harold drove and met and given the map – questioned level of accuracy.
    • 02:30am City manager had sig/mod/light assessment of damage to homes, rough number of cars, burn victims, fatalities.
    • 02:38:  Luke Beckman calls Jeannie Stamberger to NASA UAVs with IR capability to see through fog (J. did not receive call; UAVs unlikely to have been permissible)
    • 02:45: meeting with the San Bruno EOC email address – Request Fatality Layer.
    • Need map for 7/8am public information meeting. Concerned with use of map because it showed exact location of the homes – mapping team eliminated that information.
  • 03:00
  • 04:00
  • 05:00
  • 06:00
    • 0630- Deputy Chief Campbell (MPFPD) arrives and assumes planning activities
  • 07:00
    • 0700 – Incident Planning Briefing
  • 08:00
    • Search, Investigation and Damage Assessments (Information Requests)
  • 09:00
    • Clay Sader begins process of acquiring aerial imagery in a CalFire plane.
  • 10:00
  • 11:00
    • Google mapping group is on the scene (Brian and Christiaan); receive KML files from first wave team (Zach Jake and Clay)
  • 12:00
  • 13:00
  • 14:00
    • 1400 Site Walk with Brian and Christian – GPS layer home and Vehicle Layer
  • 15:00
    • Jeannie calls Luke to see if he needs any assistance.
    • 1530 Christian asked if we wanted the pan-cam  – confirmed we wanted it.
  • 16:00
  • 17:00
  • 18:00
    • Luke requests mapping volunteers via phone.
  • 19:00
    • Jeannie starts recruiting mapping volunteers using Crisiscamp volunteers registrants, crisiscommons google group lists, dmi-group email list, dmi LinkedIn account and cmusv-dmi Twitter account, and webmapsocial group.
    • 19:48 Mapping volunteer emails and Eventbrite requesting assistance created  “URGENT – San Bruno Mapping Posse”; send to 250 members attending CrisisCampSiliconValley. Tweets also sent out.
    • 19:56 First response to request
  • 20:00
    • 20:00: San Mateo Search and Rescue found out about mapping , but there was no way to create hard copy maps.
    • 20:00 Volunteer mapping Email sent to CrisisCommons
    • 20:12: First retweet of volunteer request. RT @cmusv_dmi: URGENT: Officials need expert volunteer mappers TOMORROW (Sat am) on ground to map San Bruno fire #sanbrunofire…
    • 20:46: DMI members active on tweeting San Bruno fire info: RT @cmusv_dmi: Twitter list for San Bruno fire updates #sanbrunofire #fire http://bit.ly/c5lo7A #sanbrunofire
  • 21:00
  • 22:00
    • Google mappers had created non-public Google earth “My maps” with agency information and were prepared to hand off the information, but didn’t know how/who to hand off to.
    • By this time we have 4 volunteers and send out message that the need is filled. First retweet of that message at 22:03: RT @cmusv_dmi: NEED FILLED – Thanks! re: expert volunteer mappers TOMORROW … San Bruno fire #sanbrunofire http://bit.ly/cUdxlb
    • By 22:17 we have 5 qualified tech volunteers recruited to map at 8am Saturday morning
  • 23:00

September 11, 2010 (Saturday)

  • 00:00
  • 01:00
  • 02:00
  • 03:00
  • 04:00
  • 05:00
  • 06:00
  • 07:00
  • 08:00
    • Volunteer mappers Sumathi and Sanjay arrive at San Bruno EOC for duty
    • 8:20 AM    Lessly Fields    Call from PG&E for help.  Coordinate utilities and mapping. Lessly would get me mapping people contacts
    • 8:21 AM    Coggeshall    email First Map complete and up on comopview.org/sbmap
    • 8:42 AM    Lessly Fields    email with location information
    • 8:53 AM    Riordan    call to get local water utility
    • 8:55 AM    Leles    call to get local water utility
    • 8:57 AM    Eric Beckles    call to get local water utility
  • 09:00
    • 9:10 AM    Lessly Fields    email requesting CUEA support
    • 9:11 AM    Henry Degroot    call to get local water utility
    • 9:13 AM    Simunovich    call to get local water utility
    • 9:18 AM    Coggeshall    Email about Google request for mapping
    • 9:19 AM    Coggeshall    Call to get mapping started
    • 9:24 AM    Simunovich    email with cal water contacts
    • 9:25 AM    South City    Call Water
    • 9:29 AM    Lessly Fields    email with LAC and Logistics contacts
  • 10:00
    • 10:03 AM    Lessly Fields    email with phone number for logistics
    • 10:08 AM    Lessly Fields    Give update and get logistics person
    • 10:16 AM    Lessly Fields    Email connecting me to PG&E GIS
    • 10:16 AM    Tony Carasco    Email from Cal water connecting me to water utility
    • 10:16 AM    Elizabeth Proctor    Email from GIS starting mapping and laptop
    • 10:17 AM    Elizabeth Proctor    Start coordination for mapping, put Elizabeth in contact with Dave
    • 10:17 AM    PG&E E&O    Contact logistics for status on Laptop for LAC
    • 10:24 AM    South San Francisco 2    Contacted Water Utility for San Bruno
    • 10:28 AM    Eric Beckles    Eric gave me his contacts for water company
    • 10:30 AM    South San Francisco    Talked to Public Works
    • 10:35 AM    Doug Wisman, CalEMA    Doug put me in touch with Public Works rep at the LAC
    • 10:54 AM    Coggeshall    Update from Dave on Mapping Efforts
  • 11:00
    • Sumathi and Sanjay receive instructions
    • 11:05 AM    Elizabeth Proctor    udate on mapping and delivery of the laptop
    • 11:10 AM    Coggeshall    Update on status
    • 11:16 AM    Lessly Fields    Gave lessly and update on status of utilities and mapping
    • 11:30 AM    Coggeshall    Email Dave starting mapping with PG&E
    • 11:40 AM    Lessly Fields    Followup on laptop and status at LAC
    • 11:50 AM    Elizabeth Proctor    email data for first map coming soon
  • 12:00
    • 12:05 PM    Elizabeth Proctor    Update on laptop delivery to LAC and hand off to staff
    • 12:18 PM    Steve Frew    Advised that he would not be needed to take over the LAC utilities desk
    • 12:19 PM    Elizabeth Proctor    Email data sent
    • 12:55 PM    Coggeshall    Email 65 Meg’s of data to dave
  • 13:00
    • 1:36 PM    Coggeshall    Update on Dave working with data
  • 14:00
    • Hole was pumped out at 2pm in afternoon on Saturday .
    • 2:19 PM    Henry Degroot    Followup on earlier call
  • 15:00
    • 3:47 PM    Elizabeth Proctor    mapping update
    • 3:53 PM    Elizabeth Proctor    mapping update
    • 3:54 PM    Elizabeth Proctor    Email Jody from PG&E Google Earth joins group
    • 3:54 PM    Coggeshall    Email – Dave connected with Jody
  • 16:00
    • 4:01 PM    Cummings    email jody will have kml file soon
    • 4:14 PM    Coggeshall    email, dave received first data and producing map
    • 4:35 PM    Coggeshall    Mapping update
    • 4:52 PM    Cummings    email Jody prepared KMZ file for google earth
  • 17:00
    • Sumathi and Sanjay leave EOC
    • 5:57 PM    Coggeshall    Google Earth Update
    • 5:58 PM    Coggeshall    email update from dave
  • 18:00
    • 6:31 PM    Cummings    emailed updated kmz file for google earth
    • 6:41 PM    Coggeshall    email new website up with multiview
    • 6:59 PM    Coggeshall    Map moving to Google Earth
  • 19:00
    • 7:00 PM    Wollbrinck    Email to lessly to password protect map
    • 7:01 PM    Lessly Fields    email, agreed with PW and Thanked for help
  • 20:00
  • 21:00
  • 22:00
  • 23:00

September 12, 2010 (Sunday)

  • 12:11 PM    Coggeshall    Mapping update
  • 12:34 PM    Coggeshall    Mapping update
  • 2:55 PM    Coggeshall    Mapping update
  • 4:58 PM    Coggeshall    Map now on web, my maps and google earth

Next Steps resulting from the event and the Debrief

A working group was established, with meetings and sustained interest by the Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley Disaster Management Initiative (DMI) to develop solutions within the geographic area of San Mateo County (particularly Menlo Park and San Bruno) initially focusing on mapping data/technology to communicate among people and the data infrastructure move information, involving the following actors: NGOs/for profit/for profit tech/volunteers/Emergency management/government, and organization that have overlaps among them. Projects for immediate development include: 1) Push Package of Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD)-dispatched pre-identified resources 2) Registry of Free Volunteer Civilian Services, 3) Emergency Mapping Volunteer Operating Manual 4) Tool Development for Emergency Mapping Needs.

Summary of Immediate Projects: 1) Push Package of CAD-dispatched pre-identified resources 2) Registry of Free Volunteer Civilian Services, 3) Emergency Mapping Volunteer Operating Manual 4) Tool Development for Emergency Mapping Needs. Detailed descriptions are below.

Push Package of CAD-dispatched pre-identified resources
A push package would be a CAD-activated package of pre-identified resources identified in advance of the event which can be called upon by professional first responders during an emergency. This would avoid the problem of requiring personal relationships to call on civilian resources and the problem of someone not getting the call.  Initially identified components included:

  • Network of people to call on
      1. NetGuard FEMA pilot project to org IT, vol, equip, to provide temp. IT service to EOCs or relief organizations; stage is identifying potential needs (e.g., mapping)
      2. Disaster Asset Registry (AidMatrix, contact is Keith Thode). Identify private sector donated resources that could be donated under incident command with emergency contact info of people in the company who can release that resource (e.g., CISCO NRV); targeted around donated resources; stage:  populating registry.
    • InfraGard Bank of volunteers who have been screened through FBI records check. InfraGard and NetGuard are making some effort to coordinate with each other. Questions can be directed to Rich Davies of the Western Disaster Center, and a CMU DMI affiliate.
  • Access to standard formats for emergency mapping (either through use by civilian mappers or first responders)
  • Process is needed wherein emergency responders can work in advance with a resource representative to establish which packages they are suited to and then to have them added to the dispatch package.

Harold Schapelhouman notes that they don’t have a package for a field command post now.
The working group would work to develop additional components for the push package based on needs of professional first responders at the San Bruno fire.

Registry of Free Volunteer Civilian Services
The registry provides a network of civilians skills (e.g., technical skills such as computer mapping, veterinarians) for emergency responders to immediately draw on in an emergency. (The registry may focus on individuals contributing their time rather than organizations) The registry would be incorporated into the computer aided dispatch system, so professional first responders can access civilian resources without  personal connections. The registry would have lists of phone numbers and skills/talents/capabilities of civilian volunteers offering their services for free in an emergency. The registrants would be:

  • credentialed,
  • be managed with a civilian command and control system,
  • have a code of conduct,
  • be briefly familiar with ICS and the rigors of working in a ICP
  • show up supplies to support themselves for 12 hours
  • show up with basic equipment to accomplish their missions (e.g., laptops)
  • focus on mapping, but ultimately include a range of skills requested by EOCs (e.g. veterinarians to support SAR activity)

A prototype registry will be developed immediately using list of people attending the debrief meeting and volunteer mappers that responded to the call (see Appendix “Civilian Resources Network”). Maturation of the registry will require addressing several issues which need to be resolved to achieve a working registry:

  • How to credential volunteers
    • About: Problem with the friend of a friend is they can’t cross the security line. Harold had to get these guys to get across the line. Security gets tighter,  no uniform or ID.

Emergency Mapping Volunteer Operating Manual

  • 1-2 pager “operating manual” for mapping volunteers. This can address several issues:
    • Credentialing;
    • List of standard operating procedure
    • Smooth transition across shift teams; hand-off; to avoid loss of information
    • battalion chief is the intersection…
    • avoid duplication of work,
    • ensure mapping people are connected with the right people on scene and understand different places where mapping may be going on, the different types of information.

Tool Development for Emergency Mapping Needs

  • Custom icons in a tray. Use Google in-house disaster items as starter list?
  • Feature requests for mapping tools – e.g., being able to print at scale, gridlines for UTM and NGS grids, mechanism for tiling
  • Create standards and best practices for emergency mapping volunteers. Standards would include data formats (e.g., KML, .csv).  Standards/best practices would meet a number of needs identified in San Bruno experience including:
    • smoothing the online/offline transition
    • prevent need for duplication
  • Immediate mapping need: Ask Harold Schapelhouman if he needs technical assistance with final mapping layers he identified
  • Development of a standard push package or template for emergency mapping –e.g., it would have necessary layers already included, appropriate icons, data in standard formats etc. The working group will identify what this should look like.

NTSB Official Report

National Transportation Safety Board

Washington, D.C. 20594

Preliminary Report

  • Accident No.: DCA10MP008
  • Type of System: 30-inch natural gas transmission pipeline
  • Accident Type: Pipeline rupture
  • Location: San Bruno, CA
  • Date: September 9, 2010
  • Time: About 6:11 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time
  • Owner/Operator: Pacific Gas & Electric Company
  • Fatalities/Injuries: Eight fatalities, multiple injuries
  • Pipeline Pressure: 386 pounds per square inch gauge (psig) at the time of rupture
  • Quantity Released: Approximately 47.6 million standard cubic feet (MMSCF)

On September 9, 2010, at approximately 6:11 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time(1), a 30-inch diameter natural gas transmission pipeline (Line 132) owned and operated by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) ruptured in a residential area in San Bruno, California. On September 10, the NTSB launched a team to California to investigate this tragedy. Vice Chairman Christopher Hart was the NTSB Board Member on scene in San Bruno.

The rupture on Line 132 occurred near mile post (MP) 39.33, at the intersection of Earl Avenue and Glenview Drive in the city of San Bruno. Approximately 47.6 million standard cubic feet (MMSCF) of natural gas was released as a result of the rupture. The rupture created a crater approximately 72 feet long by 26 feet wide. A pipe segment approximately 28 feet long was found about 100 feet away from the crater.  The released natural gas was ignited sometime after the rupture; the resulting fire destroyed 37 homes and damaged 18. Eight people were killed, numerous individuals were injured, and many more were evacuated from the area.

The Incident Command was set up by the local fire department. The immediate response by local emergency responders, as well as three strategic drops of fire retardant and water by air, assisted in stopping the spread of the fire.

According to PG&E records, Line 132, which is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), was constructed using 30-inch diameter steel pipe (API 5L Grade X42) with 0.375-inch thick wall. The pipeline was coated with hot applied asphalt, and was cathodically protected. The ruptured pipeline segment was installed circa 1956. The specified maximum operating pressure (MOP) for the ruptured pipeline was 375 pounds per square inch gauge (psig). According to PG&E, the maximum allowable operating pressure for the line was 400 psig.

Just before the accident, PG&E was working on their uninterruptable power supply (UPS) system at Milpitas Terminal, which is located about 39.33 miles southeast of the accident site. During the course of this work, the power supply from the UPS system to the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system malfunctioned so that instead of supplying a predetermined output of 24 volts of direct current (VDC), the UPS system supplied approximately 7 VDC or less to the SCADA system. Because of this anomaly, the electronic signal to the regulating valve for Line 132 was lost. The loss of the electrical signal resulted in the regulating valve moving from partially open to the full open position as designed. The pressure then increased to 386 psig.  The over-protection valve, which was pneumatically activated and did not require electronic input, maintained the pressure at 386 psig.

At about 5:45 p.m., the SCADA system indicated that the pressure at Martin Station, which is downstream of the rupture location, exceeded 375 psig. The SCADA system indicated that the pressure at Martin Station continued to increase until it reached about 390 psig at about 6:00 p.m. At 6:08 p.m., it dropped to 386 psig. At 6:11 p.m., the pressure at Martin Station decreased from 386 to 361.4 psig; within one minute the pressure dropped to 289.9 psig.

PG&E dispatched a crew at 6:45 p.m. to isolate the ruptured pipe section by closing the nearest mainline valves. The upstream valve (MP 38.49) was closed at about 7:20 p.m. and the downstream valve at Healy Station (MP 40.05) was closed at about 7:40 p.m. Once the ruptured section was isolated and the gas flow was stopped, the resulting fire from the ruptured line self-extinguished. Later that evening, PG&E isolated the natural gas distribution system serving residences in the area, and within a minute of stopping the gas flow at about 11:30 p.m., fires from escaping natural gas at damaged houses went out.

When the NTSB arrived on scene on September 10, the investigation began with a visual examination of the pipe and the surrounding area. The investigators measured, photographed, and secured the approximately 28-foot-long ruptured pipe segment. On Monday, September 13, the ruptured pipe segment and two shorter segments of pipe, cut from the north and south sides of the rupture, were crated for transport to an NTSB facility in Ashburn, Va., for examination.

The examination revealed that the ruptured segment was 27 feet 8 inches long at its longest length, and consisted of a pipe section and four smaller pipe pieces (pups) between 3 feet 8.5 inches and 3 feet 11 inches long (pups are numbered one through four from south to north).

The segment north of the rupture (north segment) was 15 feet 9 inches long and consisted of a pipe section and two pups, 3 feet 7 inches and 4 feet 7 inches long (numbered five and six from south to north).

The section south of the rupture (south segment) was 12 feet 4.5 inches long at its longest length; it contained no pups.

All pipe pieces and pups showed fairly uniform wall thickness of 0.36 to 0.38 inches.

There were longitudinal fractures in the first and second pup of the ruptured segment and a partial circumferential fracture at the girth weld between the first and second pup. There was a complete circumferential fracture at the girth weld between the fourth pup in the ruptured segment and the fifth pup in the north segment. The longitudinal fracture in the first pup continued south into the pipe ending in a circumferential fracture in the middle of the pipe.

The following laboratory work on the pipe has been completed:

  • Written documentation, photo documentation and visual inspection of the pipe.
  • Removal of the asphalt coating from outside of the three pipe segments in preparation for non-destructive examination work.
  • Radiography of the girth welds and select seams.
  • Microbiological testing of the pipe surface (samples currently being analyzed).
  • Ultrasonic wall thickness measurements.
  • Magnetic particle inspection of welds and seams.
  • 3-D laser scanning of the pipe pieces for a digital dimensional record of the evidence.
  • Measurement of the longitudinal and circumferential pup dimensions.
  • Removal of key fracture surfaces from the ruptured segment for further laboratory examination at the NTSB materials lab in Washington.

The following additional work is currently on-going:

  • Precision cleaning of the fracture surfaces on the pieces cut from the ruptured pipe segment.
  • Hardness and microhardness testing.
  • Optical fractographic analysis and photodocumentation of the fracture surfaces on the pieces cut from the ruptured pipe segment.
  • Preliminary scanning electron microscopy of the fracture surfaces on the pieces cut from the ruptured pipe segment

Additional factual updates will be provided and distributed via media advisory as investigative information is developed.


  1. All times mentioned in this report refer to Pacific Daylight Time, unless otherwise specified.

Invitee/Attendee List


  • George Devendorf <GDevendorf@ci.sanbruno.ca.us>,
  • Brandon Bond <brandon@bbond.net>,
  • Michaela Williams <WilliamsMicha@usa.redcross.org>,
  • Peter Ohtaki <pohtaki@caresiliency.org>,
  • Christiaan Adams <csadams@google.com>,
  • Brian Beidelman <bbeidelman@google.com>,
  • Clay Sader <claysader@gmail.com>,
  • Jake Fuentes <jakesfuentes@gmail.com>,
  • Lisa Costa Sanders <LSanders@ci.sanbruno.ca.us>,
  • Eric Rasmussen <rasmussen@instedd.org>,
  • hlsumathi@yahoo.com,
  • george@stayready.net,
  • sanjay.waghray@gmail.com,
  • andrew.charles.brown@gmail.com, Andrew Brown <andrew@scewn.org>,
  • Dennis Israelski <israelski@instedd.org>,
  • Wendy Schultz <schultz@instedd.org>,
  • Harold Schapelhouman <harolds@menlofire.org>,
  • Dennis Haag <DHaag@ci.sanbruno.ca.us>,
  • Rakesh Bharania <rbharani@cisco.com>,
  • Catherine Blackadar Nelson <gandalf@cisco.com>,
  • “Rob Kelly (rokelly)” <rokelly@cisco.com>,
  • Peter Carpenter <peterfcarpenter@gmail.com>,
  • Harold Brooks <brooksh@usa.redcross.org>,
  • ibcomm@aol.com,
  • Terry Fong <terry.fong@nasa.gov>,
  • Trey Smith <trey.smith@nasa.gov>
  • Mark Lowpensky <mark.lowpensky@sanmateosar.org>,
  • George Devendorf <GDevendorf@ci.sanbruno.ca.us>,
  • PATRICK LANTHIER <patlan@pacbell.net>,
  • Jeannie Stamberger <jeannie.stamberger@gmail.com>,
  • Jim Turner <jim.turner@affinitycommunication.com>


At Google

  1. Ryan Zollicofer (Menlo Park Fire Department)
  2. Michaela Williams (American Red Cross)
  3. Harold Brooks (American Red Cross) brooksh@usa.redcross.org
  4. George Devendorf (CFI, Fire Marshal and Division Chief, San Bruno Fire) gdevendorf@sanbruno.ca.gov
  5. Jim Wolbrink (San Jose Water, California Utilities “BASIC” and CESA)
  6. Trey Smith (NASA Ames, DMI) trey.smith@nasa.gov
  7. David Coggeshall (Golden Gate Safety Network)
  8. Jim Varner (DMI)
  9. Brian Biedelman (Google)
  10. Christiaan Adams (Google Earth/Crisis Response)
  11. Luke Beckman (InSTEDD) (650) 740-5853 lukembeckman@gmail.com
  12. Keith Thode (COO, AidMatrix) keith_thode@aidmatrix.org,
  13. Harold Schapelhouman (Menlo Park Fire)
  14. Christa Taylor (InSTEDD) christa.taylor@instedd.org
  15. Eric Tsay (Menlo Fire)
  16. Ben Chang (Menlo Fire)
  17. Matt Rossi (San Mateo County Sheriff Search and Rescue), matt.rossie@sanmateosar.org
  18. Mark Lowpensky (San Mateo County Sheriff Search and Rescue),mark.lowpensky@sanmateosar.org, Administrative & Technology Section Chief, Search and Rescue Unit, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, www.sanmateosar.org
  19. Jake Fuentes (volunteer)
  20. Mike Sena (Northern CA Regional Intelligence Center, www. Ncric.org) msena@ncric.org,
  21. Sumathi Lingappa (self, volunteer mapper)
  22. Peter Ohtaki (Director, California Resiliency Alliance) pohtaki@caresiliency.org
  23. Sanjay Waghray (self, volunteer mapper)
  24. Jeannie Stamberger (Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley Disaster Management Initiative, Associate Director Strategic Programs and Funding) jeannie.stamberger@sv.cmu.edu
  25. Andrew Brown (SCEWN/DMI)

On the phone

  1. Rakesh Bahrani (CISCO, NRV van)
  2. Jody Cummings (PG&E)
  3. Elizabeth Proctor (PG&E)
  4. Brandon Oberbauer, BxO2@pge.com, PG&E Sr. GIS Analyst, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., 245 Market St, Mail Code N10A, San Francisco, CA 94105
  5. Katherine Nelson (CISCO, Tactical Operations)
  6. Gregory Smith (Bay Area Chapter, Director for San Bruno incident, American Red Cross)
  7. Eric Park (NASA Ames – GeoCam)
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