How Vets and Military Technology Are Helping at Home

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William Treseder

Team Rubicon's William Gauntner uses Palantir Mobile, an Android smartphone to provide immediate data to relief agencies in tornado-ravaged Oklahoma.

MOORE, Okla. — William Gauntner quickly walks around a home hit  by one of the tornados that recently devastated central Oklahoma. A Navy-vet-turned-firefighter with training in structural assessment, Gauntner records the building damage by speaking into a phone, snaps three digital pictures from different angles, then stands in the driveway for about 10 seconds uploading a report.

“This one’s done,” he says to his team leader Jenna Brandolini, a young nurse from Philadelphia. Gauntner and Brandolini are volunteers with Team Rubicon, a nationwide disaster-relief group made up of veterans and first responders. The organization, established three years ago after the Haiti earthquake, has established itself as an early adopter of innovative technologies.

Team Rubicon is currently testing a mobile platform that could dramatically improve disaster response.

Gauntner and his team are assessing properties using  an Android smartphone loaded with software from Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley data analysis startup. Palantir partnered with Team Rubicon last year, fielding devices for volunteers in New York City after Hurricane Sandy, again in Illinois after the  flooding this spring, and now in Oklahoma following two devastating tornadoes.

Together, Palantir and Team Rubicon are testing  and improving Palantir Mobile. Using an Android smartphone, Team Rubicon volunteers provide critical knowledge about damaged areas in real-time by submitting the information to a central database.

The traditional approach uses an analog system, slowly collecting tons — literally — of paper assessments that still need to be reviewed and prioritized to provide the right services to the right people. The accuracy of this information is questionable, especially over time, as so-called “Samaritan groups”  spontaneously arrive and depart without coordinating efforts or even engaging the local community.

Thousands of hours are wasted because of these inefficiencies,  which is why Team Rubicon collaborated with Palantir to implement — and improve — its mobile platform on a national scale.

In contrast, Palantir Mobile data can instantly  be shared with city and state governments who lead the relief effort. They can then share information with national organizations such as FEMA, and other supporting agencies.

Only time will tell if this new system will work, but the “TR Nation” has already set itself apart as the premier disaster relief organization through its tech-savvy deployment of veterans and first responders to help communities in dire need around the country and the world.

William Treseder served as a Marine sergeant from 2001 to 2011, deploying to Iraq in 2008, and to Afghanistan in 2010-11. He now works for a defense technology firm in San Francisco.