The ability to assess needs, implement programs, and connect people with resources is critical to social work as well as disaster preparedness, management, and recovery. During the COVID-19 pandemic, one Tulane University School of Social Work alum is leveraging his interdisciplinary skills to support an organization well-versed in responding to uncertainties.
Having graduated in 2019 with the dual degree of Master of Social Work with Master of Science in Disaster Resilience Leadership, Mark Rogers, II, LMSW, now works as a Capabilities Research and Development Associate in the Field Operations Department of Team Rubicon.
Team Rubicon serves communities by mobilizing veterans to continue their service, leveraging their skills and experience to help people prepare, respond, and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises. With them, Mark’s specific responsibility revolves around forward-thinking. He examines needs and then scopes out programs to determine how Team Rubicon can increase its impact and maximize outcomes for those it serves.
People like Mark help Team Rubicon enhance the services it delivers. While it started mostly in disaster recovery, doing debris management and helping homeowners prepare to rebuild, it has expanded globally. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve started providing specialized medical professionals internationally through a partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO),” Mark says.
In 2018, Team Rubicon received Emergency Medical Team Type 1 Mobile Verification from the World Health Organization, which allows them to stand-up healthcare services with specialized medical professionals in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
Continuing this innovation and development ensured Team Rubicon was well-positioned both as an organization and to provide critical support during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We already had a strong technology infrastructure to allow remote work, which made for an effective transition,” Mark says. “That enabled us to continue the focus on our programs and capabilities and develop what else needed to be done.”
Team Rubicon’s COVID-19 response is in the areas of food support, mobile testing, and emergency operations. It has facilitated over a hundred operations around the country by sending their greyshirt volunteers to food banks in partnership with Feeding America. It is also doing or supporting logistics of drive-through COVID-19 testing sites and providing National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) expertise to smaller communities.
“I’m proud of Team Rubicon’s flexibility and ability to transition into these new programs so quickly,” says Mark. “I’m also proud that we’ve been able to employ helpful and dedicated people who have lost their jobs.”
Mark’s work with Team Rubicon began once he completed his dual degree at Tulane. He first heard about Tulane’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA) from a friend he met while backpacking in Europe. “I was intrigued by his stories and learned about the opportunities that degree offered,” Mark says.
During the DRLA orientation, he discovered the dual degree and saw the natural fit between disaster resilience and social work. “Developing empathy and knowing what trauma is and how people experience it helps to address what they need,” Mark says.
Mark’s knowledge gained in the dual degree program also allows him to connect social justice with disaster resilience. “Disasters show weaknesses in systems, where there are inequalities,” he says.
While he doesn’t have much interaction with those Team Rubicon serves on a day-to-day basis, Mark uses his social work skills to value people’s experiences and needs. “It impacts how I think about programs and allows me to put myself in other people’s shoes,” he says. “You don’t just think about a flooded home. You think of that person losing the place where they grew up, raised their kids, and celebrated with friends and family. When you do that, you can help them rebuild in a thoughtful way.”
Through his social work lens, Mark recognizes that what people are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic is different from natural or man-made disasters. “The whole world is being impacted by this,” he says. “This disease doesn’t care about borders, race, age, income, etc.”
This event is also longer than a weather event or earthquake. “Hurricanes only last so long, and it’s clearer when recovery can begin,” Mark says. “Here we don’t know. We are trying to understand an invisible enemy. There’s so much more unknown, and that will have a stronger mental and emotional impact.”
Disaster preparedness, management, and recovery is an ongoing cycle of “blue skies” and “grey skies.” “Blue skies are where you learn and analyze to build up processes. Grey skies are when you are responding and recovering, where you hope you’ve done enough to act,” Mark says. “Even with all the preparation and mitigation work you do during blue skies, you never know what people, systems, and business will be resilient to. It's always a question of: resilient to what?”
Going to graduate school is a little like that - where students use their classrooms and field placements as “blue skies” in which they have support and supervision to learn and grow. Mark encourages students to start taking risks early by speaking up in classes, sharing ideas, or taking on additional projects. Through that, they will be more prepared for their careers and have the confidence to step up when needed. “We’ve got to make rapid decisions to help people,” Mark says. “Doing that in small ways even while you are in school can better prepare you for what’s to come."