Brian Buhman is being honored as a Champion of Change for the leadership he demonstrated in his involvement in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy.
I am honored to be a White House Champion of Change.
I've always enjoyed helping others and doing service projects. As a kid I did a lot of projects through the Boy scouts and my church. After 9/11, I chose to help by joining the Marine Corps. I spent 4 years on active duty and completed 2 tours to Iraq. When I got off of active duty, there was always something missing. I was lucky enough to always have a fellow veteran nearby for camaraderie, but even that didn't always fill the void. When I found out about Team Rubicon in 2011, I knew this was something I would love doing. Responding to high stress situations not knowing where you'll sleep or when you'll eat next while helping people is exciting to me. I signed up online and within a few months was driving 11 hours on a Friday night to tornado ravaged Henryville, IN. The devastation was intense and hard to believe. You see this kind of stuff in pictures and on TV, but nothing compares to seeing it firsthand. We were able to help a few homeowners start their recovery process before moving on which made the 22 hour round trip worth it.
After Indiana, I was made a State Coordinator for Pennsylvania. I spent the next 6 months making disaster response connections, trying to build the volunteer base in PA, planning service projects and other events. It was a slow process but we started to get moving by the end of summer 2012. When Sandy was approaching, I spent hours on pre-storm conference calls with SEPA VOAD (Southeastern Pennsylvania Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) and my regional leadership. We began getting teams on standby throughout FEMA Region III so that we were ready to respond anywhere. Once Sandy made landfall we realized that New York and New Jersey had been hit the hardest so we sent most of our volunteers there with the Regional and National Leadership.
As the Pennsylvania State Coordinator of Field Operations, I felt it was my duty to stay behind and help the people in my surrounding communities before moving on. Pennsylvania had not been hit nearly as hard but there were hundreds if not thousands of trees down and it can cost a homeowner around $1000 to get one tree removed. Through my partnership with SEPA VOAD and the county OEM's I was able to identify homeowners that needed help. Myself and 3 other Team Rubicon members started chainsaw work while the back end of the storm was still passing through.
We began to realize that many homeowners were not in immediate need of tree removal and that there were still assessments being done, so we chose to hold off our daily response until the weekend. This would give us time to gather a list of homes needing work and get a better assessment of the area. One of the biggest challenges that first day was getting ahold of gear. Team Rubicon Pennsylvania had not responded to a disaster yet, so we did not have a cache of chainsaws readily available. We can usually stop at a Home Depot on our way to the disaster zone, but when you live in the disaster zone gear is hard to find. We were able to overcome that by borrowing some gear from friends and family until we could get ahold of what we needed. A lot of thanks go out to those people that let us borrow their equipment, The Home Depot Foundation for supplying us with the gear needed to complete our mission and Team Rubicon member Ryan Stehman for being by my side every time we went out and keeping our equipment in good working order.
I spent the next 3 weeks on conference calls, organizing weekend response teams, and doing assessments for Montgomery and Chester County. Finding people that needed our help was tough at first. Our county connections would give me a list of homes that reported damage and I would call or drive to them and do an assessment to see if we could help. This seemed to work very well but most of the homes were either already taken care of or awaiting an insurance adjuster. We then started knocking on doors, explaining who we are, what we do, and asking if we could help. This seemed to work out pretty well. Our best option came when I got ahold of Danielle Bush at the United Way of Bucks County. She had many homeowners contacting her and she was able to make the connection between us and them.
We continued our work until the lists began to dry up and we couldn't find homeowners looking for help. I partnered with Julia Menzo from Liberty Lutheran Services, and the rest of the VOAD to plan a clean-up weekend in mid-December. This gave us time to gather work orders and volunteers. The weekend went well and we were able to complete all eight homes in one day.
Since December, I held one other clean-up weekend in PA and there have been many others held in New York and New Jersey. There are still people in need of help out there and I hope this Champions of Change discussion brings some attention back to the victims of Sandy. There are many organizations out there still chopping away at lists of work orders and I hope the warm weather can bring out hundreds of volunteers to help get it done.
Brian Buhman is a Marine Corps veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq. His desire to continue his service by helping his community and other veterans led him to join Team Rubicon, a disaster response veterans service organization in 2011. Since March 2012, he has been a State Coordinator for Pennsylvania.