By MARK GUIDERA, Team Rubicon
Steiner Ranch resident Kevin Phillips recently returned from volunteering to assist residents and local government officials in recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall in Florida’s Big Bend area in late August. It marked the 15th time Phillips has volunteered to assist survivors after a major disaster in just three years.
“We definitely made a big difference. There were roads that were unpassable until we got there. We opened them up for utility crews and first responders to get to places that were cut off,” said Phillips. “We helped get things moving in the right direction, allowing communities to distribute aid and begin the recovery process.”
Team Rubicon is a nonprofit humanitarian organization founded by two Marine veterans in 2010. Phillips joined as a volunteer in 2020 and he has volunteered on other disaster response missions including other Gulf Coast hurricanes, tornadoes, and ice storms in Texas.
“It is an amazing organization. The lasting positive impact it makes on communities in the wake of a major disaster is deep. The residents we meet as we help get communities back on their feet are incredibly grateful. It’s a very rewarding experience each time I deploy,” said Phillips, a Global Program Manager at Dell Technologies Edge Solutions group.
Phillips, a University of Texas alumni, and long-time Austin resident, is a trained advanced chainsaw operator for Team Rubicon. He served on what’s called a route clearance team for the nonprofit organization’s response in Florida to Hurricane Idalia.
In close coordination with FEMA, route clearance teams are among the first staff and volunteers Team Rubicon sends into a major disaster zone.
The organization assisted state and local emergency officials with clearing key roads of downed trees, limbs, and other storm debris. This is critical so that first responders, utilities and other help can make their way safely into communities impacted by natural disasters like Hurricane Idalia.
Other Team Rubicon volunteers arrived after route clearance to repair damaged roofing, clear out flood-damaged walls and ceilings and perform other tasks for free so homeowners could move back safely.
Route clearance teams arrive with enough water, nonperishable food and sleeping gear to be self-sufficient for days.
“We were up at 6 a.m. and rolling by 7 a.m. every day, clearing roads and driveways. The job site is usually clearing fallen trees on the roadway right in front of you. One day we did not stop until we had cleared 16 miles of road near the hard-hit city of Mayo, Florida,” recalled Phillips. “We saw hundreds of downed trees and power lines as we cleared roads in Georgia and Florida. It’s satisfying to know I’m making a difference after a disaster, often for people I’ll never even meet.”
Phillips said he was inspired to sign up as a volunteer for Team Rubicon in part to honor the life and memory of a close deceased relative who served as a career pilot in the U.S. military and, in part, to make good on a pledge he made to God to “be a better man” if he survived leukemia some years ago, which he did after lengthy treatment.
He said he is grateful to Dell, his employer, for being supportive of his community service as they are for all employees.
Phillips most recently volunteered for a wildfire mitigation project September 20-24 in the Oak Hill area of South Austin. This was in support of Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency declaration regarding wildfires in counties across Texas, specifically in the 20-acre wooded area of the Oak Hill United Methodist Church Mission. Their mission serves numerous unsheltered individuals and families in the wooded area. Further, the property is adjacent to several homes and an apartment complex and businesses that would be at risk in a wildfire situation.
“The Team Rubicon volunteer work has given me a new sense of purpose,” Phillips said. “I feel like me and my team members are giving people in a major crisis hope things will get better just because we have arrived and show we are there to get them back to their homes.”