Jon Cole interviews with Todd DeVoe of EM Weekly
The Rise of Private Disaster Relief Organizations In The World - Credit EM Weekly
Todd DeVoe: Hi and welcome to EM weekly in this your host, Todd DeVoe speaking, and today we're talking with Jon Cole from the Texas Disaster Incorporated, and we're going to be focusing on the private emergency response organizations. I've been doing a little bit of research on this, and you've heard me talk about Team Rubicon, the volunteer organization that does disaster response and we've had them on the show. However, it's a growing phenomenon here in the United States and the world with volunteer and in some cases for profit disaster response agencies even so much so that the GAO, the US government accountability office, put out a paper that there is a trend to continue. According to the US Global Change Research Program and the National Academy of Sciences. At certain weather events are extreme heat events and heavy rain events will become more common and limiting the federal government's fiscal exposure by better managing these risks. And this is kind of what they're talking about here, but however, the paper also goes into the responsibility for disaster management and operates across the range of federal, state and local non-government entities that have specific authority resources, expertise, and interest.
FEMA has advocated for the whole community approach to disaster management, and this includes individual families, communities, private and nonprofit sectors, faith-based organizations, local state, tribal territory, other areas such as this. So the federal government is really encouraging these nonprofit and in some cases for profit disaster response agencies that come in and once they for profit, most likely their billing and being paid for by FEMA or by the federal government or by local agencies with reimbursement by the federal government. So you'll see this with the incident management teams firefighting organizations that are coming out that are private firefighting organizations for wildland fire, that type of stuff. So that's what we're talking about for profit and not that they're charging the individual homeowner.
Raptin focus on humanitarian travel. They're talking about the 34 disaster relief organizations that they have looked at Not to mention some of the local ones that you see out there. So today we're talking to a local organization in Texas that was started basically because of Hurricane Harvey. Before we get into this interview, don't forget, you can always catch us at www.emweekly.com. Also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, my space. No, just joking about my space. Uh, all the social media that's out there. Anyway, enjoy the interview and thanks for listening.
Hey, welcome to eat and weekly you can end today. I have with me from Texas, and the Texas Disaster Incorporated is Jon Cole. Jon, welcome to weekly.
Jon Cole: Thank you so much, Todd. I appreciate the invitation. It's an honor to be here.
Todd DeVoe: So Jon, tell me about your background and then how disaster or Texas disaster Inc started.
Okay. Well, basically my background is not in emergency management. I am by no means an emergency management professional I got involved with during Hurricane Harvey. Essentially it just started off with a Facebook post. I was asking people what they needed to borrow my Jon boat, and nobody wanted to come out to Crockett, Texas to pick it up, which is about an hour and a half, couple hours away from Houston. And so after that process, I kind of got turned onto a Zello channel here, and I started listening in on some of the communications that we're having and come to find out they're needing actual rescues. And so I guess I got it in my heart to go out and pick up the boat myself. So I went out and picked up the boat, strapped it on the back of my truck and drove out. And from there they uh, essentially they dispatched me out to a location to go rescue people and of getting involved with the volunteer rescue efforts during Harvey. And from there it led into the volunteer relief efforts, and it's kind of been a bug that's been stuck with me ever since
Todd DeVoe: Cool about the Zello channel. We actually did an interview with the CEO of Zello a few months ago, and I was able to listen to the entire tire but to a lot of what the rescues were going on down there. So that was a really cool tool during hurricane Harvey. So you got, you got in your boat, you drive down to, you know where help is needed, and you're listening to the APP, and you get dispatched out. What was your next step? How did you know that this is something that was needed in Texas and how did you go about organizing your organization?
Joh Cole: Well, I guess I was blessed with a heck of a lot of problems. I experienced a lot of problems firsthand or new people that experience problems, you know, kind of secondhand that is alalways thinking about different ways of doing things and I guess I had a lot of issues that I personally experienced with coordination, with privacy, with lack of transparency, people coming on and just kind of doing their own free will. And what happened is we had people coming out to certain areas that we didn't need them to be personally was at a place out there and Memorial drive and Hollywood. And one of the first problems that I experienced with my boat, a motor trying to get it to work for a few days of being out there.
And I had somebody come on the Zello app, started saying, hey, we need more boats out at Memorial drive and talking to a bunch of folks there and started asking like hey do we need more boats out here? It looks like a lot of people were coming back in with their boats, and everybody said no, no it's pretty full out there. We've got more than enough people. And so when I first started having issues with coordination, you know, there were no more boats needed out there. So I got back on Zello App, where'd you get this information from here? People out here that need to be rescued and were not able to actually take them up. And so that is when I got on the Zello App and saying, Hey, we don't need any more boats send them somewhere else. I was out there tinkering with my boat, trying to get it to work. And I was trying to find a boat mechanic. Several people had onto the Zello app saying, Hey, you know, if anybody needs any kind of mechanic work on I am able to do that on the Zello app, looking for those people that actually had offered that help and I couldn't find them.
So I had experience trying to find somebody with a specific asset or skill set, and it was just very difficult to do so people would come, they would get off of it, and you wouldn't hear from him for hours on end. And so I started realizing that, you know, there's got to be a different way of doing this. And so that's kind of what I started to do a better way of doing things. I imagine if people had the ability to put themselves up on a queue that allowed them to transmit their exact location and it goes into a queue that allows them to be dispatched out appropriately. It would make things a lot easier. And also kind of imagine that if people were to have the ability to search for somebody with a specific asset or skill set during times of disaster, it would make things a lot easier as well and different problems that I experienced and in secondhand that kind of led me to where I am today.
Todd DeVoe: You organization, How does it interact with say, the current fire and ems and law and emergency management? How do you guys get your jobs, for instance?
Jon Cole: Well, it was community driven, what we use, the Zello app, you have your 911 system authority in place, but what happened is that that system was so overwhelmed that people were looking out in other avenues. They were posting things on social media, and they were coming on the Zello app saying, Hey, we need rescue. And so people/ first responders were so overwhelmed it caused the ordinary civilians to kind of jump in and started coordinating things and actually rescuing people. So the main thing that I set out to do originally was to kind of put a platform out there to allow people to do that with Zello we had a lot of issues with privacy. People would come online and say, Hey, can you know my address is… and I need rescue, and people would actually come and listen to that because anybody can listen to it and afterward there where people would set up booby traps to fake rescues, and it doesn't necessarily have the ability to integrate with current systems.
That is definitely a goal of ours to accomplish full interoperability between all agencies. I guess our main purpose right now is to create a platform for interoperability between civilians and other NGO type organization. We did not know what The Red Cross was doing. We didn't know what the Cajun Navy was doing. We didn't know what Team Rubicon was doing. We didn't know what anybody was doing. Everybody was kind of off doing their own thing and posting their information on different channels. So the problem with that is issues with redundancy inaccuracy. People would post saying, hey, you know, these people out here need this rescue when they were rescued several hours back, and so we're trying to do create a system that allows people to potentially just coordinate the disaster rescue and relief efforts from a population or a community standpoint. But we do have some ideas as far as integration into the current 911 system when it comes to reaching out to us. That's going to be one thing we're going to have to work on, but we have some ideas on allowing people to hit that panic button and it would immediately send out a notice to a certain person within our group that allows them to dispatch that information from there. But at the same time, it also hang up, you know, with that connection and then calls 911. So they would get the notification, and we would get the notification, and we'd be able to respond accordingly
Todd DeVoe: lue sky days or is this more because they're sort of doing your own thing and wait for the gray sky to come again?
Jon Cole: Well, I mean we have reached out to several different folks, tended to conference down in New Orleans and had some great talks with the president and of the Cajun Navy and got several other contacts communicating with now. And I've even had FEMA's public liaison reached out to me and told me that my idea was interesting and wanted to find out a little bit more about it is kind of something that is in the works. Harvey Harvey involved with the relief side of things more so than the rescue side of things, and then from there it turned into more of a relief and recovery operation, and that's where I got highly involved with things. But to answer your question, I guess we haven't really opened up any collaborations other than with Cajun navy. Others have been peaking interest in, but I haven't actually set up any kind of cooperation or partnerships with them.
Todd DeVoe: Are you a 501 (c) 3?
Jon Cole: No, actually that was another thing that Kinda came about during that conference down in New Orleans. Our original intention was to form a 501 (c) 3, however, after talking to multiple people in the nonprofit sectors and also talking with Mr. Boudreaux down there and then also talking with several different investors, we realized that we didn't really have a nonprofit business model. We didn't really want to have to rely on gifts or donations from people. We want it to be able to sustain herself, and so that's when we started coming up with an actual business model to sustain our self and become a benefit corporation. We are not a 501 (c) 3 Nonprofit. We do intend on filing for one in the near future, but our main corporation is just as it is a Delaware c Corp that we intend on operating as a benefit corporation. Like I said, the main thing we were concerned about is being able to find a way to make ourselves sustainable without having to rely on those gifts and you know, after talking to Mr Boudreaux and they are one of the more recognized agencies out there doing similar things to what we're doing, and they are struggling, struggling to find money and pay for the things that they need. So that was one of the things that we didn't want to go through all the red tape and the stipulations that come along with being a nonprofit
Todd DeVoe: What are you guys doing now? Are you training or are you going out and doing public work, but what do you do now and between the disasters?
Jon Cole: Well, right. We're concentrating on developing the platform and getting it released and getting the right team on board. As I said, I'm not in the EM profession. I am not skilled in a lot of different aspects of what would be considered emergency management. So I'm trying to put together a team of people that are, but also people that are skilled in other areas. You need to have a wide array of different folks when it comes to being in control of this organization because when you look at disasters, there are so many different facets that have to come together in order to make things easier on people and coordinate things, you know, whether it's logistics, healthcare, emergency management, food, things of that nature. I mean there's just so many different levels and in assets and skill sets that are needed in times of distress. So we want to kind of get a wider range of people managing this particular organization.
Right now we're not doing anything active on the disaster side of things. Said we're trying to get the platform established and get the right people on board, get some investors on board and then kind of launch it out to the public. It's currently up there. It's got a lot of the functionality. We've got the social media platform that allows people to come on and hit a button, upload the exact location. It goes into a queue. We have a command structure similar to an ems protocol, allows only certain people to respond to certain events and all of that is there. However, there's a lot of different functionalities that I want to put on the platform that I'm not really capable of building. I mean I can. I'm pretty savvy at figuring things out, but I don't want to pull out all my hair, so I'm trying to get the right investment partners on board with us to allow somebody else to build it.
We're also looking at potentially rebuilding the whole platform. I would like for it to be on a little bit different of a, I guess a platform that's called the Blockchain. Are you Familiar with Blockchain? It's a way of transmitting data from one place to another that allows it not to be altered. That's what bitcoin is used, the protocols and the reason why is because it can go from point a to point b without it being altered. It also allows for people to put their information on their own decentralized servers, so like Facebook, when you log into Facebook when you like something or comments, all of that data goes onto their servers and so they essentially, even though they say you own that data, they pretty much own that data because they are the ones in control of that data. So the decentralized platform allows people to put all of their likes and comments and whatever information that they put on that social media platform to be downloaded to their server, whether it's a dropbox or cloud server or whatever. So they are an actual control of that information.
and it [Blockchain] also has opened up a lot of different doors to the cryptocurrency side of things. One of the things that we're also very concerned about is the transparency of donations. I know you had a gentleman on your show not too long ago. That is also building a platform that allows people to donate money quickly and securely and gives people a kind of a, a much more transparent view of where that money is going. So that's definitely one of our concerns. Uh, that's an experience that I experienced as well. There was a lot of abuse of the donations. People would drive from one donation drop to another and pick up diapers and then drive to the next one and pick up diapers and later on sell those particular diapers. Here recently I've kind of, I've been doing a fundraiser for the gentleman down in Thailand that was rescuing the kids out of the cave that he died and I was trying to do a fundraiser for his family and getting that money to them is like pulling teeth, you know, that we were doing it through go fund me and an American citizen with a US social security number and a US address and things of that nature.
So we're also concerned with providing a platform to allow people to get money to somebody and make sure that that money is getting spent on the intended purpose.
Todd DeVoe: What are some of the biggest challenges you have with this organization and trying to mainstream it?
Jon Cole: I guess the biggest challenge we've had is finding the right investors. Unfortunately, money is kind of what makes things go around in order to get this platform out there widely known and marketed properly and get the right people on board and you know, people have to realize that there was some sort of backing behind it, but we're not trying to approach very, very picky on the type of people that we want to bring on board because the other thing that we're trying not to do or we won't do is we don't want to make money off disasters. I don't want to make money off of saving people's lives. We also want to give this back to the people. My intentions are to give away essentially 80 percent of the company to the people of the United States. So we're trying to find folks that aren't so much concern with the income potential coming from this platform. We want people with good hearts are mainly just concerned with helping people out. That's where our hearts are. That's where we feel like we're just finding those folks in the. The ability to help us out on this particular operation has been a little bit challenging.
Todd DeVoe: You said that you want to give Eighty percent back. How would that look? How does that help me? Tell me, kind of wrap my head around that a little bit.
Jon Cole: Well, the way we intend on doing that is we don't want this particular organization to be by just a handful of people. We'd like everybody's input, and so the best way to do that is actually have them own a part of the company, and so I figured 10 percent would go to the founders and another 10 percent would go to any kind of investors in the rest of the 80 percent would go to the people mentioned blockchain and cryptocurrency before. We plan on making an ICO, initial coin offering, which is kind of like an IPO. It allows people to buy a certain percentage of the company that's backed by that cryptocurrency and allows them to own that cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency does it gives them a stake in the organization and so the platform that we're doing, not only the disaster relief tools and things like that, but it also has a lot of other things that we can utilize to allow people to kind of input their information as far as ways in which they think that the direction of the company should go.
So if we have a certain thing that we're kind of accomplish or a question that we're trying to make a key decision on, we can actually put that up on the platform allow other people to put their input in a vote on that particular topic. That's one thing that the, uh, the decentralized blockchain type of platform would allow or do. It allows us to have people that are verified and vetted and only allowed to have one profile and there's certain protocols and checks and balances in place that allows them to vote on particular topics and kind of be somewhat in control of the company as a whole, as a community. And that's the one thing that was kind of very important to me. I didn't want to be the all-seeing emperors over this, this organization. It's an organization for the people and so you know, I felt it was only right to give back to the people, and I guess the way we intend on doing that is we hopefully don't get too carried on with this, but we, we also have the way of actually maintaining ourselves or funding organization once we're up and running.
We plan on doing kind of like an uber of all sorts of things. If we already have this platform that allows us to dispatch EMT or a boat mechanic or whatever it may be and allows them to respond to that. We figured that we can utilize this platform, allow them to utilize it on a day to day basis because of those. The other thing that we noticed was having issues with is staying relevant once a disaster strikes, you know, everybody and their brother wants to donate to them, but once that disasters over, they tend to forget about it and they tend to forget about giving the money as well. So we had to figure out a way to make this organization relevant on a day to day basis, and that's where this, uh, this kind of Uber of the EMT that idea came in. So what we're gonna do is we're going to allow people to sign up on the platform.
We're going to verify their identity, we're going to verify their credentials. If an issue with somebody say having an MI at a restaurant and one of our EMT's are next door, we can send out a push notification saying, hey, there's somebody having a heart attack next door, would you respond? And then they respond to it or whatever. And we would give them a little chunk of that cryptocurrency for doing that. On top of that, we would also allow them to have a higher ranking on our platform to advertise for non-emergency noncritical type situations. We figured, you know, an EMT could be utilized in so many different occasions, necessary critical issues. We felt that if we gave them a platform that allowed them to operate. And like I said, the analogy, but like an uber for EMT, if they went out there and made some money and kind of where their own boss and set their own schedule and I kind of cut out the middle man and also, as I said, we didn't want to make money off of people saving people's lives. So we figured if we can reward them for doing good deeds, then you know, that would be a kind of a win-win situation for everybody.
Todd DeVoe: Do you plan one doing any Disaster Preparedness stuff and getting involved in that end of the business or no?
Jon Cole: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the goal of this organization is to be kind of a multifaceted, like to be involved with everything, a disaster and that's another way was a needed thing was people wanting to get involved with disasters and emergency preparation and EM, in general, to put up some courses online that they were to perform and complete. Not only would it allow the community to be a better community by having more prepared and educated people, but they could actually also earn a part of the company. We would reward them in that currency that allows them to own part of the company, so it's kind of a way that gives people some motivation or incentive to become more educated and actually go out there and help folks. So yeah, we plan on having all sorts of different seminars and training programs and probably integrate with FEMA training program somehow or another that allows them to essentially complete that course, have that credential on their profile, on the social media platform and then get rewarded for it as well.
Todd DeVoe: So if someone is trying to get ahold of you, how would they be able to find you?
Todd DeVoe: Sure. What book or books would you recommend to somebody who's in learning more about kind of what happened down in Harvey and stuff?
Jon Cole: Well, I'll be honest with you Todd, I don't have a specific book that is related to emergency management. I thought long and hard when I saw that question, the best book I can I can refer people to or I guess offer in general that has helped me in so many different ways. I figured a lot of people who are in the EM field or kind like me, they're very technical, and for minded folks out there, I believe any book by Lee Strobel, Lee Strobel, and he's a Christian author. He does a lot of different books like the case for Christ miracles, things like that. I think pretty much is if you get your fundamentals down with the man upstairs and everything else will fall in place from there. So a good one to start off with.
Todd DeVoe: That's a good recommendation. That's cool. Before I let you go to emergency manager out there, what would it be?
Jon Cole: Well, uh, I need your feedback. Um, you know, get on Linkedin with me. I'm posting different things every day. I really haven't put my whole business plan out there, but I'm kind of putting out bits and pieces just to get everybody's feedback. Today I did a pot for all of my EMT Contacts, finding out if uber of EMT is a concept was a needed or pitfalls involved with things of that nature. So I'd like more interaction, I am not an EM professional I would to learn as much as I can, you know, people's different perspectives on things and people that have been in the field and have way more experience than I do. I'd like to know their input on things. So please reach out to me, asked me questions and connect with me and let's, you know, let's build this together.
Todd DeVoe: Well Jon was a pleasure having you on the show today and talking about some of the cool stuff that you're doing down there in Texas and thank you by the way, for putting your time, effort, and your life at risk when you were helping the people of Houston during, during Harvey. It is much appreciated I'm really proud of that step forward and, and do the right thing.
Jon Cole: I agree. There are so many people that did way more than I did. I was struck with nothing, but issues. I'm trying to make something good out of it. But, uh, you know, there are some great people out there that did some fantastic thing. You're, you're right. I'm very proud of our, our neighbors and friends. That all came together to definitely warms the heart.
Todd DeVoe: Alright, again, thank you for your time and let's do this again sometime.
Jon Cole: Absolutely. I appreciate your time and sit down and chat with you.