Inmarsat is proud to sponsor Team Rubicon UK, a first response charity made up of military veterans which operates in the UK and around the world.
Sunday 28 May
Having been awarded my Team Rubicon (TR) Greyshirt some 48 hours earlier, I found myself taking a call asking if I would be prepared to head out to Sri Lanka as part of a TR recce assessing the damage caused by severe flooding, and help prepare for a potential TR disaster response deployment. Sri Lanka had just witnessed its worst flooding in over a decade with over 150 fatalities and over 500,000 people displaced (numbers that were to grow in the coming days). After making a few work calls and sending a few emails, not to mention the conversation with my wife and three daughters, I had the necessary clearance to be able to say yes.
Tuesday 30 May
I received confirmation that TR would be sending a four-strong recce team out to Sri Lanka on Thursday evening. Flights were booked and visas applied for, and that’s when TR realised that my passport, due to expire in November, didn’t have the required six months’ validity. Very quickly I arranged an appointment at HM Passport Office in London to arrange a renewal – the first available slot was at 12:45 on Thursday!
Wednesday 31 May
Back down to Chilmark, Wiltshire, home of TR UK HQ, for briefings, to pick up additional equipment, have a medical and also have the chance to meet the rest of the recce team: Paul, one of the first TR UK members, who spent 24 years in The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and now leads expeditions; ‘Bags’, an ex-tank commander now working in the film industry as an advisor; and Mike, formerly a gunner with 40 Field Regiment Royal Artillery who currently works for Qinetiq.
The guys at TR HQ were amazing. Their combined experience in all aspects of disaster relief and command and control (C2) is invaluable. The situational awareness briefings that we received were detailed and helped paint a picture of the real world view on the ground. We were to be in constant communication with various updates and use an app-based chat group to share messages, documents, contact details, images and so on. Knowing that there is this support infrastructure available 24/7 is very reassuring. As the Inmarsat representative I took ownership of the TR Cobham Explorer 510 BGAN terminal and one of the two IsatPhone 2 satellite phones we have donated.
Thursday 1 June
The guys at the passport office surpassed themselves and I was in possession of my shiny new passport by 16:00, in plenty of time to get to Heathrow at 18:00 for our 10.5 hour flight.
Friday 2 June
On arrival we met with Romesh, AKA “the fixer”, who heads up a Colombo-based charity called CandleAid, which distributes emergency aid and helps people put their lives back together after a disaster by arranging clean-ups and replacing everyday equipment like cooking utensils.
Romesh told us about the Matara district in the south, which had been badly affected by the flooding. We discussed utilising small units of SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) with key skills, namely medical, chainsaw and volunteer management, that could work with and task local volunteers and add structure and planning to the relief effort. At this point it looked increasingly like there were indeed the foundations of a TR deployment.
Saturday 3 June
We updated TR HQ and contacted the British High Commission to inform them of our presence and also our intent, then headed to Akuressa, about 20 km north of Matara, with our fixer Romesh.
Sunday 4 June
Our first stop was to recce a guesthouse to be used as a FOB (Forward Operating Base). This was a two storey building that just days ago was submerged in 6ft of water. We moved around to observe and record the devastation, from landslides that had ruptured buildings, to bridges that had been destroyed. We took photos and recorded the position of each and every potential project. We were told about entire families being stranded on rooftops for days. At each and every site we heard tales of misfortune, but were greeted with smiles and hospitality.
The UK HQ was busy taking our recce findings and coordinating a team to get out and help turn things around.
Monday 5 June
With the arrival of the main body due in a few days, we spent the day getting in supplies and scoping out the local hospitals in Akuressa and Matara.
Tuesday 6 June
We assessed the damage in some of the surrounding areas, which turned out to be less badly affected. Back in the UK things were ramping up and a call had gone out to all TR Greyshirts for volunteers to stand themselves up for deployment.
We were fortunate that the communications infrastructure in the local area had remained unaffected by the flooding, largely due to the fact that the cellular towers are all located on high ground. If the extreme monsoon rain had been accompanied by a cyclone, we would have been completely reliant on the Inmarsat equipment that we had deployed with. We carried the equipment with us every day and it was reassuring to know that no matter what we would be able to communicate as and when we needed. I also took the opportunity to take Mike through the operation of the E510 BGAN terminal, which by his own admission he found surprisingly intuitive and easy to use.
Wednesday 7 June
The long journey home began, which, including a handover at the airport with one of the arriving Greyshirts, ran smoothly. I for one feel a great deal of satisfaction knowing that, as a Team Rubicon volunteer, I have played a small part in kicking off this deployment. The work is ongoing in-country and I look forward to hearing about the successes out there.
About the author
Barry Cox (or Baz as he likes to be known) served with the British Parachute Regiment and, after leaving the Army, he retrained in telecoms. Baz joined Inmarsat in 2013 as a technical trainer and after two years moved into the Global Government Business Unit as a Pre-Sales Engineer. This role sees him demonstrating products and services across the entire Inmarsat portfolio to both partners and end users.