2015 NFPA Conference keynote speakers share the inspiration behind their inspiring disaster relief organizations

Blog Post created by jesseroman Employee on Jun 22, 2015


Members of Team Rubicon provide aid in the aftermath of a devastating 2013 typhoon in the Philippines.

The leaders of three new and innovative disaster relief organizations were the featured keynote speakers at the 2015 NFPA Conference & Expo general session today in Chicago.

All three organizations, Reaction,, and Team Rubicon, are different in approach, yet each is effective and inspiring in its methods. Using slideshow photos and engaging stories, the speakers told of the founding of their respective organizations and how, through the use of technology and human spirit, they are saving lives and helping communities recover from disaster.

° Inspired by the horrific conditions endured by the victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, designer Michael McDaniel cofounded Reaction, a company in Austin, Texas, that manufactures smart and lightweight emergency shelters. Starting with nothing more than a vision, over the years McDaniel has overcome numerous hurdles to secure investors, hire a team of experts, invent new lightweight fireproof materials, and is now just weeks away from opening a 50,000 square-foot manufacturing facility. His hope is to produce thousands of comfortable emergency shelters, called Exos, that will keep displaced victims safe in the aftermath of a disaster so the events of post Katrina will never be repeated.


Reaction founder Michael McDaniel standing next to an image of an Exo shelter on the stage of the NFPA Conference & Expo general session Monday in Chicago.

° In the days following a devastating tornado that struck Monson, Massachusetts, in 2011, Morgan O’Neill and her sister Caitria scrambled to organize recovery efforts. They quickly learned not only how difficult it is to figure who needs help and what kind of help, but also who is available to provide that help. The experience led the sisters to launch, a website where any local community can create a webpage and database linking volunteers with victims. Both groups can alert the other of their needs and capacity to help, facilitating more efficient local disaster response. The site has been used by local citizens to self organize and effectively respond to disasters ranging from Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey, to wildfires in California.

Recovers pauly founder Morgan O'Neill, middle, and Chief Operating Officer Chris Kuryak, right, are greeted by NFPA President Jim Pauley after their talk at the NFPA Conference & Expo general session Monday.

° After witnessing the difficulties of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans returning home and the apathy many in the public had toward them, Navy veteran Ken Harbaugh looked for a way to help. One of the first efforts he helped launch was Team Rubicon. The brainchild of two Marines, Team Rubicon today has about 30,000 highly trained veterans and first responders in its ranks. Harbaugh found that, with a little retraining, veterans—most of whom have a deep desire to continue to serve in some capacity—can repurpose their military skills to provide incredibly effective disaster relief. To date, Team Rubicon members have deployed on more than 90 missions around the world, including to the Philippines in the aftermath of historic Typhoon Hayian in 2013, providing aid, emergency rescue and medical services, cleanup, and much more. 


Team Rubicon Chief Operating Officer Ken Harbaugh addresses the audience at the 2015 NFPA Conference & Expo general session Monday afternoon in Chicago.