Reflecting on REACT Disaster Response: 9 Years of Humanitarian Effort

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Posted by Laura Butlin 24th April 2024 News

Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins

As REACT Disaster Response marks its 9th anniversary, we reflect on a journey marked by relentless commitment and strategic evolution. In 2015, a devastating earthquake struck the Nepal capital, Kathmandu. Within days, a team of British Army veterans joined international relief efforts on the ground, working closely with a contingent of Gurkhas, applying their military skills and experience to help people whose lives had been devastated by the disaster. 

Origins and Evolution

The inception of REACT, initially known as Team Rubicon UK, was spurred by the immediate need for structured, swift response capabilities during the 2015 Nepal earthquake. General Sir Nick Parker and a dedicated team channelled their extensive military expertise into a new disaster response model. Leveraging military precision, logistical acumen, and the unyielding spirit of service, it set the stage for a new ethos in humanitarian assistance.

In the years that followed, Team Rubicon UK became REACT Disaster Response. Our name changed, but our mission remained the same: to deliver rapid, effective humanitarian aid to the hardest-to-reach and most vulnerable.

Over the years, REACT has responded to many global emergencies. From the earthquake-stricken landscapes of Morocco and Turkey to the hurricane-battered communities of Mozambique and The Bahamas, our teams have consistently demonstrated that courage, humility, resilience, and innovation are at the heart of effective aid delivery. Our unique approach—characterised by agility, resourcefulness and a readiness to serve—has allowed us to reach remote and often neglected areas that are typically inaccessible to larger organisations.


How it all started: Some of the team in Nepal after the devastating earthquake in 2015

Challenges and Milestones

The path has not been without challenges. In our early stages, REACT grappled with limited financial, material, and reputational resources. Yet, these limitations did not hinder our resolve; they honed our ability to innovate under pressure. Our teams often operate under austere conditions, staying in tents rather than hotels and relying on local partnerships for transport and logistics. This lean operational model has defined our tactical deployments and inspired a broader ethos of 'doing more with less' across the sector.

As we built our capacity, significant milestones marked our progress. The launch of Operation Tenzig immediately post-earthquake in Nepal set a precedent for rapid deployment. This was followed by strategic interventions in the UK, such as during Storm Desmond and the extensive floods in Cumbria. Internationally, our response to Hurricane Dorian and Cyclone Idai tested and honed our ability to conduct large-scale operations, providing critical support during catastrophic events.

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Providing support in Keswick, in the wake of Storm Desmond in 2015

Our Impact and Vision

Since its inception in April 2015, REACT Disaster Response has grown into a positive force in humanitarian response, characterised by its swift and effective reaction to disasters. 

To date, REACT has been deployed to over 657 emergencies across 17 countries, including Ukraine, Morocco, Turkey, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Sri Lanka, the USA, Mozambique, Indonesia, Australia, Romania, Moldova, Poland, and the UK. These efforts have directly aided more than 1.43 million people, demonstrating our extensive reach and the impact of our work.

Beyond the sheer number of individuals helped, our operations have supported communities with more than 4,425,522 meals and moved or distributed 11,717,705 kilograms of aid. These statistics reflect our capacity to mobilise and deliver aid efficiently and underscore the tangible outcomes of our missions in improving lives amid chaos and destruction.

Our Responders have significantly contributed to local resilience in the UK alone, operating across numerous locations, including 32 towns and cities in various counties. Each deployment within these areas has addressed immediate needs and fostered long-term recovery and preparedness.

While reflective of our scale and efficiency, these statistics barely capture the individual stories of resilience and recovery that define our work. Each deployment, each life touched, underscores the critical importance of rapid and effective humanitarian response. Through our continued commitment to preparedness and capacity building, REACT ensures that it remains ready to respond wherever and whenever our services are most needed.

Our Responders have supported communities with more than 4,425,522 meals and have moved or distributed 11,717,705 kilograms of aid

Training and Capacity Building

Recognising the importance of preparedness, REACT has significantly invested in training and capacity building, which is essential for ensuring that our Responders are equipped with the necessary skills, resilience, and adaptability required in high-pressure environments. This commitment is exemplified through our comprehensive training programmes, which include the International Operations Course, the UK Operations Course, and our newly established Flood Response Training.

The International and UK Operations courses are foundational components of our training strategy. These courses prepare volunteers for the complexities of disaster response, providing them with the knowledge and practical skills to manage crises effectively. Participants engage in rigorous simulations replicating real-life disaster scenarios, testing their critical thinking, ability to make quick decisions, and operational execution skills under stress.

Expanding our training portfolio, Thanks to a donation from BAE Systems, REACT has recently developed a specialised Flood Response Team, in response to the increasing frequency and severity of flooding events across the UK. This training is specifically tailored to equip Responders with the skills to operate safely and effectively in flood-affected areas. It includes learning how to conduct water rescues, understanding flood water dynamics, and managing risks associated with water-borne hazards. The Flood Response Training also addresses the psychological aspects of flood response, preparing our volunteers to support affected communities sensitively and effectively.

By integrating flood-specific preparedness into our training, REACT addresses a critical gap in disaster response capabilities. This initiative not only enhances the skill set of our volunteers but also fortifies our commitment to responding to the diverse needs of communities impacted by natural disasters. With these training programmes, REACT ensures that its Responders are technically proficient and capable of adapting to the evolving landscape of global emergencies.

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Flood Responders on a recent training weekend in North Wales

Looking to the Future

As we look forward, REACT is poised to deepen its impact and expand its reach. The challenges posed by climate change, geopolitical instability, and emerging global threats require us to be more innovative and responsive. Our strategic plan includes expanding our volunteer base, especially in underrepresented regions such as Scotland and the North of England, to ensure a robust response capacity nationwide and internationally. Currently, REACT has 700 trained Responders ready and able to deploy both in the UK and internationally, solidifying our readiness to address crises swiftly and effectively wherever they occur.

A Call to Action

On this ninth anniversary, we invite you to join us in recommitting to the mission that has propelled us from our very first day: to deliver not just support, but hope, recovery, and resilience to the hardest-to-reach and most vulnerable communities. Your engagement is crucial, whether through volunteering, partnerships, or donations. Together, we can face the challenges of tomorrow with the same courage and dedication that have defined our past.

As we celebrate this anniversary, we look forward to continuing our mission with renewed vigour and commitment to helping those in need. Here’s to many more years of impactful service, grounded in humanity and driven by the urgent need to act.

Click here to find out more about how you can support REACT.