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Van Riviere: “Us and them”

My worldview has evolved over a lifetime, and won’t be easily changed. I am alarmed by how polarized our society has become, but I believe that positive change is always the result of challenge and stress. As I’ve shared, I think there is some inherent good in every one of us. Generally speaking, people are […]

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My worldview has evolved over a lifetime, and won’t be easily changed. I am alarmed by how polarized our society has become, but I believe that positive change is always the result of challenge and stress. As I’ve shared, I think there is some inherent good in every one of us. Generally speaking, people are hostile or combative when they are afraid or encounter something they don’t understand or can’t explain. I’m hopeful that as we emerge from the current situation, we will once again find common ground and the shared purpose that has made us strong and resilient.


As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Van Riviere, CEO and President of Tablet Command. He served the Stockton Fire Department from 1997 through 2014, when he retired as a Battalion Chief. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Safety and Emergency Management. Throughout his career, he was active in the development and delivery of Fire Service training with a focus on Urban Search and Rescue (US&R), and Emergency Planning and Management, serving as a subject matter expert during the 2004 revision of the FIRESCOPE Operational System Description for US&R, and a member of the curriculum development team for the California US&R system. Van developed a global perspective related to the needs of the fire service.

When initially exposed to Tablet Command, he was skeptical about the solution and relevance to the needs of his organization. As one of Tablet Command’s first Enterprise Users, his skepticism quickly became advocacy. Following his retirement, Van joined the Tablet Command team in a customer support/success role, and was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer by the Board in May of 2017.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I was born and raised in Southern California in a relatively suburban area. My parents were blue-collar folks, both of whom instilled a very strong work ethic in me. I am a bit unique in as much as I left home at 18, and worked in the ranching industry for the next 25 years, making the transition to public safety at the ripe old age of 37.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I tend to gravitate to technical or adventure writing, with a smattering of leadership books thrown in for good measure. There is a common thread in all of these writings focused on leadership and how individuals or teams overcome adversity. My current favorite book is Endurance, Alfred Lansing (1959), which recounts the 1914 Antarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton and his 26-man crew. Shackleton’s steadfast focus on the needs and welfare of his crew, combined with his unfaltering leadership, made it possible for the crew of the Endurance to not only survive but to prosper in conditions that can only be described as unimaginable.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

My grandfather was fond of rubbing his chin and telling me “Son, know your limitations, they are far more important than your capabilities.” This axiom has proven to be very good counsel throughout my life. One of the most critical factors in having success in both your personal and professional life, is recognizing when you need to seek other resources and collaborate for success.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

Tablet Command provides a best-in-class emergency incident response and management solution to public safety agencies across the United States and Canada. At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we offered additional users and services to all of our customers to support their response to the crisis, and enhance public and first responder safety.

Subsequently, a group of solution providers was contacted by the San Bernardino County, CA Incident Management Team (IMT). This team was deployed in an effort to coordinate the Fire and Emergency Medical System (EMS) response across the largest county in the United States. The IMT ask was a “dashboard” that would allow them to see the location and availability of all Fire and EMS resources from the various agencies across the county.

Although Tablet Command is a small organization when compared to the other technology providers that were engaged, our team was able to develop and deploy a solution that not only met, but exceeded, the expectations of the IMT in less than 10 days. One of the most critical aspects of our success is our understanding of the needs of our customers, and our agility in terms of responding to need.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

Let me begin by sharing that I feel the term “hero” is somewhat overused today. In the simplest of terms, a hero is a person who is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good — someone who puts the success of another person or group ahead of their own interests.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Integrity — Heroes do the right thing even when nobody’s looking.
  • Honesty — Heroes need to be able to deliver the bad news, as well as the good news.
  • Reliability — Heroes are predictable — the people around them know that they can always be counted on, and look to them for strength and resolve.
  • Selflessness — Heroes must have the ability to make sacrifices for the greater good.
  • Humility — Heroes are humble and see themselves as ordinary people presented with extraordinary opportunities.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

Heroism is driven by a world view, the knowledge that service to others is a fundamental human value, and the desire or compulsion to contribute to something that is bigger than oneself. This value is at the root of friendships and the sense of community that many people today feel they have lost. Heroes view adversity as opportunities and focus on solutions, rather than complaining about the challenges they face.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

In a word, NEED; heroic individuals and organizations are ready and willing to be responsive to need. As the current situation evolved, we understood that we could offer solutions that supported the safety and success to those we serve. Our team mobilized, and we rose to the challenge when others were unwilling to take it on.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

Today’s heroes are the people on the front lines of our crisis. Health care workers and first responders who are putting themselves in harm’s way to provide the services and support that are critical to the health and welfare of those they serve. My home state of California is battling not only the impacts of the pandemic, but we are currently fighting wildfires of historic magnitude and impact. The men and women who do these critical jobs day in and day out with little thanks or recognition, are today’s heroes.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

I am most alarmed by the division in our country today. At a time when we should all be working together to protect one another and work through a crisis of historic proportions, we are more divided as a nation than we have been in my lifetime.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

I believe that people are inherently good and that in spite of what we see in the media daily, the majority of people in the United States and around the world are doing the right thing. I would like to believe that the people who are engaged in hateful and divisive rhetoric are a vocal minority and that they do not represent our nation as a whole.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

I am most inspired by those who get up every day and put the needs and interests of others ahead of their own. As I said above, those in the healthcare system, first responders, and ordinary people who go to work and do what is needed in spite of the personal risk and potential cost.

I am disappointed by those who have trivialized our current situation and labeled it a hoax. These same people have contributed to the spread of COVID-19, and their behavior does additional damage to public health and the economy — all in the name of personal freedom or rights.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

The short answer is no. My worldview has evolved over a lifetime, and won’t be easily changed. I am alarmed by how polarized our society has become, but I believe that positive change is always the result of challenge and stress. As I’ve shared, I think there is some inherent good in every one of us. Generally speaking, people are hostile or combative when they are afraid or encounter something they don’t understand or can’t explain. I’m hopeful that as we emerge from the current situation, we will once again find common ground and the shared purpose that has made us strong and resilient.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

The understanding that in the absence of constructive dialog, we will never be able to move ahead or accomplish any of the things that are so critically important to our futures, and the futures of our children. Today, people are so polarized that we’ve forgotten how to respectfully disagree and work together to achieve consensus and change. Until people are able to understand that we don’t live in an “us and them” world and that we will all succeed or fail together, meaningful social change will not be possible.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Although I have enjoyed some personal and professional success in my life, the most gratifying moments have been those times when the people around me or teams I am involved with, have been successful. Many people today focus on achieving wealth, power, or titles. In my experience, being a part of something that is focused on doing good, and working to support the success of the team, is far more gratifying than paychecks and titles. In the end, you’ll likely achieve more than you ever thought possible by simply working every day to make a positive difference.

One of the other actions that I have taken far too late in life is getting involved as a volunteer in an organization that makes some positive societal impact. Choose an area that aligns with your values and something that is important to you, and donate some of your time. I volunteer at my community food bank on a regular basis and have found the experience to be very rewarding. I get the opportunity to interact with other volunteers that share my values and worldview while doing something that has tangible benefits to my community.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would be the founding member of “The Listening Movement”. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), Steven Covey suggested “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” As I shared above, our society has devolved to a place where people refuse to listen or attempt to hear or understand the views and needs of those with an alternative perspective or opinion. The first step toward healing and addressing the problems that face us today, will be for each of us to intentionally stop and listen to those around us. We must understand and address their concerns and needs before we will be able to make any kind of positive change at the societal level. Positive outcomes are always the result of consensus, not combat.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would enjoy a conversation with Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd. Chouinard has evolved a pair of companies built around the things he best loved into innovative organizations that pioneer environmentally-conscious business practices. Both companies make significant charitable contributions to environmental action organizations on an ongoing basis. Chouinard also understands the principles of servant leadership, and has created an innovative work environment focused on the mental and physical health of employees with the understanding that a happy, healthy workforce is one of the most critical pillars of business success. I would be interested to learn how his vision was developed, and how he maintained focus on that vision since he began his work in 1957.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram and Twitter: @TabletCommandfre

Facebook: @TabletCommandICS

Linked In: Tablet Command

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


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