Tuesday, April 4, 2006

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The American Red Cross gets a spanking

The New York Times' Stephanie Strom reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross is none too pleased with how the American Red Cross performed during Katrina:

The American Red Cross's response to Hurricane Katrina was poorly planned, relied too heavily on inexperienced managers and often failed to meet the needs of victims, say reports by international Red Cross officials who were dispatched to assist their American counterparts.

The unusually harsh reports, prepared in late summer and the fall, detailed mismatches between the needs of victims and the supplies the Red Cross had arranged, the absence of a plan to guide the distribution of supplies and a lack of record-keeping, which allowed inventory to go astray.

"What is clear is that the basic needs of the beneficiaries are not being met," Mike Goodhand, head of the international logistics division of the British Red Cross, wrote on Sept. 15.

The reports, which were provided to The New York Times by a former American Red Cross official who insisted on anonymity, closely echo concerns raised by volunteers in the disaster area....

The Red Cross, which had 235,000 volunteers in the field after Hurricane Katrina, received roughly 60 percent of the $3.6 billion that Americans donated for hurricane relief.

Mr. Goodhand's report described a case in which victims in Mississippi, where his team had been sent, were requesting prepared meals and the only food that Red Cross volunteers could offer was bananas. Volunteers driving out into neighborhoods were asked for water and juice, but had only bleach on hand, he wrote.

"All efforts to address the situation were rebuffed," Mr. Goodhand wrote. He said that when his team offered its expertise on distributing supplies, it was instead assigned to hand out the supplies, work that could have been done by less experienced volunteers.

You can access the report by clicking here. A few thoughts:

1) It is just me or is has the Red Cross become the NGO equivalent of the Department of Energy -- i.e., a bureaucracy that, through some internal alchemy, seems guaranteed to generate a scandal every few years?

2) Is it just me or is the new New York Times web redesign actually useful? UPDATE: Nope, not just me.

posted by Dan on 04.04.06 at 09:32 PM


This may seem trivial, but I preferred when the Times site had the more distinctive black text. The blue - while perhaps easier on the eyes - looks too much like the Post.

I do like that they no longer prominently display four or so boxes of TimesSelect content (such as Friedman and other columnists), which was good advertising, but frustrating for us non-subscribers.

Now all Opinion is crammed into a postage-stamp size box in the top right corner. Bad for the columnists, perhaps, but good for people who don't want to see teasing mugshots of people whose work we can't afford to read.

posted by: b. phillips on 04.04.06 at 09:32 PM [permalink]

It's not that the TimesSelect is not affordable, it's that it's not worth the money.

posted by: Tom Brandt on 04.04.06 at 09:32 PM [permalink]

Agreed Tom, check out the feature matrix and one can see how much of a waste of money Times Select is:


posted by: Chris Albon on 04.04.06 at 09:32 PM [permalink]

The American Red Cross has been lapped by the Salvation Army in every disaster for years. The Red Cross has become very good fundraising and PR organization, but not much else. Give directly to the Salvation Army if you want your money to count with disaster relief.

posted by: Don Mynack on 04.04.06 at 09:32 PM [permalink]

In some small defense of the ARC, they are to be instantly prepared to respond to random emergencies in random places, with 98% volunteer labor. Not easy.

Ditto the comments on the Salvation Army though. They are just about the most amazing people on the planet, day in, day out, in the community, during emergencies. Faith based - hmmm.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 04.04.06 at 09:32 PM [permalink]

I would like to defend the ARC, particularly against the ICRC. They have absolutely no room to talk about efficiency or anything else for that matter, they are a sad joke. The ARC has problems, but overall I think that given the size of Katrina they did pretty well.

One other thing, when your house burns down there will be a Red Cross person there with the fire department getting you a place to stay, something to eat and your kid a toy before you even started to think of these things.

Overall, I think that they are being treated a little unfairly in this case.

posted by: BCN on 04.04.06 at 09:32 PM [permalink]

I'm personally suprised that the International Red Cross would make such a statement. As a volunteer at the NY chapter on Amsterdam, I know for a fact that the American Red Cross and NY Red Cross made a huge impact to help those affected.

One thing most people don't seem to understand about the mission of the Red Cross as a whole is that the group serves as an immediate disaster relief group. Groups and teams such as DRTs and the ERV vechicles are equpped to provide this immediate relief and aid. In that, I think we did a great job:

1) 700 volunteers responded to 19,000 calls at HQ
2) The Call Center was opened 24/7 straight for 2 months.
3) 10 relief stations were expanded to 19
4) 1,760 families received family assistance in NYC alone.
5) 400 evacuees were housed in NYC hotels for up to three months.
6) 2,500 new volunteers signed up for the Disaster Service Teams
7) Hundreds of thousands of hot meals were served a day with the help of the Southern Baptist Church.

Understand that the Red Cross did a hard job, responding even before FEMA and the OEM. Virtually thousands of blankets, temporary housing in cots, emergency kits and instant meals were handed out. Even $2,000 debit cards were handed out to evacuees to get their hands on what they needed after losing pratically everything in the floods that wiped the city clean. This takes alot of resources, not just money but also volunteers.

posted by: Joseph on 04.04.06 at 09:32 PM [permalink]

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