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American Red Cross Responds to Inaccuracies in ProPublica and NPR Stories

This morning, NPR and ProPublica published stories detailing criticisms of the Red Cross response to Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac. The matrix below documents information provided to these news outlets that was omitted in their reporting.

 

Myth

Fact

The American Red Cross cares more about its image and reputation than providing service to those in need. Our mission is to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies, and that alone is what guided our service delivery decisions during Sandy and during every emergency.  With the help of our donors and 17,000 workers – 90% of whom are volunteers – we delivered 17 million meals and snacks, 7 million relief items, and hosted 74,000 overnight stays in shelters to people who urgently needed our services.Every year, the Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters, most of which are home fires that never make headlines. If the Red Cross cared more about image and PR than providing services, we wouldn’t spend time responding to these silent disasters.
The Red Cross diverted vehicles and resources to press conferences instead of using them to deliver services. This is patently untrue. The Red Cross did not host any press conferences during the first months of Sandy. We participated in a limited number of press events hosted by others, but most of those took 15 minutes and took place in locations where services were already happening, and we continued those services long after the cameras left. We also had hundreds of requests from media outlets to see our services.  We informed the media where we were providing services.While ProPublica claims we could not tell them how many ERVs were in New York on November 2, we did, in fact, provide them with evidence that 77 of our vehicles were providing service in New York and Long Island to residents in need. They chose not to include our response.
Richard Rieckenberg, the source of much of the information for these reports, was “the” Mass Care Chief and a high-ranking Red Cross official, before he quit. That is incorrect. Mr. Rieckenberg was one of 79 chiefs on the Sandy operation and had a limited view of the operation that lasted less than a few weeks. He reported into a larger chain of command that had a much broader perspective of the relief we provided.
The Red Cross sent too many volunteers to Tampa during Hurricane Isaac, when the storm actually had a greater impact in Mississippi and Louisiana. The Red Cross must make decisions about where we are going to deploy volunteers as many as five days in advance, and we follow forecasts from the National Hurricane Center.  At that point, the cone is still large, but we need to act in order to get people and materials in place before weather conditions worsen and travel is made more difficult. Of paramount concern was the safety of our disaster responders. Due to the potential onset of gale force winds and potential storm surge, Red Cross workers stayed in place until they could move safely.As part of our annual planning for hurricanes in Florida, the Red Cross has a standing commitment to shelter 100,000 people in the Tampa area during a storm. Tampa is prone to flooding and has a vulnerable elderly population.The volunteers and resources deployed to Florida did not come at the expense of other states.  At the same time we deployed volunteers to Tampa, we also deployed them in other states including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas – and we did provide ProPublica with those numbers. As the storm track kept shifting, there was a threat to the Florida panhandle and to South Florida so it made sense to keep workers centrally located in case they needed to move to those areas.To be clear, the Red Cross was not the only organization that made plans to contend with the storm. Media outlets covered the storm’s potential landfall, and the Republican National Committee canceled the first day of its convention as a precaution.
The relief operation for Hurricane Isaac was chaotic and inadequate. During Isaac, the Red Cross opened nearly 160 shelters, served nearly 649,000 meals and snacks, distributed more the 140,000 relief items, deployed more than 5,300 workers and mobilized more than 250 relief vehicles.It was not clear where Isaac would impact until 48 hours pre-landfall, and gale force winds and surge risk limited the mobility of our staff and resources.Still, the Red Cross coordinated closely with local officials in each state and as resource gaps were identified we moved quickly to fill them.
After landfall, the Red Cross sent 80 empty emergency response vehicles through neighborhoods in Mississippi, only for show. There is no evidence to support that. The Red Cross often uses its vehicles to conduct damage assessment in affected areas, so we can better coordinate service. But drivers would have been instructed to provide critical intelligence on where we should deploy our resources to better serve those in need.  This helps plan feeding routes and other supply needs.
Sandy survivors were dissatisfied with the work of the Red Cross. The ProPublica story cites one unsatisfied Sandy survivor. We provided NPR and ProPublica with client satisfaction surveys showing that three out of four Red Cross clients in New York and New Jersey expressed a positive experience with the Red Cross. Those surveys were not included in the stories.
In the early days of Sandy, the Red Cross was wasting an average of 30% of the meals it was producing. We have no evidence this happened. What we do know is that we served 17 million meals and snacks, and our feeding trucks emptied out almost as soon as they went out.  Every day, for weeks on end, we were feeding the equivalent of sold out crowds at Yankee and Giant stadiums combined.The individual who supplied this anecdotal information claimed to be in charge of feeding. He was not. He was on location for just two weeks and only saw a limited portion of the response in one part of New York.
Red Cross disaster workers who served on Sandy complained to headquarters about the response operation. The facts just don’t support this claim. Our worker surveys after Sandy show that the overwhelming majority-more than 70%- of them were satisfied with their experience.  ProPublica and NPR chose not to include information from this survey and instead focused on three dis-satisfied workers who had a very limited role in the relief operation.
Red Cross workers did not have adequate training or experience to serve on a relief operation as large as Sandy. Here are the details we told ProPublica and NPR about this issue that didn’t make it into either story:Of the 11,000 Red Cross disaster responders we deployed to work on the Sandy operation, over 5,500 of them had experience responding to a large disaster. Specifically in the Mass Care function-which was responsible for feeding and sheltering- our records show that nearly 70% had experience on a major relief operation. Our volunteers are trained at the local level and rise through the ranks by volunteering to assist on local fires and regional disasters.  People who work in shelters or drive ERVs undergo specific simulation training.There are many jobs on a relief operation and we used more than 6,000 local and spontaneous workers, many of whom may have been responding to their first disaster.  We used these volunteers-who simply wanted to help their neighbors-for activities that don’t require technical expertise, such as packing and handing out relief supplies.
The Red Cross allowed sex offenders in shelters The Red Cross has policies and procedures in place to handle the presence of sex offenders in shelters and works closely with law enforcement in the shelter management process.Shelter registration forms ask if people are required to register with the state for any reason. If the answer is “yes” the shelter manager must speak with the individual immediately. If a shelter resident is identified as a registered sex offender, the Red Cross will work with local law enforcement to determine what’s best for the safety of those in the shelter.There was at least one situation during Sandy where a shelter resident identified someone who he/she thought was a sex offender. When this was brought to our attention, we brought in additional resources and handled the matter.We provided this information to NPR and Pro Publica, and they chose not to include it.
The Red Cross left wheelchair bound shelter residents sitting in their chairs for days without proper care. The Red Cross is committed to helping people with a wide range of needs during disasters, including people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, people with chronic health concerns and the elderly.  We have worked closely with disability groups and have an excellent track record in this area.There have been isolated instances when entire assisted living facilities have been dropped off unexpectedly at our shelters and have briefly overwhelmed the systems we have in place. We believe that the comments in the document referencing wheelchair bound clients may refer to a specific situation during Hurricane Isaac in which that happened. In those cases, our staff and volunteers work with shelter residents to determine the best course of action, so they can remain safe until we have the physical resources to better manage their individual situations and needs.The bottom line is: If we’re unable to provide suitable equipment to address these needs immediately, we bring in the resources necessary to address them as quickly as possible. But in the interim, our health and mental health staff ensures that the shelter residents are safe and cared for.

 

 

2 Minute Fire Drill: Can You Escape?

120 seconds. Two minutes. That’s how much time fire experts agree that you may have to escape a burning home before it’s too late to get out.

The Johnson family has the drill down:

Did you catch everything they did?

  • Make a fire escape plan with two exits out of every room.
  • Practice your fire escape plan twice a year.
  • Feel closed doors. If  the door is hot, use your second way out.
  • Help family members safely exit to your meeting place.
  • Go to your outside meeting place, and then call for help.
  • Remember to get out, stay out and call 9-1-1.

Do the drill with your family and post your time on Twitter with the #FireDrill hashtag. Don’t forget to tag your friends and family to see if they can beat your time.

Find more information about mapping an escape plan for a single family home, multiple family units or high rises with Red Cross resources. To help plan your family’s fire drill, use this home fire escape plan worksheet and practice it at least twice a year. Go ahead, put it on the calendar now!

 

Special Thanks to Our Volunteers, Employees and Donors During Sandy

By: Trevor Riggen,
Vice President of Disaster Services Operations and Logistics,
American Red Cross

Next week marks the two-year anniversary of one of the largest responses in the long and proud history of this organization. It was a storm and challenge so unique that they had to come up with a new name just to describe it – Superstorm Sandy.  It was a massive, powerful storm that hit the most densely populated area of the country at the tail end of hurricane season followed by falling temperatures, snow, and enormous need throughout the region.

I want to begin by saying thank you to each and every one of you who donated money or raised your hand to join in serving those in need during the long weeks that followed landfall and to the thousands more who have served in our ongoing recovery efforts. So much great work was done by so many – the numbers are truly staggering.

  • More than 17 million meals and snacks were served
  • More than 7 million relief items were distributed
  • 74,000 over-night shelter stays were accommodated
  • More than 5,100 households have been provided over $32 million of move-in assistance
  • More than $91 million has been provided to dozens of nonprofits with specialized expertise and strong local ties

During the peak of the response and for weeks after Sandy’s landfall, we were providing 130,000 to 150,000 meals and snacks a day. Imagine handing a meal or snack to every person at a sold-out New York Giants or Jets game AND a sold-out Yankees game, every day, from Halloween until after Christmas. None of this would have been possible without the hearts of our volunteers and the generosity of our donors.

More than 17,000 of you put on a vest and put your lives on hold to serve others. Many of you stayed to serve past your 3 week commitment or returned to serve during the holidays. Your work has greatly benefited those affected by Sandy, not just in the initial response, but also through our recovery efforts, which continue to this day. Across New Jersey, New York and Connecticut the work goes on.  With our partners and the local regions we continue to serve those affected, through grant-funded home rebuilds, volunteer trainings and convening long-term recovery groups.  And our surveys show an overwhelming majority of those we served reported a positive experience with the Red Cross.

While we are proud of our response, we also know that we can always do better. “Good enough” is not the standard we seek to reach. We’re always striving to improve because we know the American public and the people we serve expect nothing less.

Throughout its 133-year history, the American Red Cross has continued to make changes and find new and more efficient ways to do things. In fact, this drive to learn and do better started with Clara Baron, the founder of the American Red Cross, who said, “I go for anything new that might improve the past.”

In that spirit, I want to close by sharing some of the improvements we’ve made based on what we learned from our work before, during and after Sandy.

Months before Sandy struck in October 2012, we began a process known as re-engineering. It began with a comprehensive and detailed examination of the way we approach disasters.

One of the main outcomes of that effort was a commitment to empower local Red Cross leaders on the ground, who know their communities best, to make more decisions locally. As a result of that commitment, we have moved nearly one-third of our disaster positions out of national headquarters and into the field, closer to the people we serve.

We are already seeing this new structure work. I’ve heard personally from those of you who served in Moore, Oklahoma after the tornadoes, Colorado after the floods, and Oso, Washington after the landslide.

If you look around at the major projects and work from the past year, you can see lessons from Sandy in many other places.

Preparedness: We saw during Sandy how critical preparedness is to response. Raising awareness of risks and preparedness actions at the community level can save lives in the first 48 to 72 hours after a storm.  Now we integrate preparedness into everything we do.

Response: The impact from Sandy was felt from Ohio and West Virginia to Vermont. This size of event allowed us to see where our systems could scale, as well as areas  where they couldn’t and we’ve made adjustments. Our new divisional structure and tools, such as our inventory management system, will allow us to streamline the movement of supplies and resources in a way we couldn’t before.

Recovery:  Perhaps the greatest lesson we learned was the value of having a standardized recovery program – one that is predictable and repeatable and that scales to meet the need.  You’ve probably seen the new Recovery Services program materials and resources; what’s currently available is just the start.

All this to say we’ve learned a great deal from Sandy and our many other operations over the past few years. We’re committed to taking the lessons we learn and applying them to the programs we create and the services we provide.

Last week, I was asked a very simple question by a reporter: “How would you characterize your response to Sandy?” My answer was equally simple – We couldn’t be prouder. We are proud of our efforts to help thousands of families move back into their homes. We are proud of the massive scale of feeding and distribution we provided. And, we are proud of the fact that we’ve spent or committed to spend 99 percent of the $311.5 million entrusted to us by our donors for our Sandy work.

Most importantly, we’re proud that when we put out the call for help, you answered, and it made a difference in the lives of others.

I am humbled to be a part of this amazing organization and to work each and every day alongside you to take care of those in need. We are committed to doing even better in the next disaster, and the one after that.

 

Debunking a Red Cross Ebola Myth

If you’re online regularly, you can see some unusual and often outrageous claims, especially involving big topics in the news.

Lately, you may have seen a ridiculous rumor about the Red Cross purposely spreading Ebola in African nations. The Red Cross and Red Crescent network across the globe does amazing work to respond to disasters and emergencies; promote health; tend to the sick and injured and get communities ready for future emergencies.

Red Cross workers from around the world and volunteers from the Ebola affected countries are on the ground right now trying to stem the tide of this virus.

Sharing false rumors like this through social media isn’t helping their efforts. In fact, spreading false information actually endangers the very people who are trying to make a difference. And, because the rumor also promotes the notion that Ebola isn’t real, it also minimizes the risk at a time when people-particularly those in the most affected West African nations-should be vigilant about their health. That’s dangerous too.

Before you share what you see online about this or any rumor, please take a moment to learn about the issue. The people at Snopes.com have posted an article debunking this myth entitled “We’re Not Ghana Take It”. The International Business Times, a well respected publication, even reported on this rumor, labeling it a “conspiracy theory”. The official American Red Cross response is below as well. For the most up to date information about Ebola in the U.S, we encourage you to visit www.cdc.gov/ebola.

The allegations against the Red Cross regarding the spread of Ebola in West Africa are completely false and unfounded. The Red Cross has not been providing Ebola “vaccinations” to anyone in West Africa. In fact, there is currently, no vaccine for Ebola.

Ebola is a serious and potentially deadly virus spread by human contact with infected patients. It is real and must be taken seriously.

Moreover, these allegations are an insult to the 4,000 local volunteers-themselves citizens of West African nations-who have been working tirelessly to help their neighbors. These volunteers have worked around the clock to provide prevention education, assist with burials, and provide comfort to families impacted by Ebola. In addition, the Red Cross opened a 60 bed treatment center in Sierra Leone. Patients have already started to recover and have been released from the center.

Spreading misinformation through social media is reckless and endangers lives. To learn accurate information about the ongoing relief efforts in West Africa please visit http://www.redcross.org/ebolaoutbreak.

Home Fire Campaign: Week 1 Wrap Up

The American Red Cross Home Fire Preparedness Campaign is striving to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by home fores, and we’ve already made an impact.

Over the weekend in Georgia, a Red Cross chapter and Boy Scout Troop went through many neighborhoods,installing fire alarms in the homes that were missing them. Later on, a woman turned on her self-cleaning oven and then took a nap. A pot of grease in the oven set off her recently installed smoke detector. Because of the this, the woman was able to wake up and safely escape her home.

Local chapters are doing great work by canvassing their area with information, installing smoke alarms, and making their communities aware of this campaign through social media.

Be sure to search for your local chapter on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about what your chapter is doing to help make your community safer and help reduce the number of deaths caused by home fires every year. If we saved at least one life this week, then we’re hopeful that more lives can be saved as we continue this campaign!

Here are a few highlights from what’s happened this week:

— SOMO Red Cross (@SOMORedCross) September 12, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Face Your Fears Day: A Confession

My mother likes to tell the story of one summer day when I was about five years old, living in the tiny town of Marengo, Ohio. It was a windy day – enough to move the tree branches and leaves, but not enough to indicate a storm or any other danger. Mom recounts how I stood at the back screen door, terrified to go outside because of the wind. And being very concerned about our picnic table blowing away.

Hi. My name is Sarah Layton. I work at the American Red Cross, and I have an irrational fear of the wind.

From that illustration, I’m sure you can image how I reacted whenever a real storm approached. I was an expert weather radar reader from a young age, at least enough to know when I should panic. Which was often. I would gather all my stuffed animals and dolls, stuff them into my Beauty and the Beast sleeping bag, and schlep the whole thing down to the stone cellar. I’d also gather a thermos of water and graham crackers.

Growing Up

I’m sure many of us have humorous or cute things we did as children when we didn’t understand a situation fully, or we were scared. This is relatable. But I’m sure we can also all relate to maturing, and coming to terms with the truth of the “knowledge is power” concept. I was excited to come work for the Red Cross as an exciting career move, but also as a chance to face my weather (and really, any other disaster).

Getting Prepared

My prayers as a kid went something like “Lord, protect me from fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes [yes, in Ohio. I didn’t say I was rational], and anything else that might hurt me, my family, and my town.” Luckily, I now have actionable information to help prepare for any number of disasters with Red Cross resources.

I took a first aid and CPR/AED course. I’ve downloaded all our Red Cross apps to set up alerts and have information at my fingertips for all types of emergencies. Instead of opening up all the windows in the house and bolting for the cellar when a tornado might be approaching, I know some handy resources to distinguish myths from facts. And instead of a grabbing a thermos of water and graham crackers, I’ve got the full three days’ supply of water and food stocked in my apartment.

Lending a Hand

This doesn’t mean I still don’t freak out a bit unnecessarily when dark clouds roll in and tornado warnings scroll across the TV screen. But you’ll find me out in front this time, giving digital hugs to others who are scared and sharing important information for others in harm’s way.

Knowledge is power. Face your fears. And just maybe, save a life.

Fire Alarm Fails: Part 1, Dance Party

We all remember those times a shrill, repetitive alarm interrupted a normal day — you burn your dinner, and the smoke alarms go off. You’re in a high school English class, and have to trudge outside in the rain for a fire drill. No matter if it’s a minor mishap or a drill, what a great opportunity to practice your fire escape plan!

But some people don’t see a fire alarm as an opportunity to practice. Rather, we found some fantastic examples of what NOT to do during a fire alarm.

Namely, have a dance party.

Fire experts agree that people may have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it’s too late to get out.

Make sure that everyone in the family knows how to get out of every room and how to get out of the home in less than two minutes.

Practice that plan. What’s the household’s escape time?

There are two simple steps every household in America can take that can save lives: checking their existing smoke alarms and practicing fire drills at home. 

Install smoke alarms on every level of the home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.

Test your smoke alarms every month and replace the batteries at least once a year.

Did you know the American Red Cross responds to a disaster every eight minutes and nearly all of these are home fires? During a home fire, working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan that has been practiced regularly can save lives. Find out if your family is prepared for a home fire – take our new quiz!

Stay tuned for more on how the Red Cross is working across the country to reduce deaths from home fires.

 

Quiz: Are You Prepared for a Home Fire?

The stats seem dire: 7 people die and 36 people are injured every single day from home fires. Over $7 billion in property damage occurs each year due to home fires. We all learned “stop, drop and roll” if you are on fire, but what else can we do to prepare for the worst?

This week, the Red Cross and its partners have launched an initiative that aims to reduce deaths and injuries caused by home fires by 25% in five years with the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign.

Test yourself with this handy quiz to determine what you have covered, and what you and your family may need to work on:

Powered by Interact

The Red Cross is asking every household in America to join us in taking two simple steps that can save lives: checking or installing smoke alarms and practicing fire drills at home. Join the campaign as a volunteer by contacting your local Red Cross chapter.

 

Could Your Family Survive a Home Fire? (VIDEO)

Yesterday, the TODAY show aired a segment with startling statistics about home fires. Eighty-two percent of families have never practiced a fire drill in their home so they don’t know what to do if their house caught on fire. The video below puts one Connecticut family to the test to see if they know how to escape their home. If you don’t have a home fire escape plan, use this fire escape planning sheet and read how how you can prevent a house fire today.

 

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Chatting about Enterovirus D68

Dr. Thomas Kirsch is a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and is the national physician advisor for the American Red Cross Disaster Health Services.  He is deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

A  new virus spreading across much of the country, known as Enterovirus D68, that is much like the flu –with  fever, sneezing, aches, and a runny nose – but with a cough that is a problem for many patients.

For some infants, children, and teens – especially those with asthma – the respiratory effects of this virus can be severe and require a trip to the emergency room or hospitalization.

With the virus identified in 12 states to date in early October, and flu just season around the corner, it’s time to prepare.

Today, I participated as a guest in the ABC News Twitter Chat about the Enterovirus. You can find tweets from the chat by searching #abcDrBchat in Twitter.

People can also follow these seven guidelines to protect yourself and your family from the Enterovirus and the flu:

  • Soap it and stop it. Proper hand washing helps avoid getting and spreading viruses. If using soap and water, wash thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, rinse, and then dry with a disposable towel (and use it to turn off the faucet). If using an alcohol-based sanitize, rub thoroughly over the hands until the gel dries.
  • Keep a handle on hands. Keep hands away from the eyes, nose and mouth to stop germs from entering the body. If you sneeze or cough, do it into a tissue and throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, direct your germs into your elbow, not your hands.
  • Keep your distance. Avoid close contact such as handshakes and hugs with people and co-workers who may be ill.
  • Don’t share your stuff. Avoid sharing items at home and work such as utensils, drinks, computers, telephones and mobile devices. If you must share, disinfect surfaces before and after. Regularly disinfect doorknobs, switches, handles, desks and other surfaces that are commonly touched.
  • Stay home if sick. If a family member gets the Enterovirus, help others stay healthy by keeping the sick person home until 24 hours after their fever is gone without taking medication.
  • Get a flu shot. Though it does not protect against the Enterovirus, the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone aged six months and older, especially pregnant women, people aged 50 or older, and those with chronic medical conditions.
  • See a doctor. Remember that children and adults experiencing difficulty breathing should see their health care provider. Those with known respiratory illnesses such as asthma should be sure to take their medications.

You also can prepare for respiratory emergencies by taking Red Cross training courses such as the Red Cross online Family First Aid and Pediatric CPR course.