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.