More communities will rely on American Red Cross services as the climate crisis causes more intense and frequent extreme weather across the country. In a recent LinkedIn live discussion, moderated by Ashleigh Banfield, Red Cross Greater New York board member and host of “Banfield” on NewsNation, we asked Jennifer Pipa, vice president of Disaster Programs at the Red Cross, about the ways we’re adapting our services and growing our disaster response capacity to help people affected by unrelenting disasters.
What are the significant ways the climate crisis is affecting disaster response?
“We are seeing more disasters that are significantly larger, impacting communities at a much higher rate in today’s world than even say 10, 15 or 20 years ago. They’re larger, and they’re more destructive, and that has a significant impact on our organization and how we’re challenged to deliver our mission.
“I’ve gone back to the same communities year after year after year, and it is heartbreaking to see the same families inside of our shelters because they’ve been displaced multiple years because of hurricanes. To watch a family weather destruction of their home, or significant impact on their home, repair it, get back on their feet, and then, two years later run into them in a Red Cross shelter again, it’s that repetitive impact that just drains the resilience right out of a community.
“Places that haven’t historically been impacted are unfamiliar with what a disaster relief operation looks like, of how you help your community recover. We’re in places like Vermont and Arkansas and Kentucky. These are areas that historically as an organization we haven’t had to respond to for a large-scale disaster.
“We see a huge demand for mental health. Those are the primary barriers that families and communities are telling us that keep them from moving on to their next step.”
With the climate crisis causing devastating impacts in communities, how is the Red Cross responding? What are the tangible efforts you’re making?
“We’re really looking at what are large-scale disaster response looks like. How do we staff it? How do we take care of those communities? How do we connect with that community on an authentic level to understand how that community wants to navigate its own recovery? The second is focused on additional financial assistance. It’s one of the things that as an organization we are well positioned to do, and we provide immediate financial assistance usually within about 10 to 14 days after a disaster. What we’ve seen is that it isn’t enough. There is a place for us as an organization to make additional investments in individuals and families.
“The third is around those local partner networks. When we talk about health, hunger and housing, those are three major barriers that we’re seeing. Those aren’t necessarily mission services that fall within the Red Cross’ expertise, but there are people in those communities who do that every single day. And because of that, we can connect with those providers before a disaster happens, help support them in becoming resilient, and then, we know that will translate into better outcomes for individuals and families.
“Last, we are a volunteer-supported organization. We don’t do anything in this organization without the power of mobilizing volunteers. If you’re going to run operations concurrently, you got to have the volunteer backup to do that. So, there is an acknowledgment that we need to grow our volunteer base in order to meet the mission delivery that we want in this organization.”
What is the Red Cross doing to empower local communities to become more resilient?
“Our Community Adaptation Program focuses on very local community blocks that are struggling every single day, but then at the same time, we’re getting these repetitive impacts from these large-scale disaster relief operations. We talked about the three major barriers, housing, hunger or food insecurity, and then, the physical and mental health impacts.
“There are tons of nonprofits out there that do that today, but if they get impacted and they go offline during a disaster, people will turn to us because we can provide that as a proxy for a short period of time. But we know that in order for people to return back to their community, that infrastructure needs to be present and engaged and able to deliver their mission as well.
“In Arkansas, we have this group of women with the Frenchman’s Bayou of the First Baptist Church and they provide food for food-insecure families. And their feeding distribution had been about 50 people a month. But we know that if we could increase their capacity, this would do two amazing things. One, it helps that community every single day by increasing its capacity. Second, it helps get their unit back online sooner when a disaster strikes. So, we help them invest in a box truck.
“That means that they’re taking better care of their community every single day. And when the next disaster happens, because we know it, they will be well positioned to walk alongside us in that disaster relief operation and help serve people.”
What can everyday people do?
“The first thing you can do is take preparedness actions today to make sure that you are ready for whatever. That means, becoming weather aware about what the most likely risks are that might pose a problem for you and your family and your community. It means being weather-aware about alerts and notifications. We have a Red Cross Emergency app, which is free to download, which will send you alerts. It also allows you to monitor other people’s locations.
“The second is volunteering with us. You don’t have to necessarily volunteer in light of a disaster. You can be a blood donor ambassador, which welcomes people and provides them with refreshments and snacks after they’ve donated.
“The third is donating blood. We are the largest single provider of blood, about 40% of the nation’s blood supply comes from our organization. We rely on the generosity of donors to roll up their sleeve and donate blood. I am a lifelong blood donor. I passed my six-gallon mark a couple of months ago.
“There are so many opportunities for people to engage with our organization. It’s so flexible depending on where you are in your life and what your circumstances are, but this is only getting harder. It’s only getting busier. The work we do is incredibly important, but we rely on the generosity of volunteers, donors and partners to do that, and we couldn’t do it without people raising their hand and helping us.”
Wanted to take a deeper dive into the ambitious Red Cross plan to address the climate crisis? Here are three ways you can learn more about it:
- Visit the American Red Cross Climate Crisis Resource page (available in English and Spanish)
- Read about it in this LinkedIn article penned by Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern
- Watch the full LinkedIn Live conversation between Ashleigh Banfield and Jennifer Pipa