How the Red Cross Botched Its Response To Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac

News & Politics

The Red Cross is among America's most respected non-profit organizations, and has become synonymous with helping those in need, particularly after natural disasters. But a new report from ProPublica's Justin Elliot and Jesse Eisinger and NPR's Laura Sullivan finds that the organization badly botched its response to Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac, and then diverted resources to cover up that botched response for public relations purposes.

Here are a few of their stunning findings:

ANGLING FOR THE PRESS, NOT THE PUBLIC: An internal report obtained by the trio of reporters says that the organization made the decision during Hurricane Isaac to begin “diverting assets for public relations purposes”; one driver told the researchers that dozens of trucks were given orders to be driven around empty “just to be seen.” During Sandy, some vehicles were taken away from relief efforts to be stationed at press conferences instead.

MASSIVE MISMANAGEMENT OF RESOURCES: After the storms, disabled refugees “slept in their wheelchairs for days,” while the Red Cross was unable to get proper beds for them. Another shelter had sex offenders allowed into the children's area of relief sites.

UNDER-STAFFED AND OVERWHELMED: The Red Cross is historically known for its selfless volunteers, but in response to Isaac and Sandy, it was unable to recruit and properly staff for the level of disaster it was responding to. The reporters note that “nearly two-thirds of the volunteers responding to Sandy had never before provided relief after a large disaster,” and that this had a deleterious effect. In New York, a 75-year-old emergency vehicle driver was tasked with climbing 17 stories to feed a disaster victim of the same age; in another episode, Red Cross staff were distributing flashlights but had no batteries, so they had to ask locals to volunteer them—and this was weeks after the storm in New York had hit. After Sandy, the Red Cross discovered that it was unable to properly distribute food, with one staffer estimating that a third of the meals were being wasted and not eaten while at the same time headquarters was demanding an increase in meal output of more than ten times.

At the end of their article, the three reporters asked Richard Reickenberg, a disaster response specialist who used to work at the Red Cross if people should still give money to them. “I don't donate to the Red Cross. People should do what they think is best for them.” You can read the full investigation into the Red Cross here.

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