Health

American Red Cross Diverts Relief Money and Efforts to PR, Says Report

| by Michael Allen

The American Red Cross diverted some donations and volunteers meant to help the victims of Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy to its public relations campaigns, say news reports.

Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, American Red Cross president and CEO Gail McGovern told NBC News, "I think that we are near flawless so far in this operation."

However, in that same NBC News report (video below), Hurricane Sandy victims in Breezy Point, New York, claimed they hadn't received help from the American Red Cross, which received over $100 million in donations for Sandy victims.

A new report by NPR and ProPublica claims that American Red Cross documents and officials say that the charity was struggling to help victims within the first few weeks of Hurricane Sandy because it "diverted assets for public relations purposes."

Popular Video

A police officer saw a young black couple drive by and pulled them over. What he did next left them stunned:

Popular Video

A police officer saw a young black couple drive by and pulled them over. What he did next left them stunned:

An American Red Cross document from a December 2012 meeting stated, “Multiple systems failed" after Hurricane Sandy and added, “We didn’t have the kind of sophistication needed for this size job."

NPR and ProPublica claim that a former American Red Cross official said that 40 percent of their trucks were used as props for news conferences during Hurricane Sandy.

American Red Cross personnel were told to create 200,000 extra meals in one day to create impressive numbers for the media, but most of food was wasted because the American Red Cross had no one to deliver the food to, say the reports.

A confidential American Red Cross memo stated, "Sex offenders were placed in a special area off of dorm [inside a shelter], but they weren't there, they were all over, including playing in children's area."

When Hurricane Isaac hit in August of 2012, there was massive failure on behalf of the charity, according to Richard Rieckenberg, former head of mass care for the American Red Cross.

"We didn't have food in the shelters, we didn't have cots, we didn't have blankets in the shelters, which to me was incredible because we saw this hurricane coming a long way away," Rieckenberg told NPR and ProPublica.

Jim Dunham, a truck driver for the American Red Cross, claims that 80 trucks were driven around empty or mostly empty "just to be seen" after Hurricane Isaac.

“We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give,” Dunham told NPR and ProPublica.

Dunham called the American Red Cross relief effort “worse than the storm.”

Bergen County, New Jersey, Police Lt. Matthew Tiedemann described failures by the American Red Cross after Hurricane Sandy to NPR and ProPublica.

"Our experience with the Red Cross is they're a little late to the game," said Lt. Tiedemann. "The reality set in that I was in the sheltering business. It was pretty time-consuming, considering I was putting together cots when I should have been managing an emergency."

During Hurricane Sandy, American Red Cross volunteers reportedly wandered around New York because they didn't have GPS devices, and volunteers were ordered to stay in Tampa, Florida, after it was determined that Hurricane Isaac would not hit the gulf coast city.

Gail McGovern took her position as American Red Cross president and CEO in 2008 and began a series of layoffs that closed local offices to save money because of the charity's $70 million debt, even though it brings in close to $1 billion per year in donations.

McGovern wrote in an email to American Red Cross executives in September that lamented, "Fundraising fell short of our target in a year without any huge national disasters.”

However, despite all this evidence, the American Red Cross still defends its emergency responses.

"I'm very proud of the services we provided," Trevor Riggen, a vice president at the American Red Cross, told NPR and ProPublica. "I think the volume of services and the speed at which we provided it speaks to the quality of service of the volunteers and staff on the ground.

"I think there are details both in the documents you have and other documents you haven't seen that help us learn from our processes," added Riggen. "I don't believe that's the way our leadership has used resources on the ground or that that was a driving factor in their decisions."

Sources: NBC News, NPR, ProPublica