Red Cross carries on despite storm-response flak

Associated Press Modified: November 4, 2012 at 3:46 pm •  Published: November 4, 2012
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After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Red Cross was criticized for its handling of donations — a controversy that contributed to a change in leadership and new policies for earmarking donations.

The agency encountered withering criticism once again — some from within its own ranks — after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. An internal report cited overwhelmed volunteers, inflexible attitudes and inadequate anti-fraud measures.

One major change since then is a greater focus on getting relief supplies into threatened areas before a hurricane arrives. But this pre-positioning had its limits with the response to a storm as vast as Sandy.

"We never put personnel or supplies in the path of a hurricane. You have to come in after the fact," Lockwood said. "That did present challenges in this case."

In fact, he said his staff moved some supplies out of the city before Sandy's arrival, as a precaution against storm damage.

By Wednesday, two days after the storm, the local Red Cross realized that the scope of the disaster would require large-scale assistance from outside the city. But at that point, a host of logistical problems made it difficult to expedite deliveries overland. Only by Thursday and Friday did the stream of relief goods and vehicles pick up speed, Lockwood said.

The agency now has 70 emergency response vehicles in New York City, each carrying 1,000 pounds of food, water and supplies. They supplied about 128,000 meals on Saturday, he said.

"Every major disaster is different from one another," Lockwood said. "The magnitude of Sandy was so broad, so deep, so severe, with millions of people affected, that no single agency could address the challenges."

"Perhaps we are a bit of a target, because of our brand," he added. "My colleagues and I are so proud to be affiliated with this organization and this mission. If we're going to take our lumps, that's part of being in the disaster-relief business."

One of the other relief agencies responding to Sandy, Save the Children, became sufficiently frustrated with logistical problems that it resorted to Twitter to seek help.

"We can't reach many kids affected by Sandy due to lack of gas," it said in a Twitter message Saturday, asking its followers to relay the message to the governors of New York and New Jersey.

Save the Children's CEO, Carolyn Miles, was visiting displaced families Sunday at a Red Cross shelter in Atlantic City. In a telephone interview, she said the Red Cross had indeed become a lightning rod for second-guessing.

"Are they supplying people with what they need? Yes, they are," Miles said. "Could things be better? Yes, there are always things that could be better ... but there are people here who don't have other places to go who are being taken care of."

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Online: http://www.redcross.org/

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