After Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005, there was deep suspicion and unhappiness with the way the Red Cross conducted itself during relief operations. At the time, I wrote, among other things:
8. Relief organizations have their own bureaucratic requirements that may conflict with your needs. A good example is the Red Cross. In many cases across three states, I've had reports that locals who needed assistance were told that they had to register at a particular Red Cross shelter or facility. The help would not come to them - they had to go to it. If they wished to stay on their own property, they were sometimes denied assistance, and told that if they wanted help, they had to move into the shelter to get it. Also, assistance was often provided only to those who came in person. If you left your family at home and went to get food aid, you might be denied aid for your whole family, because there was no evidence that they existed. Only the number that could be physically counted by relief workers (who would not come to you, but insisted you come to them) would be provided with food. Needless to say, this caused much anger and resentment ... I'm more and more convinced that in the event of a disaster, I must rely on myself and a few friends, and never count on Government or relief organizations for the help I'll need.
That's just one example of an overly bureaucratic, top-heavy, seemingly uncaring approach by the Red Cross to disaster relief after Katrina. Sadly, it appears that something similar has been experienced in Houston during the past few weeks, after Hurricane Harvey passed through. The Pink Armadillo, which describes itself as "a community-centric magazine devoted to Northwest Houston", reports:
Residents across Texas are expressing their outrage at The Red Cross after Hurricane Harvey victims and relief volunteers witnessed mismanagement and apathy from Red Cross workers ... At Wednesday morning’s Houston City Council meeting, Councilman Dave Martin, who represents flood-ravaged Kingwood, had a very clear message to prospective donors of The Red Cross.
“I beg you not to send them a penny,” he said. “They are the most inept unorganized organization I’ve ever experienced. Don’t waste your money. Give it to another cause.”
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett was also uncomplimentary of the organization. Judge Emmett admitted that he asked a local nonprofit to manage the shelter at NRG Park, because he didn’t trust The Red Cross to do a good job.
. . .
And government officials are far from the only ones voicing their disapproval. We’ve seen story after story of Red Cross mismanagement expressed by both evacuees and volunteers across Texas. In fact, we’ve been hard pressed to find a positive story. When we do find one, we will update this article.
Here are a few of the latest social media posts about The Red Cross in Texas:
. . .
“We Are Not A Shelter. Don’t Touch That Cot”
Last night I experienced Red Cross first hand. I decided to go and volunteer at the Burton where Red Cross was in charge ... I was listening to what that employee was saying to them when they asked for stuff. One lady who came in with nothing was asking her where she could find toothpaste and the Red Cross employee looked at her and said, “Oh, I don’t think we have any of that. We are not a shelter.”
Luckily, some good volunteers forced their way in with all kinds of donations, so I pointed the lady in that direction.
. . .
Another thing was that these Red Cross employees (there were 7 of them at the Burton mind you) were loading up these people on buses and making them sit there for sometimes 2-3 hours at a time before sending them off. Someone asked a Red Cross employee if they were making sure the evacuees on the bus needed water or needed to get off to use the restroom because these people had been sitting on the bus for hours. The Red Cross employee responded with, “It is not my job to do that. My job is to stand here and monitor who is getting on the bus.”
I am just completely mind-blown by how awful this organization is. If people wouldn’t have forced their way in last night with donations those people would have sat in their soaking wet clothes.
. . .
No Infants or Elderly Allowed
So, today I went to go volunteer at the Toyota center downtown Houston because I heard they needed help ... After my duties were done I went to see where the carts were for people to sleep on [because] it was entirely too quiet ... I asked two head men in charge why there were so many carts available, and he said because they aren’t letting people with infants, elderly, or singles in. They said no infants because the diaper mess, elderly it would be too much dealing with them as in care, and singles (well he didn’t say a reason for them). At that very moment I felt irate. I told him how unacceptable it was to have so much room but to not accept people because they’re lazy. Then I said, “Okay, so what about other families that none of that applies to, at the shelter down the street, that are in the hallways and on the floors, can they come over here?” He says, “Well no, they have to be selected.” I said, “Well, how do they get selected?”
Now, if y’all know me, y’all know I started to feel myself getting real [indignant]. CRAZY thing is, he didn’t have an answer. At that very moment, I had to walk off before I went completely to the left on them. The police officers had no clue that was going on until I told them, and even they were upset [along] with me. They started making calls so hopefully they handled it, but I left and took my service where it was needed. I do not support the Red Cross and will never ever deal with them again.
Refusing Formula To Babies, Food To Hungry Kids
The view I have from my wheelchair is the American Red Cross should be ashamed of what’s going on with our displaced neighbors sheltered in Houston at GRB [George R. Brown] Convention Center ... Red Cross, please help me understand why there are moms in the shelter who need blankets. There are plenty of blankets with your logo on them up on the third floor. The people that need them are on the first floor. There is no logistics of an inventory system, a way to locate supplies, a way to get them down to the first floor or a way to distribute them.
Someone desperately needs a wheelchair but is told there aren’t any. Oh really? There are plenty on the third floor. I have babies with no formula. Why? Because no one at the Red Cross thought to order the kind of formula that WIC requires them to be on. I go and start sounding the alarm that we need ONE certain kind of formula for 90% of these babies. No one wants to listen to me. We have some of the correct kind up on the 3rd floor but, “Lady, you can’t take that. The Red Cross wants to hand it out.” Are you kidding me? Well, when and where? Do I tell a 2 month old that he needs to wait until a certain day? Not just baby formula. It’s this way with every supply these people need just to survive in the shelter.
. . .
I know of a family that had just registered into the shelter with children go to the food distribution area. They asked a regular volunteer if they could have something to eat because they hadn’t eaten for over 24 hrs. The regular vol went to grab them food off of a table in full view of these kids. A Red Cross representative said, “No, you can’t give them anything. It’s not meal time”. The reg Volunteer couldn’t believe his ears. He had to turn away hungry kids. Unbelievable.
There's more at the link.
I'm sorry to say that those reports, and the many others at that link, tally precisely with what I and many others experienced in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. It seems as if the administration that runs the Red Cross insists on dotting every "i" and crossing every "t" in the most bureaucratic, unfeeling way possible. The late Dr. Jerry Pournelle coined his "Iron Law of Bureaucracy", which appears to describe the Red Cross very accurately. Bold print is my emphasis.
Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people":
- First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.
- Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
Sure sounds like the Red Cross I've come to know in the United States!
To be fair, the Pink Armadillo did publish an extended reply from a Red Cross representative to the complaints made in its first article. However, I found his excuses and explanations unconvincing. If this were the only occurrence of such problems, he'd be on much stronger ground: but Harvey is only the most recent example of problems that appear to have plagued the US Red Cross for years, if not decades. Consider, for example, the following report:
In 2012, two massive storms pounded the United States, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless, hungry or without power for days and weeks.
Americans did what they so often do after disasters. They sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Cross, confident their money would ease the suffering left behind by Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. They believed the charity was up to the job.
They were wrong.
The Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Sandy and Isaac, leaving behind a trail of unmet needs and acrimony, according to an investigation by ProPublica and NPR. The charity’s shortcomings were detailed in confidential reports and internal emails, as well as accounts from current and former disaster relief specialists.
What’s more, Red Cross officials at national headquarters in Washington, D.C. compounded the charity’s inability to provide relief by “diverting assets for public relations purposes,” as one internal report puts it. Distribution of relief supplies, the report said, was “politically driven.”
Again, more at the link.
I'm afraid I simply don't trust the US Red Cross to be anything but a bureaucracy and an administrative-centric organization when it comes to disaster relief. I won't send any money their way. Instead, my relief dollars will go to the Salvation Army, an organization I know from personal experience uses almost every penny for aid, treats people with compassion and care, and whose workers have a truly service-oriented mentality. Of course, it's a faith-based organization, but they don't force their faith down people's throats, or beat them over the head with a Bible. They help first, and show by example what they believe. If others then want to ask for more information, they're happy to provide it.
Your mileage may vary, of course. I urge all my readers to find an organization that is providing efficient, effective disaster relief, and whose mission is in accordance with their own beliefs, and donate accordingly.