Thursday, October 30, 2014

The American Red (Double) Cross

The argument we hear from conservatives is that government has no business in the disaster relief department, that's what charities are for, and government agencies are terribly mismanaged and screw things up (the VA comes to mind.)  The problem is that charities can be mismanaged too, and when they are, it's the government that ends up backstopping disaster relief efforts.  Barry Ritholz talks about the American Red Cross's massive Hurricane Sandy failures as a prime example:

The details of how it botched the relief efforts are laid out in Red Cross documents and are simply stunning: 
• Despite plenty of advance warning of Sandy, the Red Cross lacked basics such as food, blankets and batteries to distribute to victims after the storm. 
• Red Cross workers weren't provided with the usual GPS devices. Many got lost driving around the New York area and were unable to deliver aid and supplies. 
• As many as half of the emergency meals prepared for Sandy victims were wasted or never delivered. 
• The Red Cross failed to deliver food, water, shelter, cleaning supplies, blankets to survivors of Sandy until weeks after the storm. Mormon and Amish volunteers, on the other hand, were delivering supplies just three days after the storm. 
• Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of empty trucks to be driven around, “just to be seen,” in lieu of delivering relief supplies. 
• Emergency response vehicles and other assets were also diverted from disaster aid to be seen as backdrops at news conferences for PR purposes; the Red Cross did this after other storms too, including Hurricane Isaac. 
Perhaps most damning is evidence that the Red Cross fabricated claims of how many people were actually served by the charity. The Red Cross said that “17 million meals and snacks were delivered, there were 74,000 overnight stays in shelters, more than 7 million relief items like blankets and flashlights.” Internal documents cast doubt on those numbers, saying the charity’s ability to actually count what was delivered was “crippled.”

Now we know why the Red Cross hired the law firm Gibson Dunn to fight public disclosures of how Sandy money was spent. Gibson Dunn distinguished itself by making the absurd claim that Sandy activities were a “trade secret.” Eventually, the Red Cross backed away from that stance.

This is turning into an ugly story of incompetence where a charity failed, but government was able to step in.  And note I mean the federal government and FEMA, and not the equally incompetent response from Gov. Chris Christie, part of which turned into quite the nice new construction slush fund for rewarding donors.

FEMA was the hero during Sandy, not the Red Cross, and not New Jersey's government.

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