Days after Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast, leaving more than a hundred people dead, thousands flooded out of their homes, and millions without electricity, the American Red Cross, which had collected more than $85 million for relief and recovery efforts as of Sunday, once again was feeling the heat for what many perceived to be an inadequate response to a major disaster, the Associated Press reports.
Prominent among the critics was Staten Island borough president James Molinaro, who lashed out at the organization's non-presence in his hard-hit borough on Thursday, two and a half days after the storm made landfall. Calling its response "an absolute disgrace," Molinaro, in a televised interview, implored viewers not to donate to the organization. By Friday, however, in a joint appearance with Red Cross chief Gail McGovern, he had changed his tune and attributed his outburst to frustration over the storm's impact on his constituents, many of whom, a week later, remain without water, heat, or electricity.
It's not the first time the Red Cross, the nation's largest private emergency responder, has been criticized for its response to a disaster. Indeed, although the organization is one of many disaster relief agencies responding to disasters nationwide, it has become a lightning rod for criticism in recent years because of its size and high profile. After the 9/11 attacks, for example, the organization received flak for how it managed the outpouring of donations it received. And in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, it was again criticized for what many said were inadequate anti-fraud measures and not doing enough to help overburdened volunteers.
Since then, the organization has implemented a number of changes designed to improve its disaster response efforts, including pre-positioning relief supplies before a storm hits. In preparing for Sandy, however, it actually moved some supplies out of the region to keep them from being damaged. "We never put personnel or supplies in the path of a hurricane," said Josh Lockwood, CEO of the Red Cross Greater New York Region. "You have to come in after the fact. That did present challenges in this case."
Despite the criticism, Red Cross volunteers continue to assist those in need. Indeed, as of Sunday, it had seventy emergency response vehicles in New York City's five-borough region and had supplied some 128,000 meals on Saturday alone. "After the disaster relief is done, I will look back at our whole operation," said Lockwood. "If we could be one minute faster, we will see what changes we can make."