COL Red Cross needs much more than a bandage

The following editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

We'll take the American Red Cross at its word -- that top executive Marsha Evans' sudden resignation had nothing to do with criticism the organization received over its uneven response to Hurricane Katrina.

Yet the stated reason for her departure -- coordination and communication clashes with the board -- is a pretty revealing symptom of what seems to be a bigger and persistent problem. Those kinds of criticisms have dogged the Red Cross for years, shortcomings particularly worrisome in a post-9-11 world that depends on quick and sure emergency responses.

Red Cross volunteers did a lot of good deeds during Katrina relief efforts, but troubling failures also emerged. The agency distributed $32 million in cash to residents around Jackson, Miss., even though many had little property damage. A pawnshop operator told The New York Times that people cashed relief checks at his shop and immediately bought jewelry, guns, DVDs and electronics. The Red Cross also drew criticism for not having enough workers in some of the most devastated areas along the Gulf Coast.

How does organizational dysfunction intersect with on-the-ground shortcomings? In a recent Times article, several experts on nonprofits blamed the Red Cross' continuing problems on an unwieldy 50-person board of directors that is micromanaging the charity and failing to invest in telecommunications, technology and other infrastructure. The local chapters often are in conflict with the national headquarters' priorities, the experts also said.


We support the calls for an extensive review of the Red Cross' role in overall U.S. emergency-response strategies. This group is charged to be a major first responder and to manage the nation's lifeline -- its blood supply. Its structure and personnel need to work in such a way that the Red Cross can both respond to current emergencies and prepare for those that might follow.

If terrorists or infectious disease attack, avoidable missteps would mean even more chaos. The Red Cross must be nimble from top to bottom, with no soft underbelly.

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