Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Seen something interesting in the news or on the intertubes? Discuss it here.

Moderators: Zamfir, Hawknc, Moderators General, Prelates

User avatar
sardia
Posts: 6813
Joined: Sat Apr 03, 2010 3:39 am UTC

Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby sardia » Wed Oct 29, 2014 9:59 pm UTC

http://www.npr.org/2014/10/29/359365276 ... r-scrutiny
Spoiler:
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.”

The Red Cross kept volunteers in disaster-free Tampa so they could look good at the GOP convention. They sent out 40 percent of relief trucks to PR events to make themselves look good. You have experience Red Cross members saying they refused to donate to Red Cross. It's pretty disgusting.
Last edited by sardia on Wed Oct 29, 2014 10:52 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
Cleverbeans
Posts: 1378
Joined: Wed Mar 26, 2008 1:16 pm UTC

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby Cleverbeans » Wed Oct 29, 2014 10:32 pm UTC

I didn't find this to be as damning as it seems. Much of the criticism comes from internal documents and people in senior positions so it's not like they're trying to sweep the problems under the rug. The logistics are disaster relief are very complicated and not many organizations beyond the Red Cross are even attempting to find solutions on the same scale. Considering how difficult the problems they're trying to solve are I would expect a certain amount of waste and inefficiency. I'd much rather see food waste than not enough food for example. While PR seems wasteful it's actually a very important part of the mission and I don't really think it's fair to discount it. Getting the word out about where people can find help and requests for assistance are all part of PR and vital to the communities they serve. It's easy to point to problems but I'm not sure there are really any good solutions here and it seems more reasonable to me to lower our expectations rather than get worked up about flaws.
"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." - Abraham Lincoln

User avatar
Zamfir
I built a novelty castle, the irony was lost on some.
Posts: 7604
Joined: Wed Aug 27, 2008 2:43 pm UTC
Location: Nederland

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby Zamfir » Thu Oct 30, 2014 9:09 am UTC

Much of the criticism comes from internal documents and people in senior positions so it's not like they're trying to sweep the problems under the rug

Well, the 2 senior critics interviewed quit or were fired, and I take it that the internal documents were leaked by people who worried that they would in fact be swept under the rug. There's a loooooong distance between 'some senior people worry about the problems' and 'the organization will work hard to solve the problems'.

Chen
Posts: 5580
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2008 6:53 pm UTC
Location: Montreal

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby Chen » Thu Oct 30, 2014 12:06 pm UTC

I'd like to see some sources and context on those "40% of available trucks were used for backdrops" and such comments. If they didn't NEED those trucks, fine there's an issue in that they have too much hardware, but it doesn't mean those trucks were otherwise going to be used to deliver supplies that weren't being delivered. While still a problem is a far less sensational one.

Tyndmyr
Posts: 11443
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2012 8:38 pm UTC

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Oct 30, 2014 1:37 pm UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:I didn't find this to be as damning as it seems. Much of the criticism comes from internal documents and people in senior positions so it's not like they're trying to sweep the problems under the rug.


That makes the accusations MORE credible, and thus damning.

User avatar
sardia
Posts: 6813
Joined: Sat Apr 03, 2010 3:39 am UTC

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby sardia » Thu Oct 30, 2014 1:53 pm UTC

Chen wrote:I'd like to see some sources and context on those "40% of available trucks were used for backdrops" and such comments. If they didn't NEED those trucks, fine there's an issue in that they have too much hardware, but it doesn't mean those trucks were otherwise going to be used to deliver supplies that weren't being delivered. While still a problem is a far less sensational one.

http://www.propublica.org/documents/ite ... ocument/p2
They only had 37 trucks, 15 were diverted for use as pr backdrops. The context is during the Sandy storm in ny when vehicles of emergency use were desperately needed. There were 300k meals that were endangered and people left hungry because of the execs. I stand by my statement, disgusting.
http://www.propublica.org/documents/ite ... ocument/p2
You can read the sources yourself above. It's a joint piece with propublica. The problem with the organization is fairly common. It had a mission to help people but they didn't manage their finances correctly. So they brought in some hotshot suit who promises them the world. She reorganized the company to focus on revenue and central control. Revenue means depends on looking good. The problem is Red Cross execs got so caught up in looking good and making money they forgot what the point of company was.
Researched from phone.

Chen
Posts: 5580
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2008 6:53 pm UTC
Location: Montreal

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby Chen » Thu Oct 30, 2014 2:48 pm UTC

Well the whole "make and extra 300k meals that are terrible and lose the lunch and dinner because of it" was bad. But reading that letter tends to imply that they had figured out a way to manage those 300k meals (had they been delivered) with the existing vehicles. It's just that the meals were both late and then partially cancelled that was a problem. There is no indication they didn't have enough trucks to do what they had to do even though some were being used for PR.

I'm not saying there aren't problems, there clearly are. But taking one note and extrapolating that things are far worse because of it is just further sensationalizing things which just leads to more skepticism.

User avatar
sardia
Posts: 6813
Joined: Sat Apr 03, 2010 3:39 am UTC

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby sardia » Thu Oct 30, 2014 4:26 pm UTC

Chen wrote:Well the whole "make and extra 300k meals that are terrible and lose the lunch and dinner because of it" was bad. But reading that letter tends to imply that they had figured out a way to manage those 300k meals (had they been delivered) with the existing vehicles. It's just that the meals were both late and then partially cancelled that was a problem. There is no indication they didn't have enough trucks to do what they had to do even though some were being used for PR.

I'm not saying there aren't problems, there clearly are. But taking one note and extrapolating that things are far worse because of it is just further sensationalizing things which just leads to more skepticism.

That's not what the letter said at all. The workers on the ground were given a made up fantasy plan for the sole purpose of having good looking numbers. The caterer makes 20k nutritious meals. Instead they made overpriced sugar bread to because it looks better to say "look at how many meals I made". Then they didn't have enough cars to deliver because they were being used for photo ops. The same photo op that brags about how many "meals" they made. It actually made it worse because they lost the 20 k nutritious meals. The execs were thrilled because it looked good on paper. They didn't care they made it worse.
There's no sign from upper management that they are working on this problem or even acknowledging it is a problem.

User avatar
Dauric
Posts: 3998
Joined: Wed Aug 05, 2009 6:58 pm UTC
Location: In midair, traversing laterally over a container of sharks. No water, just sharks, with lasers.

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby Dauric » Thu Oct 30, 2014 4:55 pm UTC

The NPR article notes that this is a part of a longer history of problems. IMO the Red Cross is a victim of its own success. Being the most successful relief organization around the world has made it necessary to have a substantial bureaucracy to keep track of everything. Problem is bureaucracies are strange beasts that tend to operate on perverse incentives, including the incentive to justify their own existence. The further problem is the nature of the Red Cross mission means the organization needs to grow in times of crisis and (here's the kick in the parts) contract when the crisis is over. Bureaucracies are fantastic at the former, and resist the latter with a vengance.

Its not that the Red Cross has suddenly become evil or anything that dramatic, but (again IMO) it looks like they're being swallowed by their own internal bureaucracy.
We're in the traffic-chopper over the XKCD boards where there's been a thread-derailment. A Liquified Godwin spill has evacuated threads in a fourty-post radius of the accident, Lolcats and TVTropes have broken free of their containers. It is believed that the Point has perished.

User avatar
sardia
Posts: 6813
Joined: Sat Apr 03, 2010 3:39 am UTC

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby sardia » Thu Oct 30, 2014 6:10 pm UTC

Bureaucrats are only part of the problem. The mid level bureacrats see the problem and reportrd it to higher ups to fix. It's the people in charge are the ones ignoring the problem. I think the better explanation is the Red Cross is composed of good people but are headed by corrupt (aka typical short sighted )leadership. What I'm implying is the people wearing suits are stereo typical corporate Raiders.

User avatar
Dauric
Posts: 3998
Joined: Wed Aug 05, 2009 6:58 pm UTC
Location: In midair, traversing laterally over a container of sharks. No water, just sharks, with lasers.

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby Dauric » Thu Oct 30, 2014 7:00 pm UTC

sardia wrote:Bureaucrats are only part of the problem. The mid level bureacrats see the problem and reportrd it to higher ups to fix. It's the people in charge are the ones ignoring the problem. I think the better explanation is the Red Cross is composed of good people but are headed by corrupt (aka typical short sighted )leadership. What I'm implying is the people wearing suits are stereo typical corporate Raiders.


Which is essentially what I was saying. Bureaucracy rewards a certain type of person, the type of person that fits the 'typical corporate raider' as you put it. It does this through a perverse set of incentives and situational ethics that can take the best intentions -at any level of the organization, including the top- and twist them in to perversely self-serving actions.

Note the accusation of being stereotypical, which would indicate not so much a particular evil with any one person or small group of people, but a systemic problem with the practices of organizing human beings at that level regardless of what specific organization you're talking about.

Problem is we don't have an effective alternative to the modern bureaucracy that doesn't itself require-then-become a modern bureaucracy.

With all due respect to the late Douglas Adams:
To summarize the summary of the summary: People are a problem.
We're in the traffic-chopper over the XKCD boards where there's been a thread-derailment. A Liquified Godwin spill has evacuated threads in a fourty-post radius of the accident, Lolcats and TVTropes have broken free of their containers. It is believed that the Point has perished.

johnny_7713
Posts: 555
Joined: Tue Jun 15, 2010 1:31 pm UTC

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby johnny_7713 » Fri Oct 31, 2014 8:57 am UTC

Dauric wrote:The NPR article notes that this is a part of a longer history of problems. IMO the Red Cross is a victim of its own success. Being the most successful relief organization around the world has made it necessary to have a substantial bureaucracy to keep track of everything. Problem is bureaucracies are strange beasts that tend to operate on perverse incentives, including the incentive to justify their own existence. The further problem is the nature of the Red Cross mission means the organization needs to grow in times of crisis and (here's the kick in the parts) contract when the crisis is over. Bureaucracies are fantastic at the former, and resist the latter with a vengance.

Its not that the Red Cross has suddenly become evil or anything that dramatic, but (again IMO) it looks like they're being swallowed by their own internal bureaucracy.


It's important to realise that there are 188 independent national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, as well as the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which coordinates their activities. There is also the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is an independent (though obviously related) organisation. The NPR story is about the American Red Cross, and doesn't necessarily reflect on the Red Cross as a whole.

Most aid organisations rely on donations (whether from citizens or from governments) and those depend on being visible, which is inevitably going to add PR as one of the things being considered when deciding how, when, and where to deliver aid. (Which is not to say that the ARC chose correctly in this case).

Soteria
Posts: 66
Joined: Sun Jul 15, 2012 6:18 pm UTC

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby Soteria » Tue Nov 04, 2014 5:14 am UTC

sardia wrote:Bureaucrats are only part of the problem. The mid level bureacrats see the problem and reportrd it to higher ups to fix. It's the people in charge are the ones ignoring the problem. I think the better explanation is the Red Cross is composed of good people but are headed by corrupt (aka typical short sighted )leadership. What I'm implying is the people wearing suits are stereo typical corporate Raiders.


That seems like a rather idealistic picture to me. Having worked closely with more than one bureaucracy, I found that many times it was the mid-level folks that were the biggest problems. The lowest-level people see the problems and report them. The mid-level people often ignored them because they didn't have the clout to do anything about it and had no incentive to pass the complaint along. If you could get the ear of the higher-ups, you might actually get a problem fixed, or at least get an explanation of why things can't get fixed.

It's certainly possible you're right in this case, but I don't think your vision of bureaucracy in general is accurate.

Tyndmyr
Posts: 11443
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2012 8:38 pm UTC

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Nov 04, 2014 5:43 pm UTC

Soteria wrote:
sardia wrote:Bureaucrats are only part of the problem. The mid level bureacrats see the problem and reportrd it to higher ups to fix. It's the people in charge are the ones ignoring the problem. I think the better explanation is the Red Cross is composed of good people but are headed by corrupt (aka typical short sighted )leadership. What I'm implying is the people wearing suits are stereo typical corporate Raiders.


That seems like a rather idealistic picture to me. Having worked closely with more than one bureaucracy, I found that many times it was the mid-level folks that were the biggest problems. The lowest-level people see the problems and report them. The mid-level people often ignored them because they didn't have the clout to do anything about it and had no incentive to pass the complaint along. If you could get the ear of the higher-ups, you might actually get a problem fixed, or at least get an explanation of why things can't get fixed.

It's certainly possible you're right in this case, but I don't think your vision of bureaucracy in general is accurate.


Each level acts as an information filter. Nobody has perfect information as to what the people above them need to hear, and motives and competence also vary. There's going to be a certain degree of loss of efficiency with each additional layer, unfortunately. Hopefully, other gained efficiencies outweigh this, but this certainly isn't always the case.

User avatar
EMTP
Posts: 1556
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2009 7:39 pm UTC
Location: Elbow deep in (mostly) other people's blood.

Re: Red Cross diverted aid to PR machine during disasters

Postby EMTP » Tue Nov 04, 2014 6:31 pm UTC

The 21st century is likely to see far more, and more severe, disasters as compared to the 20th century.

Private charity is awesome, but I would say we need a stronger and better organized government apparatus to respond to needs. This is something we were told was a national priority after 9/11, but other than spreading money around, little was accomplished. Emergency services (fire, police, EMS) still do not have radios that talk to one another, for example. After Sandy, all the talk was of harbor defenses to mitigate the damage from future storm surges -- that seems to have come to nothing as well.

You need a significant surge capacity in your EDs and hospitals, but a decade later, EDs are swamped with primary care visits, boarded psych patients, and admitted inpatients with no beds to go to upstairs. Hundreds of EDs around the country have closed due to financial losses (the ACA has modestly improved this for EDs like mine, which service a large percentage of previously uninsured patients.)

The Red Cross has done an immense amount of good work over the years, so I'm not going to take one side of the story about the response to a couple of incidents and jump straight to "disgust." But it is a reminder that private enterprises are not magically free of the problems of human nature in large organizations, which are often used to indict government programs. For the 21st century -- hotter, drier (except when it floods,) older and more crowded -- both the public and the private disaster responses will need to up their game.
"Reasonable – that is, human – men will always be capable of compromise, but men who have dehumanized themselves by becoming the blind worshipers of an idea or an ideal are fanatics whose devotion to abstractions makes them the enemies of life."
-- Alan Watts, "The Way of Zen"


Return to “News & Articles”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 15 guests