American Red Cross accused of diverting funds from storm victims to own PR campaign

American Red Cross accused of diverting funds from storm victims to own PR campaign
The American Red Cross was ill-equipped to provide aid to victims of Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac, a new report suggests, and allocated resources not towards offering help, but on generating publicity.

A new report conducted jointly by ProPublica and NPR raises concerns about how the humanitarian group conducted itself in the wake of the storms that occurred in 2012 and 2011, respectively, and claims that the organization’s actions were “politically driven” and not on par with how the Red Cross routinely acts in such situations.

Through internal documents obtained by journalists and interviews conducted with those close to the Red Cross’ response to those emergencies, the reports published this week by both media outlets conclude that evidence depicts “an organization so consumed with public relations that it hindered the charity's ability to provide disaster services.”

Among the allegations unearthed in the new report are claims that “as many as 40 percent” of the agency’s emergency vehicles were used as backdrops during pressers, not for providing relief, during those emergencies, and accusations that Red Cross headquarters in Washington "diverted assets for public relations purposes.” According to one of the truck drivers, Jim Dunham, relief vehicles were ordered by the dozens to be deployed not to assist, but "just to be seen" at press conferences.

Another claim, according to the reports, is that sex offenders were placed in missions established to help victims and allowed to roam where children played; additionally, handicapped victims “slept in their wheelchairs for days” after either storm because, according to the reports, the charity lacked proper cots.

“Gail McGovern, the Red Cross president and CEO,told NBC Newstwo weeks after the storm: ‘I think that we are near flawless so far in this operation,’” the NPR journalists recalled. “The truth, however, is different,” they wrote.

Instead, reporters at NPR and ProPublica suggest the agency’s mission was anything but a success, and actually quite botched.

"We didn't have the kind of sophistication needed for this size job," one senior Red Cross official said of the group’s post-Sandy response.

"It was just clear to me that they weren't interested in doing mass care; they were interested in the illusion of mass care," added Richard Rieckenberg, a member of the team that ran the group’s relief mission following both the Sandy and Isaac storms.

So far, though, Red Cross officials are condemning those allegations and defending the agency’s response to the storms.

"I'm very proud of the services we provided," Trevor Riggen, a vice president at the Red Cross, told Yahoo News. "I think the volume of services and the speed at which we provided it speaks to the quality of service of the volunteers and staff on the ground."

“We take each issue seriously, we have in place established policies to address them and we train our people in those procedures,” the agency said in an official rebuttal. “While it's impossible to meet every need in the first chaotic hours and days of a disaster, we are proud that we were able to provide millions of people with hot meals, shelter, relief supplies and financial support during the 2012 hurricanes.”