No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Red Cross still dealing with PR problems after Ike response

The Red Cross doesn't have the easiest or best-funded job in the world (as its staff keep having to remind everyone, it's a volunteer operation, not the government. Feel free to donate to either the Red Cross of Central Texas or the national Disaster Relief Fund. Or both). But as they continue to assist in the post-Hurricane Ike clean-up (see our coverage of the ongoing activities here), they're still having to deal with allegations that what they did was too little, too late.

The big accusation is that they didn't provide cots in the initial shelters opened in Austin ISD schools. Their response is that trying to roll out that many beds in what it ultimately someone else's facility just wasn't going to work. So why does this mean no cots? Because the Red Cross doesn't have $1,500,000 and a bunch of spare warehouse space.

The math is pretty simple. The American Red Cross has agreed with the state to accept a maximum of 25,000 evacuees from disasters. Now, the way it houses people in emergencies is to get them into the first available warm, safe structure as fast as possible. The way this works in Austin is that Austin ISD (which provides most of the physical space) will open buildings along the evacuation route: as one building fills up, the next one up the road opens.

As Central Texas Red Cross Chair-elect Marty McKellips explained, when the centers open, trying to roll out cots as evacuees are arriving would be near-impossible. Then, as evacuees are moved from these first-response facilities to longer-term shelters like the Convention Center, for sanitary reasons it would mean either taking the cots with them, or having new cots waiting for them.

Unless you hadn't noticed, that would mean buying, storing and maintaining 50,000 cots and bedding: and if you have the kind of money or space to provide that, the Red Cross would love to talk to you. As is, they depended on cots provided by the city and state.

Even when everyone moved to the centralized shelters, cots were not really enough. "It's still not ideal," said McKellips, noting that a lot of the evacuees were either old or had specific medical needs.

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