The American Red Cross is the U.S. contingent of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) headquartered in Switzerland. Clara Barton, a woman who aided the wounded on Civil War battlefields, heard about the ICRC and traveled to Europe, joining more war relief efforts. When she returned home, she influenced the U.S. government to sign the Geneva Conventions, which they did in 1883.
Barton was exceptional at garnering volunteers to aid her relief undertakings, which was unique in the ICRC. She established the American Association of the Red Cross in May of 1881, and later that year she organized food and clothing to be sent to Michigan for forest fire victims. Her ventures were not limited to the U.S. She gave aid to suffering Armenians in Russia, and at 76, she and her nurses aided both civilian and military people in Cuba with care, food and supplies.
In 1900, her valiant work was rewarded by the U.S. government who endowed the American Red Cross with a charter for assisting military families and to provide disaster relief both in the U.S. and overseas.
Two words best describe the mission of the American Red Cross: humanitarian aid. Compassionate people everywhere come together — some to donate, some to volunteer, and others as paid services directors – a giant matrix of organized care and assistance in the face of turmoil and disaster.
Whether helping someone in your hometown who may have just suffered devastating loss, teaching first aid to local emergency technicians and care workers, or organizing massive aid to victims of a major disaster, it is all part of their mission. From blood drives just down the street to relief endeavors in far-flung corners of the world, the American Red Cross helps hundreds of thousands of victims every year.
Five Key Service Areas
Although the Red Cross is not a government agency, it bears the responsibility for disaster relief around the world as well as support to America’s military families. As part of their services, they collect blood to be used in hospitals around the nation, and offer local safety and health classes for emergency workers, care providers, and even babysitters and lifeguards. Working hand in hand with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the U.S., the Red Cross is the first to be called upon to set up emergency relief stations in times of disaster.
Disaster Services assists those affected by catastrophic events, both on a local level (fires or incidents related to weather or transportation incidents, such as power outages or train derailments) or a widespread event (hurricanes or tornadoes, flooding, earthquakes, etc.). Disaster Services provides volunteer personnel trained in Damage Assessment (surveying and verifying damaged areas and residences), Shelter Operations (providing temporary shelter and feeding for persons displaced by a disaster), and Emergency Services to Families (financial assistance for food, temporary lodging, medical needs, and rent and deposits for those requiring relocation).
They work with local, state, and federal agencies to provide immediate relief, often mobilizing before the larger government agencies are able to respond, and often directing local relief endeavors coming from other humanitarian organizations and individuals. The Red Cross reacts quickly to nearly 70,000 disasters per year, granting compassionate aid to those in need of assistance.
Support for Military Families
The American Red Cross provides verification information to military authorities in the event of births, deaths or serious illnesses to family members of military personnel. The verification can be initiated by either the service member or a family member; the local chapter then contacts the physician or funeral home, obtain the needed information and recommendation for the service member’s presence, and relay the information to the base representative. The American Red Cross also works with relief societies for each branch of service to provide emergency loans or grants for transportation expenses, if needed. These services are provided around the clock, 365 days a year by trained staff and volunteers. The Red Cross provides assistance to veterans with initiating requests for discharge upgrades and appeals, and also provides canteen services to hospitalized soldiers and veterans in military and VA hospitals around the world.
Blood collection is likely far more complex than the average citizen probably realizes. Not only does the Red Cross supply blood for emergencies and disasters, they also help individuals in need of blood. A person can donate their own blood ahead of time if they have a scheduled surgery (called an autologous donation), or the Red Cross also helps collect blood from compatible donors if someone is in need of blood and their particular type is in low supply. These are called directed donations. Not only does the Red Cross collect whole blood, but they also collect blood products in the form of platelets, double red cells, and plasma. All across our nation, four million donors annually help the Red Cross to be the largest blood benefactor in the U.S. Hardly a town exists in the United States that doesn’t have an ongoing effort to collect blood donations.
Health & Safety Training
The Red Cross sets the standard for health and safety training in many areas. Every emergency or care provider across the nation is required to become certified in First Aid, CPR or other emergency methods, and many receive their certifications through the Red Cross. In addition, teens often receive their first helping certifications through the Red Cross when training to be babysitters or lifeguards. In addition, the organization often educates people in health and disease prevention in areas where such information might not be otherwise available. Of course they also train all of their volunteers and employees to provide health and disaster services. Even individuals who simply wish to be able to help others in case of emergency can be trained by the Red Cross. Nearly ten million people receive some kind of Red Cross training every year.
The American Red Cross is part of a web of 13 million volunteers in more than 180 countries. Not only do they respond to disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, floods, air disasters, and terrorist attacks, they also provide health services and education in countries where such services are not readily available. They work hard to combat infectious diseases through both prevention and treatment. Tracing services are also provided to check on the wellbeing of relatives in areas where communication has been disrupted.
In January, 1994, the American Red Cross provided disaster relief during the Northridge, California earthquake. Thousands of people were left homeless, and over 22,000 people were availed of temporary shelter provided by the agency. Over 37,000 families received assistance from the American Red Cross, including meals, financial assistance for relocation, and mental health counseling. Over 15,000 volunteers helped staff shelters, feed families, and travel to residences to assess and verify damage.
Hurricane Katrina was the largest and costliest disaster relief operation in the agency’s history. Within the first week, more than 470 shelters were opened across 12 states. More than 5,000 disaster relief workers, mostly volunteers, were dispatched during the initial week, and this number grew to over 100,000 workers throughout the recovery. Emergency assistance to families affected by the hurricane totaled over $1.5 billion. Services provided to the victims ranged from disaster mental health counseling to home clean-up kits.
The organization raised $484 million for relief and recovery for the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Their aid in this disaster was very diverse, helping to provide housing and health services to those who were injured or lost their homes. They donated money and volunteers, both contractors and workers, as well as providing oversight to rebuild the water and sanitation infrastructure, build transitional housing, and to train and aid displaced workers.