Report highlights Red Cross failures post-flooding with emails from state officials

Report highlights Red Cross failures post-flooding with emails from state officials
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Criticism of the services provided by the Red Cross effort post-flooding in Louisiana is the focus of a newly published article. The article was published the same day state officials had a previously scheduled a meeting with the non-profit organization to discuss a string of failures.

"Hundreds of Louisiana government documents and emails between officials obtained by ProPublica through freedom of information requests show widespread mismanagement and understaffing at Red Cross-run shelters," writes Derek Kravitz in his article "Red Cross 'Failed for 12 Days' After Historic Louisiana Floods."

ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest, revealed emails sent by a deputy to the governor, the secretary for the state's Department of Children and Family Services, and Rep. Ted James.

According to the website, the emails were sent after the Governor's Office asked for any concerns they needed to address with the non-profit.

"Steve Spires, who works in the governor's policy office, wrote that he had gotten texts that Red Cross personnel at the River Center were 'being difficult, turning away medical volunteers, throwing away donations, generally not working well with others.' Erin Monroe Wesley, special counsel to the governor, responded: 'It's confirmed. I was at the River Center today,'" notes the article.

Officials with Red Cross released a statement that was included in the report. It was the same statement they provided when The Investigators asked for a response to the article released by ProPublica.

"The American Red Cross stands by its response and recovery efforts in Louisiana. We are proud of our thousands of volunteers – from Louisiana, and from across the country – and we are grateful for the collaborative relationship we share with the State of Louisiana and the affected parishes," reads the statement from the Red Cross. "Given the size, scope and complexity of this disaster, it is not surprising that the Red Cross and our partners would be confronted by a range of challenges. This circumstance isn't unique to Louisiana or to the Red Cross: it is the very nature of disasters."

Click here to read the full statement by the Red Cross.

Representatives from the Governor's Office, the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), the Red Cross, and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) met Monday, October 3 to address forming a better plan for "no-notice" disasters. The Governor's Office said the Red Cross has worked with GOHSEP and DCFS to reach out to parish leaders to identify improvements to specific plans for sheltering residents during "no-notice" disasters.

It was stated in the meeting there is a need to better educate and define what assistance parishes can expect from the Red Cross within the first 48 hours after a storm and in turn, what support the Red Cross should expect from the parishes and the state in standing up shelters. The state is also working through practical questions regarding how a shelter is opened and run within the first 48 to 72 hours after a "no-notice" event and how shelters will transition from parish operation to Red Cross management.

It was also addressed how food and amenities should be distributed to residents and how private donations of food, clothing, and other goods should be accepted by shelter managers.

The DCFS secretary said that challenges responding to the "no-notice storm" were inevitable.

The Governor's Office hopes this ongoing work will deliver an improved shelter plan for the next Louisiana disaster. A complete draft of the plan, including input from each parish's Office of Emergency Preparedness, is expected to be prepared by the end of 2016. Once complete, GOHSEP will conduct training sessions with local and parish officials and a major outreach effort will begin to inform the public of what residents can expect at a shelter during a disaster, whether there is advance notice of it or not.

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