I have just returned from my second trip to Southern California since the wildfires broke out two weeks ago. While there is still much work to do, I can report the American Red Cross has performed well in responding to the largest evacuation in California history and our largest relief operation in more than two years. Some 5,000 Red Cross disaster relief workers – more than 90 percent of them volunteers – came from across California and all 50 states to shelter, feed and deliver comfort and hope to 6,000 evacuees at the peak of the wildfires.
At Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff talks about the federal government’s responseto the California wildfires. He is flanked by FEMA Director David Paulison (far left), American Red Cross President and CEO MarkEverson (left) and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (right). Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross (10295-452)
I had the privilege of traveling with Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA Director David Paulison to survey the operations, and we were pleased with the level of cooperation between local, state and federal entities, the Red Cross and other nonprofits. I also participated in briefing President George W. Bush and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the tremendous work that was being done, and they thanked us and our volunteers.
This level of response would not have been possible without some of the investments we made in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The pre-positioning of supplies was particularly effective during the recent wildfires. The Red Cross had cots, blankets, cleaning supplies, comfort kits and other supplies in an easily accessible warehouse in Reno, Nevada.
Another lesson learned from Katrina was the importance of partnerships. In California, the Red Cross was able to set up shelters more quickly due to partnerships with faith-based organizations and other nonprofits. Additionally, our partnerships with the Business Roundtable and individual companies resulted in generous offers of assistance from corporate America.
Thanks to an outpouring of support from the public, we have met the expected costs of our relief effort. However, we still need donations to our Disaster Relief Fund to ensure we can respond to the next disaster just as swiftly, effectively and compassionately as we did in Southern California.
It has been gratifying to hear statements of support from many lawmakers and other public figures. I have attached some of those statements for you to read. I also invite you to view these photos that capture the scope and scale of this response.
I want to thank each of you, whether you were on the ground in California, working a call center, running a fundraiser or blood drive or supporting us in a hundred different ways in chapters throughout the country. You responded as only the Red Cross could, and the thousands you helped, as well as our partners, donors, local, state and federal government officials will not forget it.
As Senator Mary Landrieu stated, “There's a new and improved Red Cross on the ground.” Let's keep up the good work for the benefit of all those we serve in communities across America.
The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.