When disaster strikes, it takes a network of support to ensure communities get the help they need.
From tornadoes, floods and earthquakes to fires, hazardous waste spills and explosions, disaster can strike at any time. When it does, an extensive network of relief agencies get to work. Prominent among them are the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army—two of this country’s most notable nonprofit institutions. But what is each organization responsible for, and how do they coordinate their efforts? Read on to learn how these groups work collaboratively to help those affected by disasters and other catastrophic events.
The Red Cross: A Unique Institution
More than 130 years ago, the American Red Cross was founded on the desire to provide compassionate care to fellow Americans in need. Born with Clara Barton on the battleground of the Civil War, the American Red Cross—through a network of volunteers, donors and employees—prevents and alleviates human suffering here at home, across the country and around the world. Its mission focuses on five key areas: service to military families, international services, health and safety services, blood services, and disaster services.
The relationship between the American Red Cross and the federal government is unique. The Red Cross is an independent entity that is organized and exists as a nonprofit, charitable institution pursuant to a charter granted by the United States Congress, originally in 1900 and again in 1905. Unlike other congressionally chartered organizations, it maintains a special relationship with the federal government.
The Red Cross has the legal status of a “federal instrumentality,” due to charter requirements to carry out responsibilities delegated to it by the federal government. Among these responsibilities are:
- To fulfill the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States is a signatory, assigned to national societies for the protection of victims of conflict,
- To provide family communications and other forms of support to the U.S. military, and
- To maintain a system of domestic and international disaster relief, including mandated responsibilities under the National Response Framework coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Despite this close relationship with the federal government, the American Red Cross is not a federally-funded agency. It is only thanks to the generosity of businesses and individuals that it is able to carry out services and programs like Disaster Services.
A Wide Range of Emergency Needs
In the United States alone, the Red Cross responds to approximately 70,000 disasters each year, ranging from everyday home fires to large-scale disasters like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous material spills, transportation accidents and explosions. When these disasters strike or threaten, the Red Cross responds, providing shelter, food, health and emotional health services. But the focus is not only on meeting immediate needs caused by a disaster; it is also to assist families on their road to recovery.
Disasters create a wide range of emergency needs—more than any single organization can meet—and it takes a large network of people and systems to ensure that communities get all the help they need during and after a disaster. The American Red Cross is one member of the disaster response community, and works closely with community partners to serve all of its residents.
When floodwaters forced thousands from their homes across central Illinois last spring, the American Red Cross set up relief operations and worked very closely with community partners like The Salvation Army to ensure residents received food, water, supplies and support quickly and efficiently. While the missions and scope of the Red Cross and The Salvation Army differ, the heart and desire are the same. Thanks to this partnership, communities like London Mills, Marseilles and Spring Bay received the support they so desperately needed.
To those who work for and volunteer at the American Red Cross, it is more than a symbol or a building; the Red Cross is part of their very being and satisfies their desire to help the people who turn to them in their darkest hour. Volunteers and staff train every day so they are ready to respond in an instant, and thanks to the generosity of donors, they are there.
The Salvation Army: Emergency Services
For over 113 years, The Salvation Army has provided emergency services to individuals and communities affected by disasters and other catastrophic events across the United States. The Salvation Army’s first major disaster response operation was in 1900 after a devastating hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, killing more than 8,000 people and obliterating more than 3,600 homes—nearly half the city. Salvation Army officers from across the country poured into the stricken city to provide spiritual comfort and practical aid to the storm’s survivors. Since then, The Salvation Army has been on the scene of thousands of disasters, honoring a century-old commitment to serve those in need, at the time of need, in the place of need.
In 1970, federal law reaffirmed the Army’s authority to provide disaster assistance with the passage of the Robert T. Stafford Emergency and Disaster Assistance Act, the same law that created the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The organization works closely with other relief agencies, such as the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the Red Cross, who are often working side by side providing immediate assistance whenever disaster strikes.
A Community-Based Response
Each disaster creates its own unique circumstances, and as such, The Salvation Army’s disaster response is community-based, varying from place to place based upon the community’s situation and the magnitude of the disaster. The Salvation Army offers several basic services in most major disasters. These include:
- Spiritual ministry and counseling
- Mobile and congregate feeding
- Financial assistance and casework
- Shelter and reconstruction.
The Army’s disaster response encompasses everything from local police and fire calls to tornadoes and floods, as well as regional and national disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes. During the recent floods throughout central Illinois, nearly 190 volunteers and staff provided more than 1,800 hours of assistance to flood victims, providing over 9,000 snacks, 11,500 drinks and over 27,000 meals. In addition, it assisted flood victims with nearly 6,200 clean-up kits.
On the national scene, The Salvation Army often sends volunteers to help tornado and hurricane victims. Most recently, Mike Levine, the Army’s new emergency services director, spent two weeks assisting relief efforts in Moore, Oklahoma. A retired firefighter, he served as the safety officer for Salvation Army volunteers and staff working in the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornadoes. He was the only EDS volunteer dispatched from the central territory.
The Salvation Army’s disaster relief services are supported solely by donations, and it is a mass-care support agency. However, it is not a first responder; rather, it supports first responders. In the very near-future, additional disaster training will be established so volunteers and officers can be equipped to respond to the needs of individuals in disaster situations. Captain Jeff Carr, business secretary for The Salvation Army, sums up its emergency response well, saying, “Proper training plus necessary certifications equals a commitment to excellence.” iBi
Erin Miller is regional communications director for the American Red Cross – Central Illinois Region. Rich Draeger is assistant development director for The Salvation Army in Peoria. For more information, visit redcross.org/il/peoria or saheartland.org.