Home » Emergency and Disaster Management » Disasters (General) » All is Not Well on the Good Ship “American Red Cross”: Another Reorganization and More Staff Thrown Overboard

All is Not Well on the Good Ship “American Red Cross”: Another Reorganization and More Staff Thrown Overboard

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A couple of years ago I applied to become a paid employee at my American Red Cross chapter.  While awaiting word on the hiring decision, I attended the International Association of Emergency Managers annual conference, which that year was held in Las Vegas.  Several of the faculty members from my Masters program at American Military University where also attending.  and I enjoyed the chance to meet and talk with my instructors in person.  At dinner one evening I mentioned to one of the instructors applying at the Red Cross.  He looked at me and said, “Why would you want to cross over to the dark side?  You have it good as a volunteer.  There is someone I want you to talk to…”  The next day he introduced me to someone who had experience at the higher levels of the Red Cross, and he relayed a similar message.  Although I had suspected based upon my own observations, that the world of the paid staff was much different than that of the volunteers, this was the first time anyone had stated this explicitly.  I ended up not getting the job,  Events of late seem to suggest I should be thankful.

In case you hadn’t heard the Red Cross is once again reorganizing and cutting down on paid staff.

For anyone keeping count, I think this will make the third or fourth  significant reorganization/restructuring effort in the last six years. I only became aware of this last week when a county official mentioned hearing something, and asked if it was true.  Turns out it was true.  The North Texas Region is losing approximately a dozen staff at the end of the month, including some of lengthy service.  Red Cross apparently gave them two weeks’ notice.  Isn’t that nice?

I suppose that is a little better than in 2011-2012, when most every paid employee was effectively terminated and had to re-apply for their position.  Job security does not appear to be part of Red Cross culture….unless you are one of the six and seven-figure salary employees. Successful strategic planning also appears absent, as budget issues have once again been given as the reason behind the latest changes.  I seem to remember writing a blog questioning the wisdom of expanding the role of the Red Cross in disaster recovery : if you are not sure you can fund ARC’s disaster relief responsibilities, why would you think it wise to add more commitments?

I am reaching the point where I no longer can, or even want, to try to keep up with all of this internal change.  By the time you figure out what is going on, it is already changing again. And the lack of transparency in how these organizational transformations go from idea to reality shows a shocking lack of respect for those below by those on high at ARC management.

I hope my guess at where ARC is heading with this latest restructuring plan is just my cynicism getting carried away.  The Red Cross wants to give its volunteers more of the responsibility for what has previously been done by paid staff.  I think this means that volunteers will be expected to carry out providing and over-seeing the disaster relief and recovery services that are the fundamental mission of the Red Cross.  Management can rely on the fact that there will be volunteers to fill service delivery needs.  I expect the “professionals” who will have paid positions will be the executives, the marketing people, the public relations people, the fundraising people….not the disaster, logistics, humanitarian relief, and emergency/disaster management professionals.  Many, if not most, of these paid employees will have had no experience in the field of disasters and they  will do their jobs without ever having to spend  a day working on a disaster relief operation. I wonder if some of them ever will.

If this is where all of these changes are heading, it will say in clear terms what the Red Cross thinks is really important. I hope I am wrong. Because if I am right, my many years of Red Cross service will come to an end.


4 Comments

  1. You totally hit the nail on the head. While the American Red Cross accomplishes great and wonderful things, it has struggled with a legacy of painful reorganizations that result in hurting most of the people whose backs the work is accomplished on.

    I have a history with the Red Cross going back to 1996. I served as a volunteer Health and Safety Instructor then a paid instructor. Several years later I also served on the board of directors for a chapter. Early in that time there was great stability and I saw, from the inside, many things accomplished. Reorganization after reorganization, which I saw from both the inside and the outside as an emergency manager, were painful to watch. Largely there seemed to be no good reason for the reorganizations, either. It seemed simply like change for the sake of change, or perhaps change to give the illusion of progress. We even saw some of these reorganizations revert back to earlier models (regionalization, no regionalization, regionalization!).

    Changes in recent years (following a version of the regionalization model) have largely stripped the chapter executives of their authority, focusing them mostly on fund development. I’ve watched chapters go into decline as a result of this, with good staff either being laid off or leaving in frustration. The regionalization of disaster services was horrible, stretching even the most dedicated staff and volunteers horribly thin to the point of burn out. When you regionalize a community-based organization (even though they are national and international), the result is losing touch with the community, which is what has occurred in many communities across the nation. Instead of continuing to draw inward in defense of this trend, the highest echelons of the Red Cross need to work on reestablishing community relationships. That’s done first by hiring and empowering good people and providing good services; not by asking for money.

    • Thank you for the remarks Tim. You do go back a ways don’t you? I think as well it seems Red Cross has forgotten the old maxim: “Under promise and over deliver”. As you said, ARC does great things and has an important purpose…and that I think is the double edged sword that could allow the organization to resist facing up to the possibility it is headed the wrong way. There will always be a supply of volunteers willing to contribute time and skills regardless of what is going on in the organization. But volunteers are not the ones who will can bring innovation and responsiveness to the systems and procedures. An entire research and professional domain is growing in humanitarian logistics and relief…but it won’t do much good if there are not people in ARC (or any other agencies for that matter) who can apply that research and knowledge to improving ARC systems and procedures.

  2. […] first heard of this most recent reorganization through the blog Disaster Gestalt, written by Joseph Martin who has a long history serving as a Red Cross volunteer.  I shared some […]

  3. James,

    I agree with you on lucking out in not getting the paid position. I’ve been a paid ARC staff member (on the September 11 Recovery Program), but it was a limited-time operation and afterward I volunteered with the GNY chapter. It was a very good experience overall, but being a volunteer had advantages.

    I’ve been through upsizings, downsizings, “transitions,” reorganizations and one “re-engineering.” Having been on the affected side of hurricane Sandy, I returned to find a Red Cross I barely recognized and didn’t seem to know me at all. I resigned about a year ago.

    I still believe in the core mission of disaster relief, and I believe a voluntary organization (with a few appropriate paid staff) is the best way to deliver it–or at least an integral part of the mix, including FEMA and state EMOs. But I am saddened to see the local network of chapters being dismantled and frustrated that re-arranging the org chart sometimes seems to take precedence over preparing for emergency response.

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