I had the nice opportunity this past week to be the moderator of an American Red Cross “Town Hall” focusing on the growth and evolution of the organization’s partnerships with non-profit groups in disaster preparedness, response and recovery, particularly since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The forum, titled “Convergence and Cooperation: Town Hall With Our Service Delivery Partners,” was held in the atrium of the Red Cross’ headquarters in Washington, D.C. The audience included Red Cross employees and donors.
The panelists were Gene Collins, a Disaster Relief Co-Chair for the NAACP; Â Antonio Boyd, Worldwide Vice President for HOPE Worldwide; Â Kay Wilkins, CEO of the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the Red Cross;Â Juliet Choi, the Senior Director, Disaster Partner Services, American Red Cross; and Joe Becker, the Senior Vice President Disaster Services, American Red Cross.
AMERICAN RED CROSS “TOWN HALL” PANEL FROM LEFT: ANTONIO BOYD,Â JULIET CHOI, GENE COLLINS, KAY WILKINS, AND JOE BECKER (Photo by Jennifer Willis, JWillis Photography)
In his remarks, the NAACP’s Collins, whose organization has a long relationship with the Red Cross, highlighted the value of partnerships with non-profit service organizations as a way to best leverage the breadth and depth of emergency resources in communities, especially for underserved populations.
Hope Worldwide’s Boyd told the audience about the successful “Pastors In Disasters” program organized jointly by his group and the Red Cross which helps prepare church leaders for disasters. Hope is a newer partner of the Red Cross, yet it helped mobilize 1,000 volunteers to assist in sheltering operations during hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
Wilkins’ New Orleans-area Red Cross chapter has set up partnerships with the local faith-based community (in aÂ program called Operation Brothers Keeper) and for non-English speaking residents (through the Language Access Coalition). And, Choi cited the role of partnerships in the current disaster operations the Red Cross is involved with in Georgia and American Samoa.
Joe Becker said that partnerships can be challenging, but they are necessary to expand the impact and reach of the service delivery after disasters, particularly to rural, minority, disabled, immigrant and youth populations.Â And, if Katrina taught the organization anything, it’s that the Red Cross cannot and should not do it alone. Becker pointed out thatÂ the Red Cross’ expansion of partnerships with community groups is emblematic of what is happening in the emergency management field generally, which is being reoriented from a strict closed and top-down approach to one that is more dynamic, open and bottom-up.
In fact, the theme of increasing collaboration in disaster preparedness and response was underscored during two events in the days before the panel. First was DHS Secretary Napolitano’s major National Preparedness Month speech given at the Red Cross’ Hall of Service in which she said homeland security was not just a governmental task but instead a â€œshared responsibilityâ€ among all stakeholders.
And then a couple days later at a U.S. House Subcommittee hearing on community preparedness, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson and lawmakers of both political parties emphasized the importance of strengthening outreach with non-profit groups, particularly in rural and other underserved communities.
“CONVERGENCE & COOPERATION TOWN HALL” HELD IN ATRIUM OF RED CROSS HEADQUARTERS IN WASHINGTON, D.C. (Photo by Jennifer Willis, JWillisPhotography)