Saturday, September 25News That Matters

Facing Disaster After Disaster, the American Red Cross C.E.O. Stays Optimistic

The thing that we needed to do was tell elected officials, “Hey, you’re creating a different health crisis. You need to tell people it’s safe to donate blood.” We went to Larry Hogan, who runs the National Governors Association. He got the word out and boom, people started showing up. But then many hospitals started postponing elective surgery, so now we’re seeing we have a surplus.

And what about when it comes to responding to disasters?

The way in which we are responding to disasters has radically changed. Without a pandemic, we open up large congregate shelters and we provide cots and blankets and three square meals a day and mental health counseling and comfort. We’re face to face, giving hugs, wrapping people in blankets.

Now we’re putting people in hotels. There was one point where we had about 25,000 people in hotel rooms, and this creates some challenges. They’re spread out all over the place, so our volunteers have to travel to be where they are. We’re giving them boxed meals.

With the wildfires and hurricanes, this has been the busiest disaster year that I have experienced here.

Do you believe that is in part because of climate change?

Well, I’m not a climatologist or, or a scientist in this area, but what I can tell you is the water temperature is going up. And our modeling is not as predictable as it used to be at all.

I know you’re not a climatologist, but you’re highly educated. Are you studiously avoiding a political lightning-rod issue, or is your mind truly not made up about the scientific consensus that human activity is changing the climate and making weather more severe?

Well, I’m not trying to be coy, but I can tell you that since Covid, when everybody stopped driving around and taking airplanes, the carbon footprint is improving. So we’re definitely playing some kind of role here. But to what extent is that the only element? I mean, what I’m studiously focused on is what is the impact of the American Red Cross.