How the Red Cross Works

The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization led by volunteers, with a mission to provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.

The American Red Cross is a nonprofit organization designed to help people after a disaster by providing immediate needs such as food, water, clothing and shelter.

It is NOT part of the government nor does it receive any government funding. The Red Cross runs solely on donations from the American public.

Below is a general guide to the inner workings of the Red Cross. If you have questions about available Red Cross services or current operations in your area, please contact your local chapter.

Before a Fire or Natural Disaster

Classes

The American Red Cross offers classes to help you prepare for life’s unexpected events. Available classes vary from chapter to chapter but common classes include:

  • CPR
  • First Aid

    WHN EXPERT TIP: One Per Household

    The Red Cross recommends that each household have at least one member trained in CPR and First Aid. If you can’t attend classes perhaps another family member can.

  • AED (Automatic Electric Defibrillator)
  • Pet First Aid
  • Babysitting
  • HIV/AIDS training
  • Disaster Response Team training

WHN STAFF TIP: Cost?

Classes will range in length and cost $30-50 - a worthwhile investment!

These classes may be available in different languages at local chapters. Local Red Cross chapters also offer other services such as blood collection, language translation, transportation, food shelves and more. Check with your local chapter to see what is offered in your area.

Volunteers

The Red Cross is a primarily run by volunteers. In fact, ninety-seven percent of the American Red Cross staff are volunteers.

In order to become a volunteer, all applicants must fill out an application and undergo a background check. The background check matches the individual with their Social Security Number and checks their criminal record. Some chapters may also require volunteers to list references, skills and complete an interview in order to match the volunteer with the best position for their attributes.

Those who are on the disaster response teams at local chapters undergo training before assisting on a disaster. The Red Cross also has volunteer opportunities for youth involvement.

After a Fire

The Red Cross responds to over 80,000 disasters each year. Over 90% of these disasters are single-family fires.

If you have lost your home to a fire, the the Red Cross will be contacted by your local fire department. If your fire department hasn’t contacted the Red Cross for assistance, ask for their contact details (there may be a 24-hour hotline number if the fire happens at night).

The Red Cross will come and assess your immediate needs.

  • If the fire department allows you to remain in your home, the Red Cross might provide immediate need items such as food, clothing, cleanup supplies, etc.
  • If the fire department decides you must evacuate your home, the Red Cross can help you with your immediate needs and also arrange shelter for up to three days (usually by providing hotel vouchers).

Since losses vary case-by-case, the Red Cross may also assign a caseworker to help you with your immediate needs and act as your primary contact should you need referrals to other organizations for additional assistance.

During or After a Natural Disaster

Natural disasters require different forms of assistance than single-family fires. However, the Red Cross' main mission is to help people after a disaster by providing immediate needs such as food, water, clothing and shelter.

The nearly 1,300 Red Cross chapters across the country are required to respond with services to an incident within two hours of being notified. These local chapters conduct disaster training as well as planning and preparedness, to help them respond quickly and effectively when a disaster occurs.

Phone Bank

After a disaster you may need to contact the Red Cross to receive assistance. The local chapter will be broadcasting a 24-hour hotline number for you to call for immediate assistance (check your local media – newspapers, radio, or TV for the number).

If you are calling to ask for assistance, be sure to have your current contact details (especially important if you have evacuated your home) on hand and be able to list your immediate needs (food, clothing, clean-up kit, shelter, etc.).

Shelters

Since a natural disaster can affect a large number of people, the local Red Cross chapter will open up public shelters in the affected or forecasted area.

After a disaster, the organization also sends out “disaster assessment teams.” These action teams help the Red Cross determine which areas are in the greatest need for assistance and also where to open a shelter.

The Red Cross will also work closely with the local fire, police and sheriff departments as well as the local city and county emergency management officials when opening a shelter. These public shelter locations are predetermined and usually a contractual agreement will have been put in place to use that facility in such a case (i.e. a local church, community center, school, etc.).

At the shelter, the Red Cross will provide food, clothing, bathrooms, showers, kitchen facilities, cots and other supplies. The availability of certain items will vary depending on the item and level of disaster.

A nurse will be on staff at the shelter and mental services staff members may also be helping out at the shelter. All Red Cross disaster health services workers must have a current license or certificate in their field of expertise.

Based on a person's needs, the Red Cross may also help pay for certain medical needs, including prescription medicines, medical supplies, and emergency medical treatment.

The length of an individual’s stay in the public shelter will depend on the nature of the disaster and their immediate needs.

Caseworkers

Since losses vary case-by-case, the Red Cross may also assign a caseworker to help you with your immediate needs and act as your primary contact for up to a year after a disaster, should you need referrals to other organizations for additional assistance.

Some of these caseworkers may be paid, others may be volunteers. Their case load will vary depending on demand and the time of year.

Neighborhood Assistance

After a disaster, the Red Cross may also send out teams to do neighborhood visits to hand out clean-up kits, help with the clean-up or other needs. Visits depend on need, availability of volunteers and access to the damaged areas. These visits may not always happen after a disaster.

What the American Red Cross Doesn’t Do

Again, the American Red Cross’ mission is to help people after a disaster by providing immediate needs such as food, water, clothing and shelter.

If they cannot assist you, you may be referred to another local agency or organization that may be able to help you with other items such as: groceries, new clothes, rent, emergency home repairs, transportation, household items, medicines, and occupational tools.

They work closely with:

The American Red Cross doesn’t:

  • Accept donations of material goods immediately after a disaster, because there is no way to transport goods to the affected areas
  • Act as a shelter for the perpetually homeless
  • Always collect blood – some chapters do, others don’t
  • Directly assist businesses with recovery needs
  • Help locate missing persons or runaways (unless lost after a disaster)
  • Receive money from the government
  • Turn away those who are insured (they will help you with your immediate needs whether you have insurance or not)

If you have additional questions about the services offered by the Red Cross, contact your local chapter.