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Response to tragedy
by Atoussa K. Parsey





Immediately after terrorist attacks on 11 September, Red Cross workers in New York and Washington, DC were mobilized to provide lifesaving care and comfort to thousands of victims. In addition to blood products to treat the wounded, shelter and food for people left homeless, the American Red Cross concentrated unprecedented energy in order to address the emotional trauma felt by families directly affected by the tragedy and to help communities across the country cope with their concerns and emotions.

On 11 September the entire world witnessed the unthinkable: within an hour, four hijacked civilian airliners crashed one after another into the World Trade Centre in New York city, the Pentagon outside Washington, DC and a rural area outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Within minutes of what would soon be known as the worst terrorist attack in history, Red Cross trained disaster workers were alerted and all emergency services were activated. Blood supplies were readied for release to hospitals treating those critically injured from the attacks.

"This terrible tragedy has touched all of us in a permanent way," said Bernadine Healy, president of the American Red Cross (ARC). "Unfair and inexplicable, it has created an extraordinary imprint on the mind, the body and the spirit of a family, a community and a nation. Everyone of us here at the Red Cross is honoured to do our small part in this tragedy."

Under the United States Federal Response Plan, the ARC is officially designated to provide mass care for those in need in the aftermath of natural or man-made disasters. Almost simultaneously, trained disaster workers from the Greater New York chapter and the National Capital chapter in Washington, DC began providing mass care and blood products. In New York, the Red Cross opened shelters for people left homeless or evacuated from their homes and provided food and comfort to thousands of emergency workers involved in the search and rescue operations. At the Pentagon, service centres were opened for families to wait for news of those trapped or missing; two city buses were converted into mental health counselling centres.

Aviation Incident Response (AIR) teams responded in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Washington, Newark (New Jersey), and Los Angeles. Made up of leadership teams from all Red Cross disaster relief functions, AIR teams work in cooperation with airlines to address the emotional needs of victims, family members and rescue workers. In Pennsylvania, the AIR team assisted families coming to the crash site for information about their loved ones.

Responsible for more than 50 per cent of the United States blood supply, the American Red Cross blood inventory system is structured so that blood products collected in any of its 36 blood regions can be shipped to where it is needed most. More than 3,500 blood units were mobilized to the two blood centres closest to New York and Washington, DC to assist patients wounded in the attacks. The ARC also transferred 40,000 units of albumin, a protein found in blood that is used to treat burn victims and other trauma patients.

12 September, 2001. American Red Cross workers ready water and food to serve to rescue workers clearing the smoldering debris of the World Trade Center.

Blood drive, 12 September, 2001. Hundreds of blood donors filled Red Cross Square in Washington, DC.


The American Red Cross

Established 21 May 1881 by Clara Barton, the American Red Cross is the largest humanitarian organization in the United States. Each year, the ARC responds to over 67,000 incidents and provides affected people with post-emergency services, including mental health support. Volunteer and paid staff work in unison to deliver essential services: Armed Forces Emergency Services, biomedical services, community services, disaster services, health and safety services, youth services and international services. In the United States, volunteers represent 97 per cent of all Red Cross personnel. Over 1 million volunteer staff and 34,356 paid staff carried out Red Cross programmes and services during 2000.

All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from people across the United States. The ARC also provides nearly 50 per cent of the nation's lifesaving blood. This, too, is made possible by generous voluntary donations.


Military families turned to the ARC's Armed Forces Emergency Services (AFES) for news of relatives and friends missing after the Pentagon attack. AFES offers families of military personnel and Department of Defense civilians services ranging from mental health consultation to emergency travel arrangements to funeral assistance.

American Red Cross disaster mental health workers were on hand to help with the emotional trauma left by the terrorist attacks. At chapters across the country, outreach groups helped communities address their concerns and emotions. Tips were distributed through the media advising people to:

  • avoid watching repeated media coverage of the event;
  • talk about feelings and ask for help
    if needed;
  • listen to other people and be especially kind to others;
  • spend time with family and return to a normal routine as soon as possible;
  • find a peaceful and quiet place to reflect and gain perspective; and
  • do something that helps others — give blood, take a first-aid class.

The public's support of the American Red Cross matched its swift and effective humanitarian actions. From multinational corporations to small businesses and individual financial donors, cash contributions reached the Red Cross to help provide lifesaving care and comfort for the thousands affected by this incomprehensible tragedy. The cash contributions fuelled massive disaster relief services in all affected areas: New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania; and in locations where the bereaved gathered — Boston, Newark, San Francisco, Los Angeles and northern Virginia.

On 11 September, the Red Cross received the largest number of online donations in its history through its web site — nearly one donation a second, totalling over US$ 1 million in 12 hours. In the first 24 hours after the terrorist attacks, the American Red Cross received over 1 million calls to its '1-800 Give Life' phone number from people wanting to donate blood. In the three days following, more than 176,000 people donated and thousands more made appointments to donate in the coming weeks to keep the supply strong.

The American Red Cross, a founding member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, received unprecedented expressions of sympathy and support from its sister societies through their secretariat in Geneva. The International Committee of the Red Cross has strongly condemned these acts of terror that targeted people in the course of their daily lives, emphasizing that such attacks undermine the most basic principles of humanity.

Atoussa K. Parsey


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