How does Red Cross respond to international disasters?

Published 9:20 am Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti have brought a lot of attention to the international side of American Red Cross disaster responses. Here is some information on what the Red Cross does, and what is being done in those countries.

Since 1999, International Disaster Response of the American Red Cross has provided support to people around the world by responding to large-scale, sudden-onset disasters and complex emergencies. But:

The American Red Cross responds differently to disasters overseas.

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Even if a large disaster occurs and prompts media attention, most national societies have their own staff and volunteers who are trained and prepared to respond and manage the disaster operation.

On average, the Red Cross deploys 20 people each year in response to international disasters.

The role of the American Red Cross in responding to international crises differs from its domestic disaster responses. After a disaster in another country, the American Red Cross provides assistance only after the local Red Cross or Red Crescent society requests assistance from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. When help is requested, the international federation coordinates the appropriate resources needed, including personnel. Ideally, regional responders closest to the affected country are skilled and available. If not, the international federation looks to its global network. Many partner national societies, like the American Red Cross, also have volunteers and staff ready. Based on language and technical skills, the international federation selects the best-suited people available to deploy.


The American Red Cross has spent more than $106 million on food and water, shelter, and health and family services. More than half (52 percent) of the money has been for food, water, and relief supplies; a third (36 percent) has been for shelter; and 12 percent has been for health services, family services, and livelihoods.

The Red Cross will continue to support survivors in the months and years ahead — until the last donated dollar is spent.

The American Red Cross has provided:

With partner agencies, emergency shelter materials (including tarps, tents, ropes, timber uprights and tool kits) to nearly 879,000 people in Haiti, which is more than two-thirds of the 1.3 million left homeless by the January earthquake.

Support to a multi-agency vaccination campaign has reached 125,000 people, protecting them against diseases such as measles, rubella, and tetanus though Red Cross health care units and the Haitian National Red Cross Society.

More than 1,800 blood units to Haiti through the American Red Cross Biomedical services.

Family tracing services for Haitians to connect with relatives in the U.S.

450 satellite phones for family tracing services in Haiti.

Through chapters’ assistance to more than 25,000 people who arrived in the U.S. following the earthquake with welcome services at airports, support for medical evacuees and family tracing and other services.


In Chile, the American Red Cross has contributed toward the international federation’s emergency appeal in support of Red Cross response operations. Provided 5,000 jerry cans and 1,160 hygiene kits for distribution by the Chilean Red Cross. Membership on the International Federation team in Chile.