In fact, until Sept. 11, it had never solicited donations for individual disasters, either, but rather and this is mandated language for this and other disasters.” Since the Red Cross can raise serious money only in the wake of a highprofile disaster, it uses the highprofile disasters to beef up general disasterrelief funds. That way, there is money in the pot to assist, as Decker puts it, ”the little old lady in Philadelphia who loses her home to fire” and to cover some of the operating expenses of the DOC.
This practice of the Red Cross has come under fire many times after the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, the Red River floods of 1997, the wildfires in the San Diego area last January. Some communities just didn’t like the idea that the money being raised because they suffered an earthquake, say, was going to be used elsewhere or tucked into the Red Cross’s coffers. In several instances, the Red Cross ended up having to redirect funds back to disasterstruck communities because the pressure grew too intense.
But the Red Cross stuck by its approach until Healy declared Sept. 11 an extraordinary disaster that belonged in a class of its own. It didn’t make sense to her to treat Sept. 11 as if it were an earthquake. Americans were responding quite specifically to the enormity of a terrorist attack. They were donating buckets of money, over $600 million in the end, because she believed they were heartbroken and scared. She thought that to commingle those emotions and those funds with the money set aside for more plebeian disasters would never stand up to public scrutiny. Besides, she did not want huge sums of money deposited in a general disasterrelief fund that is sometimes used as a ”piggy bank” for the chapters. So she created a standalone fund for Sept. 11 and whatever might follow it. The Liberty Fund, with its own team of 800 outside auditors, was born.
This set off alarms throughout the Red Cross system. What about the little old lady in Philadelphia? Was Healy singlehandedly changing a Red Cross commitment to equity for all victims? Was she making Sept. 11 victims into a special class whose treatment would raise difficult demands from other disaster victims down the road? Was she unwittingly creating public expectations that all money raised would go to Sept. 11 victims?
Healy didn’t think she was creating such expectations, not among reasonable people. She didn’t call it the Sept. 11 Fund, after all. And Healy said she felt that the Red Cross needed to plan ahead at the same time as it dealt with the crisis of the moment creatively. So while she set up a cash gift program for victims’ families, which was novel for the Red Cross, she also seized the opportunity to beef up some expensive pet projects that had gained new urgency like the weaponsofmass destructionpreparedness program and the creation of a strategic reserve of frozen blood. She thought this was logical, but she didn’t initially bother to explain herself to the American public. She didn’t even bother to explain herself to the board, which turned out to be a fatal lapse. For while the governors ended up endorsing the Liberty Fund, they were forced to do so after Healy
had already made it a fait accompli. And they would never forget that.
On Oct. 3, as if the Red Cross didn’t have enough to deal with, a board member from Louisiana placed a big thorny issue on the table: Israel, or specifically the Israeli Red Shield of David, Israel’s disasterrelief organization. The executive committee asked Healy to leave the room so that they could discuss the matter freely. Members were concerned that she would stifle open discussion because of her intense, domineering views on the subject.
The American Red Cross has long opposed the exclusion of Israel’s Red Shield of David, called Magen David Adom (M.D.A.), from the international federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. But Healy decided to give teeth to that quiet opposition. She believed that the international movement needed to be prodded to clear the legal and diplomatic hurdles preventing it from accepting the Star of David as an emblem. If the Geneva Convention which recognizes only the cross and the crescent as internationally protected symbols of humanitarian aid societies needed to be amended, then amend it, she believed. If not, then skirt it.
Two months after assuming command of the American Red Cross in September 1999, Healy flew to Geneva to address a large assembly of the International Red Cross movement. And, in the eyes of international officials, she charged in like a bull in a china shop.