Voluntary Organizations: FEMA Should More Fully Assess Organizations' Mass Care Capabilities and Update the Red Cross Role in Catastrophic Events, Report to Congressional Requesters   [open pdf - 2MB]

"Voluntary organizations have traditionally played a major role in the nation's response to disasters, but the response to Hurricane Katrina raised concerns about their ability to handle large-scale disasters. This report examines (1) the roles of five voluntary organizations in providing mass care and other services, (2) the steps they have taken to improve service delivery, (3) their current capabilities for responding to mass care needs, and (4) the challenges they face in preparing for large-scale disasters. To address these questions, GAO reviewed the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, the Southern Baptist Convention, Catholic Charities USA, and United Way of America; interviewed officials from these organizations and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); reviewed data and laws; and visited four high-risk metro areas--Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Washington, D.C. GAO recommends that FEMA update and document the Red Cross's role in a catastrophic event, take steps to incorporate voluntary organizations' capabilities in its assessments, and clarify funding guidance for certain disaster preparedness grants. In commenting on the draft report, FEMA agreed with two recommendations, but disagreed with the recommendation to better incorporate voluntary organizations in assessments. We continue to believe such efforts are important for preparedness."

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