Friday, February 21, 2014

A Truly Inspiring Lecture by Mr. Rick Lee of the Red Cross at the Isenberg School

Yesterday, we had the distinct honor and privilege of hearing from Mr. Rick Lee, the Executive Director of the American Red Cross, Pioneer Valley Chapter.  He was a guest lecturer in the Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare course that I am teaching this semester at the Isenberg School of Management.
Mr. Lee oversees 38 employees and 1,000 volunteers and was instrumental in the development of the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program with a focus on communications.

We heard about Henri Dunant, the Swiss businessman,  who led what became the international Red Cross movement in the mid 1800s, received a Nobel Peace Prize, but then lost his business and died as a penniless hermit in Switzerland. Mr. Lee spoke about the Geneva Convention and how it is imperative to inject humanity in the inhumane act of war. He also spoke about the amazing Clara Barton, all 5 feet and 90 pounds of her, who, after a trip to Switzerland, realized what needed to be done and, through her incredible leadership abilities, founded the American Red Cross. She did so in 1881 at age 60 and continued to lead it for 23 years!

The foundation of the Red Cross is trust and ethics and contact with donors and volunteers. The provisioning of food, shelter, evaluation of how bad it is, and communications to the public, are all aspects of Red Cross activities in disaster relief. Mr. Lee also emphasized that disaster relief is "a team sport." Interestingly, he also said that there is emphasis now on mitigation, as well.

We heard of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and the need to understand different community groups and their roles as well as the great importance of communications with stakeholders.

We were very surprised to learn that since the Red Cross depends on financial donations, that if these were to stop, the Red Cross would shut down in only 180 days! My former doctoral students, who are now very successful international professors, Dr. Tina Wakolbinger and Dr. Fuminori Toyasaki, have done research on the modeling of financial flow of funds for disaster relief and the earmarking of donations.

We also heard about the tremendous role that the Red Cross played in sheltering and feeding hundreds of people for a month after the tornado hit Springfield, MA on June 1, 2011. He also emphasized how helpful private organizations are and can be in disaster relief by providing discounts for much-needed supplies, warehousing between disasters, and helping with deliveries. He singled out Walmart and Big-Y supermarkets and even noted hotels and motels who provide discounts for sheltering purposes.

He also emphasized the importance of buying locally and the importance of building relationships over time so that,  when disasters strike, one is ready. He even told us of free mobile apps for first aid and emergency preparedness offered by the Red Cross, including earthquake and tornado warning apps.

What is the power of one person? Clara Barton changed the world and over a century before the Internet. her impact continues to this day.

Mr. Lee, your presentation changed all of us. Thank you for being the heart and soul of our American Red Cross and our Hometown Hero!