The American Red Cross was founded on the model of European organizations founded to ensure humane treatment of enemy soldiers in wartime. The American organization’s first operation was disaster relief in the wake of a devastating fire in Michigan. Today’s Red Cross takes its authority and functions from a Congressional charter granted in 1905, right after founder Clara Barton, a former Civil War nurse, retired as president of the organization.
While the Red Cross is not a Federal agency, under the charter, it works on behalf of the Federal government, and has been delegated several humanitarian functions:
- Like it’s counterparts overseas, it is the primary agency through which the United States meets its obligations under the Geneva Conventions, international agreements relating to treatment of enemy soldiers, non-combatants, and civilians.
- It provides non-military supplies to the United States armed forces, and helps coordinate family communications.
- It is an integral part of the National Response Framework, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s procedure for responding to natural disasters.
In addition to disaster relief in the United States—more than 70,000 operations annually—and around the world, and military support, the Red Cross works in two other major areas, preparedness training and coordinating and collecting blood donations.
Over nine million people each year learn essential preparedness skills through the Red Cross. Babysitting classes teach teens about basic child care, handling emergencies and misbehavior, age-appropriate activities, and general and emergency safety. Lifeguard classes give young people a rundown of basic water safety and rescue. CPR classes teach life-saving skills. These are just some of the classes the American Red Cross offers.
A blood transfusion is needed in the United States every two seconds. In addition to physical trauma patients, such as people who’ve been in accidents, transfusions save lives of people with cancer, sickle cell disease, blood disorders, and other illnesses. The only thing that meets the need for blood is blood, which is why volunteer donors are so important. To meet the demand, the Red Cross needs to collect 125,000 units per week. The American Red Cross is the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States.