Weather & Natural Disasters

American Red Cross CEO calls FEMA's coordination of the response to Harvey 'remarkable'

Key Points
  • The federal government's ability to work with state and local officials has been "very, very tight," says Gail McGovern.
  • The Red Cross chief makes an appeal for blood donations because treating Harvey victims decreases the nation's blood supplies.
American Red Cross providing 'comfort and hope' to Harvey evacuees: Gail McGovern CEO

The federal government's ability to work with state and local officials to respond to the devastation from Hurricane Harvey has been "remarkable," American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern told CNBC on Thursday.

"The coordination has been very, very tight. I just deeply appreciate the help," McGovern said. "The coordination through this disaster with FEMA, with state government, with local government has been remarkable."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Donald Trump's choice to lead it has been given high marks for its response to Harvey, in stark contrast to FEMA's initial mishandling of Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005 during the presidency of George W. Bush.

On Wednesday, Scott Cowen, the former president of Tulane University who had helped lead rebuilding efforts in New Orleans 12 years ago, told CNBC he thinks FEMA's preparedness is "better than it's ever been before."

The failures of FEMA in 2005 became apparent as then-President Bush, while touring Katrina destruction, infamously praised the then-administrator of the agency, Michael Brown. "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," Bush said at the time. Brown resigned shortly thereafter over what was viewed as a botched federal response to the disaster.

Brown, who spoke to CNBC on Tuesday, praised FEMA on Harvey — describing the current administrator, Brock Long, as a "great person to have in this position." Long, nominated to head FEMA in April by Trump, was confirmed in June. Trump on Tuesday visited Texas where Long has been leading the administration's response to the storm.

McGovern, who's led the Red Cross since 2008, said that daily conference calls between federal, state and local officials have helped keep Harvey relief efforts on the same page.

"We explained we couldn't get our volunteers and cots through. And the next thing I knew, we had 20 high-water vehicles from the Department of Defense to help us out," she said.

Red Cross volunteers assist in managing Hurricane Harvey evacuees at the Delco Center in East Austin on August 29, 2017.
Suzanne Cordeiro | AFP | Getty Images

McGovern is also making an appeal for blood donations. Blood stores being used to treat Harvey victims will lead to a decrease in the nation's overall blood supply, she said.

During her tenure with the organization, McGovern oversaw lifesaving services in the wake of several tragedies in the U.S. and around the world, including the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and superstorm Sandy in 2012.

McGovern came to the American Red Cross by way of the corporate world, having held executive positions with AT&T's residential long-distance service division and Fidelity Investments.