CANNON BEACH - Portland Chapter Red Cross Chief Executive Officer John Prescott, along with members from the local chapter, attended the regular meeting of the Cannon Beach City Council Tuesday to address the shortcomings of the Red Cross response during and after the December 2007 storm on the North Coast.
"The response in many areas was solid, it was robust, it was great - but Cannon Beach was not one of those areas," said Prescott. "My grandfather said, 'When you do good, own it and when you miss a beat, own it.' In Cannon Beach we missed a step and so, I'm here tonight to own it."
He said he hoped Cannon Beach residents would understand that the response problem in Cannon Beach was a problem with the Portland office rather than a problem with the local chapter's response.
"I'm here to talk to you about how we can do better next time," said Prescott. "I came to be pretty blunt, pretty honest with you, that we need to do better. I'm here to take the heat that is deservedly ours to take."
Council President Jay Raskin had two direct questions for Prescott regarding the Red Cross response and the organization's level of preparedness for large emergency situations.
"What if this had happened in Portland, too?" asked Raskin. "And second, our real concern is the Cascadia event, if we're discussing this, we need to make sure that is part of the discussion."
Prescott answered that had the emergency extended as far inland as Portland, the response on the North Coast would have been more significantly lacking and that, no matter what the emergency is, the Red Cross tries to prepare for it before it occurs.
"The reality is that if it takes four days to get here, we need to prepare you enough to survive on your own for four days," said Prescott.
Council Member Nancy Giasson, who worked at the Community Presbyterian Church shelter during the storm aftermath, asked Prescott why the response was lacking in Cannon Beach and why it was considered a problem with the Portland office.
"You are not tied to the Portland office," said Prescott. "The point I'm trying to make is that the local chapter was working at its capacity." He said that once the local chapter reached its capacity operating level, the chapter should have received more staffing and that did not occur. "You were owed more and didn't get it."
Raskin asked Prescott whether he believed there was an organizational problem, on the state level, with the Red Cross.
"It seems to me, in your responses, there is an organizational question that comes to the fore," said Raskin.
"We were outstripped because of the needs in a four-county area," said Prescott. "It's my job as CEO to figure out why we were outstripped so quickly. I also think there are deep levels of denial about large emergency events. I have had people with the organization for years who have never seen an emergency. Because of that, we are in constant volunteer recruitment mode."
Mayor John Williams asked what the Red Cross had done to remedy the problem of lack of prepositioned materials and supplies. Prescott answered that the Red Cross has just started to contact communities about recruiting volunteers, training opportunities and prepositioning of materials and supplies.
"What do you think about moving the county EOC?" asked Williams.
"That's a county decision that the Red Cross has no business making," said Prescott. "I can tell you that in many emergency preparedness circles, it is believed that Clatsop County has a lot of work to do."
Williams then asked who Prescott thought was better equipped to transport people through flood waters and get help to those who needed it, the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office or the National Guard.
"I can tell you we did not lean on the National Guard soon enough," said Prescott. "I'm not going to sit in a room and say, 'We can't get there. We can't get there.' That's rubbish. I'm not doing that again."