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#911 Memories +15 years

11 Sep

Every Red Cross Chapter and Blood Services Region received hundreds, if not thousands of spontaneous volunteer offers on 9/11/2001 and during the following weeks.

Close to 1,000 people lined up to donate blood at Red Cross Square in Washington, DC on 9.12 and 9.13. I was the end of the line greeter for these spontaneous blood donors for more than 12 hours.

I remember the pilots and flight crew members. They were stranded in Washington along with passengers. All flights were grounded by the FAA. They joined the line to give blood.

I remember the Arab American Businessmen, also stranded in D.C. after their conference. They also joined the line to give blood and to show their support.

I remember the construction crew, they, like many other workers, were given the day off. Their company said, go over to the Red Cross and donate blood.

I remember the teachers and aides I knew. They had been preschool teachers for both of my children. They also came to donate. We chatted, one stayed in line and the others went and bought me a sandwich and a drink for my lunch.

I remember the father who stopped in to bring bags of loose change and bills, money that his children had spontaneously collected from neighbors so the Red Cross could help the victims of 9/11.

I remember the tourists from Europe, they did not speak English, they had never donated blood, but they wanted to support America in this time of need.

I remember the relief crew of doctors and technicians arriving from John’s Hopkins and from other Blood Services Regions to provide respite to the large crew of technicians that had been collecting volunteer blood donations for hours.

Around 7 PM we told the last 100 people in line that we would not be able to take blood from everyone. They were given forms to fill in. They could come back the next or we could contact them to make an appointment to donate at a later date.

Many left, but the last woman in line said emphatically, I will be last. I am not leaving. I was a firefighter. I want to support the firefighters and police and rescuers who were killed. It was after 9 PM when she finally donated.

We also had hundreds of American Red Cross volunteers and employees in Washington, DC supporting the response and recovery to 9/11. Quite a few of those volunteer blood donors left the line to help out as spontaneous volunteers helping with the Blood Drive.

Others were lining up nurses around the country to help with shelters for people displaced by 9/11 and to help with families of victims. Red Cross chapters were also helping to shelter and to provide food and comfort to the thousands of people stranded in towns and cities across the US when the planes were grounded.

Across the Potomac River local American Red Cross volunteers and employees worked with partner agencies to provide food and drinks for the response workers at the Pentagon crash site. We could still see the smoke for days afterwards.

In New York, the theaters were closed. Many actors and artists also volunteered to help in the shelters, entertaining children and families to provide some distraction as they dealt with their losses and the deaths of loved ones.

On this 15th anniversary, I would like to say thank you to the fifty thousand plus volunteers and employees of the American Red Cross. I would also like to say thank you to the hundreds of other response agencies, the police, the firefighters, the military, the municipal workers,the actor s and artists and to millions of Americans to came together to help on 9/11 and the following days, months. You made a difference.

This blog is by

Bruce Summers, a Personal Historian at Summoose Tales, Board Member, Regions and Chapters Director, Association of Personal Historians, 

Related Blogs:

Did the American Red Cross collect too much Blood after 9/11?

11 Sep

The short answer is, yes and no. More on this later.

Did the Red Cross collect too much money? I would suggest, no.

Did the Red Cross receive too many volunteer offers? Yes and No.

Did the Red Cross receive too much goodwill?  This is a bit trickier to answer.

Did the Red Cross learn valuable lessons from its response to 9/11? Yes.

Did the Red Cross do its best to engage citizens and non-citizens who were in a state of shock after 9/11? Yes.


Too much blood. I was working at the American Red Cross National Office of Volunteers, Youth and Nursing on 9/11 2001. A colleague told me that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center Towers.  I watched on television as the second plane flew into the second Tower. Each event was a shock, but at the Red Cross we are used to responding to disasters. Then a third plane flew into the Pentagon.  Now the disaster was more personal.  The shock was more personal. My office was at Red Cross Square just a block from the White House. Federal office workers started flooding out on the sidewalks across the street from my office. There was great uncertainty, what would happen next. The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all planes immediately across the country. Traffic outside of my office windows stopped and snarled. The American people and the rest of the world went into a state of shock.

On 9/12 the American Red Cross set up emergency blood collection centers. One of these was set up at Red Cross Square, this despite the fact that yellow police tape surrounded the Square.  No one knew what would happen next.  A radio station set up a remote broadcast just outside the building where we set up the emergency blood collection center in a large ballroom. The line of volunteers to donate blood was long and getting longer.  Volunteer blood donors were allowed to cross the yellow tape lines to line up to donate blood. I greeted   hundreds, likely a couple of thousand spontaneous blood donors, as their line stretched out the door, down one block and around another block. My message to volunteers as they joined the line, “Thank you for coming to donate blood. The wait will be several hours (eventually up to 4 hours). If you want to wait, thank you.  If you would like to get a call to schedule a time to come back and donate blood, then please fill out this form (a half sheet of paper for their contact information). Many people waited in line for several hours and donated blood.

Collect as much blood as you can! The Red Cross Blood Service officials behind the scenes were monitoring what was going on nationally. Since many of the victims of 9/11 were killed outright, the spontaneous demand for blood for the victims of 9/11 was only a bit higher than normal. However, the blood supply before the disaster was a bit low. This was normal during the summer when less people donate. On the other hand the Red Cross President and CEO was invited and walked over to the White House to speak with the President. I listened, as she came back and shared with the volunteers waiting in line to donate blood, “The President asked us to collect as much blood as we can since we don’t know what will happen next.” So the Red Cross continued to collect blood, but also shared with potential blood donors, we encourage you to schedule time to come back later.

Too much money. The American Red Cross was criticized for collecting too much money.  This was despite the fact that they clearly stated the donations were for victims of 9/11 and other disasters. At the Emergency Blood Drive a father walked in with a big bag of change and bills $1s, 5s, 10s, and 20s. “My kids walked around and collected this from neighbors.” Across the country many spontaneous fundraisers collected money for the Red Cross. Hundreds of volunteers and employees from across the country were needed to receive, count, process and deposit spontaneous donations that went into the American Red Cross Disaster Response Fund.  Millions of dollars were spent on the response every day; first from the reserves accumulated over the years in the Disaster Response Fund, and then later from the donations generated by the 9/11 response. The American Red Cross responds to over 60,000 disasters a year.  Some are huge and visible like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, most are not. Volunteers and employees of the Red Cross are always on call to help victims of family fires, to help people stranded by tropical storms, floods, fires, ice storms, or a chemical spill.  The Disaster Response Fund provides reserves so the American Red Cross can be there when Help Can’t Wait.

We want money to go directly to victims. The American Red Cross provides immediate, short-term and long-term support to victims of disaster.  Immediate support is food, shelter, perhaps clothing or a credit to purchase clothing and necessities. It also provides people support, a trained cadre of volunteers and employees, ready to respond.  They stage cots, tents, and emergency response vehicles ready to shift quickly to designated shelter sites or to drive through communities to provide food, water, and snacks.  The Red Cross provides about 40% of the nation’s blood supply. This is used for everyday life saving needs, but also for emergency needs like 9/11 or other disasters. On rare occasions such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina; the Red Cross also provides direct grants to victims in addition to needed emergency support. For large-scale disasters such as the Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, and some hurricane responses, they also provide long-term support. Sometimes support is provided for ten or twenty years after the disaster, example to pay for psychological support and to meet other long-term needs. Careful controls are placed on how money is collected and on how donated funds are distributed. Donor intent is a key consideration.

Too many volunteer offers. During my time with the Red Cross we faced the challenge of having too many volunteer offers. During 9/11 we were able to place about 100,000 volunteers in 9/11 related response around the country. Larger numbers of volunteers were placed in New York, Boston and Arlington County, VA (site of the Pentagon attack). A thousand, ten thousand, or a hundred thousand spontaneous volunteer offers can overwhelm any Red Cross office or any community. The good news is that we were able to staff the 9/11 related response and recovery with thousands of current, but also with 10s of thousands of new spontaneous volunteers for days, weeks and months. During the following year we convened by phone the directors and chairs of volunteers from Red Cross affiliates around the country to document their lessons learned and suggestions.  We then worked with colleagues in Disaster Services to update spontaneous disaster volunteer intake procedures.

Too much goodwill. During the days and weeks after 9/11 millions of Americans donated blood, contributed time as volunteers, and made financial donations to the American Red Cross. These gifts were transferred trough services and grants to the victims of 9/11 and their families. Donated blood was used by hospitals to treat thousands of Americans. The American Red Cross received overwhelming support from individuals, corporations and the media. Did they receive too much blood? Yes, some small percentage of blood could not be used. Did they receive too much money? No, the money received was used to support the victims of 9/11 and other disasters. Did they receive too many volunteer offers? Yes, not everyone who wanted to volunteer was able to volunteer.  Note: in some cases the volume of early offers to volunteer overwhelmed local Red Cross phone systems and if an email was not collected, then it was hard to call back hundreds of potential volunteers who often were not at home when called, or not available when needed. In some cases spontaneous volunteers had even forgotten that they offered to volunteer. After a month or two of very positive proactive news articles, too much goodwill, the media and critics suddenly started challenging how the Red Cross had managed its response to the disaster.

Lessons Learned. Goodwill for the Red Cross surges very high during disaster response, but then it has to come back down to normal.  This is part of the normal cycle. The Red Cross conducted good internal reviews, asking: how can we do a better job of managing the goodwill of spontaneous blood donors, so we don’t get too much blood, while also ensuring we have a secure supply of blood during national emergencies. Systems were put into place to support a surge in spontaneous volunteers needed to support long lines of blood donors during a large-scale disaster. We developed spontaneous volunteer intake centers with phone lines remote from the Red Cross chapter headquarters for receiving, triaging, training and placing spontaneous volunteers. We also cultivated relationships with partner agencies so that we would be better able to provide a warm welcome or a warm referral to spontaneous volunteers that we could not place. The Red Cross Board of Governors looked carefully at how to better message during disasters to ensure donors knew when we had enough funds for the current disaster response and also to ensure that we were responsive to donor intent.

Personal observations. The American Red Cross was well prepared and did its best to engage citizens and non-citizens who were in a state of shock after 9/11.  I personally greeted well over 100 non-citizens who gathered to donate blood on 9/12. Some were tourists from other countries. Others were guest workers who were given the day off.  Their companies suggested they go donate blood at the Red Cross. I greeted leaders from Arab-American companies who were in Washington, DC for meetings. These non-citizens wanted to donate blood, often for the first time. They wanted to offer their sincere support of the American people.  They were shocked by the 9/11 attacks. Americans were also in shock. 

They asked how can we help?  At times like 9/11 I was very grateful that the American Red Cross, for the most part, was ready to channel the outpouring of goodwill towards helping victims of disaster. I offer my sincere thanks to the thousands of American Red Cross volunteers and employees who helped to make this happened.  I offer my thanks to the millions of Americans and many non-Americans who responded with time, blood, money and goodwill to 9/11.  May it never happen again!

Bruce Summers is the former American Red Cross national lead for volunteer engagement.  He also works as a Personal Historian helping people capture and share their life stories. 

See also…

September 11, 2014 started as a cloudy day

9/11 – Red Cross memories – 10 years later # 1

9/11 Memories – Red Cross Blood Drive – 10 Years later # 2


250,000 Thank yous to American Red Cross Volunteers

28 Aug

Today, August 28 is the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Ten years ago I was at the beach watching the news with my family, nervous but on vacation.

2004 had been a really severe Hurricane Season. I cared because I was the national lead for volunteer resources management for the American Red Cross. We learned a lot of lessons and deployed 10s of thousands of American Red Cross disasters responders, mostly volunteers.

2005, prior to August 28, had been a busy disaster response summer. The Red Cross had a large national disaster reserve system with 40,000 volunteers and employees trained to deploy for up to three weeks for large-scale local, regional and national disasters.

Most of these volunteers use their vacation time to be on call to respond during a particular month. However, many of our most experienced volunteers had already deployed to help with other large-scale disasters prior to August 28.

So I watched nervously as Hurricane Katrina grew bigger and bigger and headed for New Orleans. I was on vacation but I kept my eye on the news and on the projected landfall location. We worried about a potential direct hit on low-lying New Orleans.

On August 28, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. At first, we thought New Orleans and other areas had dodged a bullet. It was not a direct hit. Damage was bad, but not as catastrophic or as large as it could have been. There were relatively few reported deaths; but then we heard that the levees broke and New Orleans was flooded.

This is where I start saying thank you. Thousands of American Red Cross volunteers and employees were pre-positioned on the Gulf Coast. After the storm they opened shelters and started providing relief, food, snacks, clothes, and a place to sleep. But even with thousands of responders in place; the Hurricane Katrina response kept growing larger.  It was ten times larger than any disaster response in US history.  We headed home early from vacation. I anticipated a busy week ahead.

I arrived at the Red Cross headquarters and was quickly briefed and asked to convene a team to develop a national volunteer recruitment manual.  The anticipated scale and scope of the Hurricane Katrina response was huge.  Red Cross leadership anticipated the response and recovery would last for months. We would need at least 40,000 additional disaster volunteers, willing to be trained, and able to deploy nationally for two or three weeks.

By policy, and for their mental health and safety, National Red Cross disaster responders rotate back home or off duty every three weeks. As stated before many of our most experienced responders had already deployed during 2015. Some had used all of their vacation days working on one or more national disaster responses. This is where I say thank you to the 40,000 national Red Cross disaster reserves and the 10s of thousands of additional Red Cross volunteers and employees who mobilized to respond around the country.

Kate Forbes, our National Chair of Volunteers, spent weeks away from home co-leading coordination meetings with other national organizations and agencies. Then when she got back home to Phoenix she volunteered to triage and fulfill requests for financial assistance from Louisiana residents displaced by the Hurricane and the flooding who had been relocated temporarily to Arizona.

Meanwhile, I convened my team and brainstormed what would be needed in the national volunteer recruitment manual to support chapter recruitment of 40,000 more long-term deployable volunteers. I offer my thanks to my colleagues Cyndy Humble, Kim Gube and our presidential intern – Yasa Tytarenko. They each took sections and chapters of the manual outline. They plugged in emerging data from the response and started writing.

I also must say thank you to Greg Baldwin from  He reached out to me. We were on deadline but I took his phone call. He wanted to know how VolunteerMatch could help.  We brainstormed how they could be integrated into the national volunteer recruitment plan. We discussed how his organization could help Red Cross affiliates that were overwhelmed by hundreds and thousands of spontaneous volunteer offers.

I sat in on meetings convened with federal agencies and key disaster response partners. Each day discussed urgent needs in New Orleans to support volunteer efforts.  Finding housing or tents for the disaster response volunteers was a key issue.  The Red Cross was asked, and I was assigned to monitor offers from small businesses to partner.  Key was triaging offers and referring them to appropriate Red Cross colleagues, the Disaster Operations Center, or to other key federal agencies and disaster response organizations.

I checked in several times a day with our Red Cross disaster staffing center to see review their urgent volunteer fills, trained responders who would deploy to dozens of locations. I communicated with my network of directors and chairs of volunteers in our 700 chapters and blood services regions. I must say thank you to these 1000 leaders and their dedicated cadre of volunteers and colleagues who worked long days triaging local volunteer and partnership offers and helped to spread the word about the urgent need for long-term deployable volunteers.

In just a few days we had the national volunteer engagement manual ready. We plugged in We engaged our directors and chairs of volunteers network.  We worked with many partners, with federal agencies, and the media to get the word out. Chapters and regions instituted new streamlined volunteer intake and training strategies. I say thank you again to the 10s of thousands of experienced volunteers and employees that were managing the Hurricane Response and Recovery. They provided millions of snacks and meals. They worked long hours and sheltered thousands of displaced people every day. They offered hope. They offered help and much needed smiles or hugs to people who had lost their homes and possessions. They did not get everything perfect, but they were did their very best despite huge logistical constraints.

The national volunteer recruitment plan was in full swing.  Over one million Americans offered to volunteer with the American Red Cross. Over 60,000 new long-term deployable disaster volunteers registered. Many took long-term deployments. Thousands more plugged into local and regional volunteer opportunities to meet current and emerging needs.  They could not deploy for needed two or three weeks, but they could help Katrina victims locally and backfilled for locally trained disaster volunteers who deployed to help with Katrina and subsequent disasters.

I say my sincere thanks and gratitude to the 250,000 Red Cross volunteers, to the thousands of Red Cross employees, to the millions of donors, and the thousands of organizations and companies who responded to Hurricane Katrina. Your gifts of time, talent and resources made a huge difference. Ten years later the memories are still vivid. Thank you.

Bruce Summers, is a former national volunteer engagement lead for the American Red Cross. He works as a Personal Historian for Summoose Tales and serves as a global board member and Regions Director for the Association of Personal Historians.



September 11, 2014 started as a cloudy day

11 Sep

It was cloudy today as I walked to work down 18th Street in NW Washington, DC. There was an incredibly brilliant blue sky when I walked down the same street 13 years ago the morning of September 11.

I was working at the American Red Cross in the Volunteers, Youth and Nursing Department. I was talking with Mary Etta Boesl a colleague and my counterpart in the Communications and Marketing Department.

As we were chatting she glanced up at a TV over her desk, paused and said, “Bruce a plane just flew into the World Trade Center building, (in New York City)!”

I hurried around to my Vice President’s office to let him know, he had been a director of disaster services, he turned on his TV and we watched the coverage of the hole and the smoke coming out of the Tower speculating…

It was a large plane, not a random occurrence we suspected terrorism then we watched as a second plane flew into the other tower!!

We calculated how many 10’s of thousands of people could work in this complex. We were concerned but New York was 200 miles away…

Then we learned that a third plane had flown into the Pentagon, just across the Potomac river a couple of miles at the most, in our neighborhood!!! The disaster became real and present directly in our lives.

I tried to call my wife, but the phones were jammed with calls, finally she got through to one of my colleagues. Her government agency was being evacuated. We were worried what would happen next. We were worried about our young children 17 miles away in their elementary school.

My colleagues and I, those who had young children, left to be prepared to evacuate our kids to a safer place if needed. My wife left to drive her car across town to pick me up.

I walked out the door a pickup truck was in front of my building. The federal agency employees headquartered around Red Cross Square flooded the sidewalks as they were evacuated. After all the White House was one and half blocks away diagonal across the street.

Traffic stopped, the pickup never moved. Traffic backed up. I ran down the street several blocks to meet my wife hoping to get to her before she got snarled in the traffic jam.

As we drove out of Washington we passed the Chemical Response Fire Truck coming in I 66 to the Pentagon from National Airport. We got to our tree-lined suburban neighborhood, our adrenaline still pumping. It look normal. We got to the elementary school. All was quiet. We asked at the office. The staff said they had not announced anything to the students, afraid some may have parents impacted by the Pentagon crash.

We drove home, my wife left to donated blood at the Red Cross Blood Center. I called into my office to get an update. The pick-up truck had not moved for over an hour. The plan was coming together. Get some rest they shared we are going to be busy tomorrow!!!!

9.12.01 was a new day but a very different day. I had to enter Red Cross Square through the 18th Street entrance because the rest of the block was quarantined with yellow police tape. We did not know what would happen next. A local radio station had a broadcast truck in front of the building where we set up an emergency blood collection station in a large ballroom. The crowd of volunteer blood donors queued up, quickly filling the building.

I became the designated greeter at the end of the line, thanking people, letting them know it would be a 2, then a 3, then a 4 hour or more wait to donate blood. You are welcome to stay in line and wait, or fill out this slip and we will call you to come down to donate when there is less of a wait. I repeated this welcome hundreds of times as the line grew and went around the block. The goodwill of the American people, foreign visitors, people given the day off to donate blood, stranded pilots and flight attendants, pipe-fitters, young and old, waiting in line for many hours, doing what they could do to help.

We finally announced around 6:30 PM that we were not accepting any more people in line, the Blood Service technicians could not work past 10:30. Some people left, but one woman stayed, “I am going to wait and be the last one to donate, no matter what!!!!!” And so she was.

It is amazing the difference a day can make. It is amazing the difference a volunteer can make.

See also…

9/11 – Red Cross memories – 10 years later # 1

9/11 Memories – Red Cross Blood Drive – 10 Years later # 2

Red Cross Stories

Blood Drives planned in Remembrance of 9.11

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