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An Open Letter to Marcel the Shell with Shoes on

Note: If you haven’t seen the video gem that is “MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON” ( and that’s the full official name), you should watch this before perusing this open letter to Marcel. Here is the recently released part three:


Dear Marcel,

We were totally thrilled to see your latest interview posted on YouTube, but we’re a little concerned about some of your lifestyle choices. We are hoping you might benefit from learning about a couple of Red Cross resources, if you’ll give us a minute of your time.

When thunder roars, go indoors! Marcel, I’m afraid you need to work on this one a bit. Standing under a leaf is not going to cut it when storms roll in.

If you’re going to put yourself in precarious situation (like, say, sneezing yourself off the window ledge), we would like to offer an app for your perusal: First aid at your fingertips! Ahem, your…shoe tips?

When you’re such a little guy, you might need to brush up on your flood tips more urgently than the rest of us. You should know that if you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles (or for you, the bottom of your shell), stop, turn around and go another way. If you need more flood info, our app is here! (Get a couple of friends together, you might be able to maneuver a smartphone)

We noticed you were sneezing a bit. Although you blamed this on “allergies to plants,” we know flu season is coming up. How do you stay germ free? Do you wash your shell for 20 seconds with soap and water? How about getting a flu shot?

You camp song was so lovely, and we do hope you will keep you dear friends updated on your life in the future!

All the best,

The Red Cross social team

A Millennial Gives a Thumbs Up to New Social Giving Survey

I’m just going to come out and say what I sometimes feel I’m generally judged for.

I’m a millennial!

I text while I walk; I Snapchat a selfie; I express my emotional sorrow in an emoji; and I even shamelessly check the number of hearts I receive on Instagram.

But you know what? Today I’m going to be okay with this because a recent American Red Cross poll confirms there’s actually a lot of potential in using social media for good, especially when it comes to giving to charity. Alas, the world in which millennials live is supportive and giving! (Proving we’re not just a bunch of brainwashed social media users always willing to share our life story with you minute-by-minute, photo-by-photo).


Take the Ice Bucket Challenge. Whether or not you actively participated by dumping ice water on your head, you likely took some sort of action. Maybe it was liking your friend’s video on Facebook. Maybe you even donated yourself. In fact, the new Red Cross poll found that 70% of social media users would take some kind of action in response to a friend posting a story on social media about making a charitable donation. That “action” is represented by your retweet, or 10 seconds of your time to watch the video or, of course, making a charitable donation.

In general, social users are considered a charitable group, with 71% donating to a charity in the past 12 months (of those 6 in 10 donated online).

one third

So there you have it folks. Our use of social media can be meaningful and can make a difference! Just first, if you will, please like or retweet this post.


Fire in the Hole! (erm, Kitchen!)

Thanks to one free week of Hulu Plus, I spent my Saturday evening doing all sorts of wonderful things. Namely, starting season 1, episode 1 of The Mindy Project. As happens to most Red Crossers, relevant safety lessons jump out of pop culture around every corner. Let’s take a moment to glean some critical fire safety lessons from season 1, episode 6 (yes, I made it that far in one night, no judgement please).

In this particular episode, Mindy’s boyfriend makes her a seemingly lovely Thanksgiving meal – tilapia. Prepared on a panini grill (one of 6 he apparently uses to cook everything and anything). The tilapia was completed with a Red Bull glaze, let’s not forget.

Notwithstanding the fact the meal is disgusting (as Mindy so boldly points out), the entire “cluster” of panini grills blows a fuse and starts a fire during dinner.

Hey, did you know the #1 cause of home fires is cooking? Josh and Mindy do. And now for a breakdown of what went wrong:

Josh had six fairly powerful kitchen appliances plugged in and running at the same time. Don’t do that.


Josh sees the fire and grabs his wine. We understand you want to take your most important possessions, but really, you should leave your home safely and call 9-1-1.


Josh hides behind Mindy. Mindy is not a fire extinguisher. Mindy is not a trained professional. Hiding behind Mindy is basically the opposite of what you should be doing here.


Mindy grabs a candle from the table in order to “fight fire with fire.” I think we can see what went wrong here. Moving along…

smart gif

There was no plan. Baseline fire safety here folks — have a plan and execute it. Josh, you should have a fire escape plan (AND a smoke alarm, where was that?) and should be ready to help all household guests follow the plan. How was Mindy supposed to know the escape route?





m40340214_m39840184_monsters-2Earlier this month the American Red Cross launched a brand new preparedness app called Monster Guard, the goal of which is to help children between the ages of 7 and 11 learn how to prevent emergencies and respond to natural and manmade disasters.

I happen to have an 8-year-old son, so this past weekend I downloaded the app, handed my phone to Will, and asked him to check it out. Here’s what 8-year-old Will and I had to say about Monster Guard!

The motto of the Monster Guard Academy is “Learn, Practice, Share”, so under the tutelage of the Academy’s top secret leader, players first learn new information, then practice using that information in a preparedness or response context, and finally share that information with their friends.

Will’s “adventure” (his words) as a recruit in the Academy began with an initiation during which he practiced maneuvering one of the monster recruits throughout the training facility and across a giant map of the United States. As Will’s monster recruit paused over each region, the leader – taking on a narrator role – shared information about which disasters are most common in that area of the country.

Completing the initiation stage unlocked the additional levels, all of which were associated with specific disasters or emergency-related tools. Will navigated through each level – from Fire Hazards and Emergency Supply Kits to Tornadoes and Severe Winter Weather – guiding his monster to either make the environment safer or move to a safer area. For example, in the Fire Hazards stage, Will directed his monster to turn off the stove, cover the fireplace, put the space heater in a safe place, and blow out the lit candle.

Will enjoyed his adventure, and I could tell in a variety of ways. First, he tackled every level – all 15, counting Initiation – before finally putting down the phone. Second, when I asked him midway through the Smoke Alarms level what he thought of the app, he was too caught up in his own little world to respond. And third, he told me so.

In his own words, “Initiation is a little slow, but after that it gets way cooler. I like the music, and that I got to graduate at the end. My favorite level was Tornado, but I also really liked learning about smoke alarms. Oh, and it’s funny when the top secret leader reveals who she really is!”

The only change Will would make had to do with the monster recruits who navigate through the Academy. Instead of directing a monster to do all of the tasks, Will would have preferred to create his own avatar – one that looked like him – to follow his instructions.

All in all, my 8-year-old found the Monster Guard app fun and engaging, and I love that he learned a little something along the way!

Learn more about Monster Guard and download the app here.

I have to wrap by sharing this funny “I’m so old” moment with all you parents out there… Before asking Will to review the app, I tried it out myself. I found the initiation level somewhat confusing to navigate, and I had trouble figuring out how to get back to the main menu to move on to the next level. Just as I began to type out that information, Will picked up the phone and breezed through everything with which I’d just struggled without even listening to the instructions. Nothing like being shown up by an 8-year-old…

Veterans Day 2014: Then and Now

The American Red Cross has long had a unique relationship with the military.

Today, we provide services like emergency communications and resiliency training. But did you know we pioneered the development of psychiatric nursing programs at veterans hospitals, made artificial limbs and helped rehabilitate amputees and blinded veterans during World War I? How about the recreation workers (“Donut Dollies”) serving in Vietnam?

Hop over to redcross.org to see a side-by-side comparison of how our services have met the changing needs of the military over the years, ever since the Spanish-American War.


Save the World: Make Missing Maps

This post was written by Dale Kunce, Senior Geospatial Engineer and GIS Team Lead at the American Red Cross. Dale is spearheading the American Red Cross’s involvement in the Missing Maps project.Liberia1

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 11 months, I don’t need to remind you that it’s been a rough year around the globe. I hear news of natural disasters, conflict, and disease outbreaks on the radio every morning… sometimes before I’ve even had my first cup of tea. It can be overwhelming.

But there is good news, too. People halfway around the world can help emergency responders and even prevent disasters from happening in the first place. How?

By making maps.

Updated maps can expedite the delivery of emergency supplies, determine where help is needed most, and even track the spread of diseases like Ebola. But right now, maps of the world’s most vulnerable communities just don’t exist. They’re nowhere to be found. A bunch of people (mappers and non-mappers alike) are getting together to fill in these “missing maps” before the next disaster strikes in these communities. The results can be lifesaving.

Here’s why:
As the world continues to urbanize, one billion people—1/7th of the world’s population—now live in urban slums. Cities often lack sufficient infrastructure to support the impromptu settlements that have sprung up around the world. Overcrowding, poorly built dwellings, and inadequate infrastructure has left hundreds of millions of people in an increased position of vulnerability to disaster and disease. When fires break out or earthquakes hit these areas, it’s really difficult for emergency responders to know who needs help. When Ebola starts spreading, it’s hard to track the virus if epidemiologists can’t conceptualize where towns are located. Sometimes, it’s impossible for help to even make it to the site of a disaster because there are no maps to guide the way.

Here’s how:
The Missing Maps Project brings volunteers together from around the world to fill in the gaps. On Friday, November 7 volunteers will use their own computers to trace existing satellite imagery to create maps of vulnerable communities. With numbers on our side, we can make a huge dent in the missing maps. And when disasters do strike, emergency responders will no longer have to play a guessing game to reach those in need.

We know it will work because we did it for West Africa, when more than 2,000 virtual mappers from over 100 countries made 10 million edits in OpenStreetMap over the last six-months. These contributions allow humanitarian organizations to track the Ebola virus and figure out which areas need the most help. This volume of work would have taken a professional mapper six to eight years to complete.

You can help!
Join a mapathon in your area on November 7 or another date in the nearby future. You can also contribute remotely any day of the week.

Missing Maps is a collaboration the American Red Cross, British Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders-UK, and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.

Passing on the Gifts

As we pulled into the village of Nomonge in Tanzania, I notice a woman walking up the red dirt road in a swirl of blue and yellow wraps.  This village is part of a program supported by Red Cross and Heifer International helping vulnerable families – those with serious illnesses, disabilities, widowed, or suffering from extreme poverty. Additionally, the program supports orphaned and vulnerable children.


I get out of the car and begin to take photos of a chicken coop.  Since I am focused solely on looking through the camera, I am completely startled by the loud squawk and chickens plummeting passed my lens. I look up to see the woman in the blue and yellow wraps with a mischievous grin on her face.

We are in Nomonge for the “Passing on the Gifts” ceremony which is a principle of Heifer.  When you receive support from one of their programs you are asked to pass it.  If you are given training, you are asked to train others.  If you receive chickens, once your flock has grown, you pass chickens on to help a new family.

In this case, vulnerable people received six chickens and training on how to care for them in a program funded by the American Red Cross.  The training teaches people to build coops and hatcheries, identify and treat poultry diseases, and prepare chicken feed at home.

During the ceremony five people receive chickens and are all excited to begin their journey to having a stable income and food source.DSC03055

Afterwards, I walk over to the woman in the wraps.  Her name is Hadija and she is a success story.  She brought two chickens from her flock to pass on.  When her husband died, she was fearful that she and her younger children would become a burden to her adult children.  She was determined not to let that happen.

She took the training and received her six chickens.  With careful care, her flock thrived.  In fact, not only does she have plenty of  meat and eggs, but she also extra chickens to sell.  She uses the income to buy other food for her family and she recently purchased five goats.

As we talk, she pulls out a 1000 TSH note (Tanzania Schilling worth about 60 cents USD) from the folds of her skirt.  She hands it to me.  I start to protest, worried that she thought she needed to pay me for the support Red Cross has provided.  Luckily, members of the Tanzanian Red Cross team explain this is a traditional expression of friendship.

I hope one day I can return to Nomonge to visit my new friend, Hadija.  Since our relationship started with her throwing chickens at me, I am dying to see what happens with the goats.

Jana Sweeny is the Director of International Communications for the American Red Cross. 

No Tricks, Lots of Treats: Halloween Safety

Ah, Halloween. The time of the year to let your creativity and pop culture aptitude shine. In fact, our favorite unofficial mascot, Clarence Barton, went all in this year:

Millions of us will take to the streets (er, sidewalks. Safety first!) to collect oodles of delicious treats. And most of us know some basic tips, like carrying a flashlight to stay visible and light your path. Whether you’re a Trick-or-Treater or a giver-of-treats, here are some key tips to remember this year:

For the kiddos:

  • Costumes:
    • Use only flame-resistant costumes.HalloweenTips_forest
    • Add reflective tape to costumes and Trick-or-Treat bags.
    • Have everyone wear light-colored clothing to be seen.
    • Instead of masks which can cover the eyes and make it hard to see, use face paint instead.
  • Out and about:
    • Plan the Trick-or-Treat route – make sure adults know where children are going. A parent or responsible adult should accompany young children as they make their way around the neighborhood.
    • Visit only the homes that have a porch light on.
    • Accept treats at the door – never go inside.
    • Walk only on the sidewalks, not in the street. If no sidewalk is available, walk at the edge of the roadway, facing traffic. Look both ways before crossing the street, and cross only at the corner. Don’t cut across yards or use alleys. Don’t cross between parked cars.
    • Be cautious around strange animals, especially dogs.

For the candy givers:

  • Sweep leaves from your sidewalks and steps.
  • Clear your porch or front yard of obstacles someone could trip over.
  • Restrain your pets.

BONUS TIP: Did your little Elsa or Batman fall and scrape their knee while running to the neighbor  house for a Snickers bar? Make sure you have the free Red Cross First Aid App to cover all your emergency first aid needs. Find this and all of the Red Cross apps by searching for American Red Cross in the app store for your mobile device or by going to redcross.org/apps.

What ProPublica and NPR Won’t Tell You About the Red Cross

Laura Howe, Vice President, Public Relations

ProPublica and NPR have been hyping their sensationalized attack on the Red Cross response to Superstorm Sandy, in distortion-filled stories that are the result of months of reporting that sought only to find negative information.

Both of these pieces blatantly disregard the fact that hundreds of thousands of people who urgently needed our services were helped with food, water, shelter, supplies and other assistance. The results speak for themselves.  Our 17,000 Sandy workers – nearly all of them volunteers– served more than 17.5 million meals and snacks, distributed 7 million relief items, and provided 74,000 overnight stays in shelters.

There are some other things you need to know about ProPublica and NPR and how they operate.  ProPublica, in particular, has been investigating the Red Cross and Sandy since late winter, and continues to issue a public plea for information and documents in an effort to “dig up dirt”. During this investigation, the Red Cross answered more than 100 questions from ProPublica and NPR, in writing and in person. The three reporters visited our headquarters in Washington, DC and interviewed the head of our disaster response operations for more than an hour. You’ll see only one short quote from that interview in the ProPublica piece. Very little, if any, of the other information we provided in our dozens of other responses made into either piece.

Chief among those omitted items were surveys showing that three out of four Sandy clients in New York and New Jersey expressed a positive experience with the Red Cross. Instead of citing worker surveys showing 70% volunteers were pleased with their volunteer experience, the reporters chose to focus on three unhappy workers-all of whom had a very limited view of the disaster operation. We’ve created a myth versus fact document that answers their claims and shows you exactly what other items NPR and ProPublica chose to leave out of their stories. We hope you will take time to read the full accounting of our response.

In addition, all three reporters have aggressively pursued unsuspecting Red Cross volunteers from across the country. Their tactics included hounding our volunteers with unwelcome phone calls and emails-to the point of calling their neighbors and relatives in an attempt to track them down. The same people who selflessly gave their time to help disaster victims have had to explain to their friends and relatives why investigative reporters were looking for them.  To say this has been a witch-hunt is an understatement and our volunteers frequently felt like the prey.

We know that these reporters have talked to Red Cross volunteers and other people who have shared the good work of the Red Cross during Sandy – and we know it because these supporters told us. But those comments were not  included in what is a one-sided story. A Florida emergency management official even wrote a blog post about his hour long conversation with ProPublica. That’s the sort of perspective that never made it into either piece.

There are always disagreements among workers about how we can best deliver our services, but the results speak for themselves.  In the chaotic first few hours and days after a disaster, it is impossible to meet every need, especially on a disaster as large as Sandy. No one claims to be perfect, and no one is. But the fact is, that when problems occur, the Red Cross tries to fix them quickly, and we always strive to do better.

As we do with all major disasters, the Red Cross proactively sought feedback from hundreds of volunteers, staff and others as part of a thorough review of its response to Sandy.  Based on that feedback, and our own evaluation, we implemented changes to strengthen our service delivery, which we routinely do.

People across the country generously donated to the Red Cross after Sandy, and we have spent those donations quickly and wisely. The fact is that we have spent or committed to spend $310 million, which is 99 percent of the $311.5 million raised for our Sandy response.

And, one other note-these stories allege that the Red Cross cares more about publicity than the people it serves. This is patently untrue. The needs of the people we serve drive every decision we make. Period. That perspective never made it into ProPublica’s story either. We respond to 70,000 disasters every year-most of which are home fires that never make news. If we were in this for the publicity, why would the Red Cross make that level of effort for work the public never sees?

This kind of advocacy reporting does a disservice to the resilient people of New York and New Jersey. To sensationalize and capitalize on their misery for the sake of ratings and web clicks is reprehensible. Sadly, it also does a disservice to the selfless Red Cross workers who were part of this major response. The people affected by Sandy and Isaac and the people who helped them deserve better than this kind of treatment.

The bottom line is that Americans trust the Red Cross and should continue to do so.

Laura Howe serves as the vice president of public relations for the American Red Cross. Before joining the Red Cross she worked as a broadcast journalist. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. 

American Red Cross Responds to Inaccuracies in ProPublica and NPR Stories

This morning, NPR and ProPublica published stories detailing criticisms of the Red Cross response to Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac. The matrix below documents information provided to these news outlets that was omitted in their reporting.




The American Red Cross cares more about its image and reputation than providing service to those in need. Our mission is to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies, and that alone is what guided our service delivery decisions during Sandy and during every emergency.  With the help of our donors and 17,000 workers – 90% of whom are volunteers – we delivered 17 million meals and snacks, 7 million relief items, and hosted 74,000 overnight stays in shelters to people who urgently needed our services.Every year, the Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters, most of which are home fires that never make headlines. If the Red Cross cared more about image and PR than providing services, we wouldn’t spend time responding to these silent disasters.
The Red Cross diverted vehicles and resources to press conferences instead of using them to deliver services. This is patently untrue. The Red Cross did not host any press conferences during the first months of Sandy. We participated in a limited number of press events hosted by others, but most of those took 15 minutes and took place in locations where services were already happening, and we continued those services long after the cameras left. We also had hundreds of requests from media outlets to see our services.  We informed the media where we were providing services.While ProPublica claims we could not tell them how many ERVs were in New York on November 2, we did, in fact, provide them with evidence that 77 of our vehicles were providing service in New York and Long Island to residents in need. They chose not to include our response.
Richard Rieckenberg, the source of much of the information for these reports, was “the” Mass Care Chief and a high-ranking Red Cross official, before he quit. That is incorrect. Mr. Rieckenberg was one of 79 chiefs on the Sandy operation and had a limited view of the operation that lasted less than a few weeks. He reported into a larger chain of command that had a much broader perspective of the relief we provided.
The Red Cross sent too many volunteers to Tampa during Hurricane Isaac, when the storm actually had a greater impact in Mississippi and Louisiana. The Red Cross must make decisions about where we are going to deploy volunteers as many as five days in advance, and we follow forecasts from the National Hurricane Center.  At that point, the cone is still large, but we need to act in order to get people and materials in place before weather conditions worsen and travel is made more difficult. Of paramount concern was the safety of our disaster responders. Due to the potential onset of gale force winds and potential storm surge, Red Cross workers stayed in place until they could move safely.As part of our annual planning for hurricanes in Florida, the Red Cross has a standing commitment to shelter 100,000 people in the Tampa area during a storm. Tampa is prone to flooding and has a vulnerable elderly population.The volunteers and resources deployed to Florida did not come at the expense of other states.  At the same time we deployed volunteers to Tampa, we also deployed them in other states including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas – and we did provide ProPublica with those numbers. As the storm track kept shifting, there was a threat to the Florida panhandle and to South Florida so it made sense to keep workers centrally located in case they needed to move to those areas.To be clear, the Red Cross was not the only organization that made plans to contend with the storm. Media outlets covered the storm’s potential landfall, and the Republican National Committee canceled the first day of its convention as a precaution.
The relief operation for Hurricane Isaac was chaotic and inadequate. During Isaac, the Red Cross opened nearly 160 shelters, served nearly 649,000 meals and snacks, distributed more the 140,000 relief items, deployed more than 5,300 workers and mobilized more than 250 relief vehicles.It was not clear where Isaac would impact until 48 hours pre-landfall, and gale force winds and surge risk limited the mobility of our staff and resources.Still, the Red Cross coordinated closely with local officials in each state and as resource gaps were identified we moved quickly to fill them.
After landfall, the Red Cross sent 80 empty emergency response vehicles through neighborhoods in Mississippi, only for show. There is no evidence to support that. The Red Cross often uses its vehicles to conduct damage assessment in affected areas, so we can better coordinate service. But drivers would have been instructed to provide critical intelligence on where we should deploy our resources to better serve those in need.  This helps plan feeding routes and other supply needs.
Sandy survivors were dissatisfied with the work of the Red Cross. The ProPublica story cites one unsatisfied Sandy survivor. We provided NPR and ProPublica with client satisfaction surveys showing that three out of four Red Cross clients in New York and New Jersey expressed a positive experience with the Red Cross. Those surveys were not included in the stories.
In the early days of Sandy, the Red Cross was wasting an average of 30% of the meals it was producing. We have no evidence this happened. What we do know is that we served 17 million meals and snacks, and our feeding trucks emptied out almost as soon as they went out.  Every day, for weeks on end, we were feeding the equivalent of sold out crowds at Yankee and Giant stadiums combined.The individual who supplied this anecdotal information claimed to be in charge of feeding. He was not. He was on location for just two weeks and only saw a limited portion of the response in one part of New York.
Red Cross disaster workers who served on Sandy complained to headquarters about the response operation. The facts just don’t support this claim. Our worker surveys after Sandy show that the overwhelming majority-more than 70%- of them were satisfied with their experience.  ProPublica and NPR chose not to include information from this survey and instead focused on three dis-satisfied workers who had a very limited role in the relief operation.
Red Cross workers did not have adequate training or experience to serve on a relief operation as large as Sandy. Here are the details we told ProPublica and NPR about this issue that didn’t make it into either story:Of the 11,000 Red Cross disaster responders we deployed to work on the Sandy operation, over 5,500 of them had experience responding to a large disaster. Specifically in the Mass Care function-which was responsible for feeding and sheltering- our records show that nearly 70% had experience on a major relief operation. Our volunteers are trained at the local level and rise through the ranks by volunteering to assist on local fires and regional disasters.  People who work in shelters or drive ERVs undergo specific simulation training.There are many jobs on a relief operation and we used more than 6,000 local and spontaneous workers, many of whom may have been responding to their first disaster.  We used these volunteers-who simply wanted to help their neighbors-for activities that don’t require technical expertise, such as packing and handing out relief supplies.
The Red Cross allowed sex offenders in shelters The Red Cross has policies and procedures in place to handle the presence of sex offenders in shelters and works closely with law enforcement in the shelter management process.Shelter registration forms ask if people are required to register with the state for any reason. If the answer is “yes” the shelter manager must speak with the individual immediately. If a shelter resident is identified as a registered sex offender, the Red Cross will work with local law enforcement to determine what’s best for the safety of those in the shelter.There was at least one situation during Sandy where a shelter resident identified someone who he/she thought was a sex offender. When this was brought to our attention, we brought in additional resources and handled the matter.We provided this information to NPR and Pro Publica, and they chose not to include it.
The Red Cross left wheelchair bound shelter residents sitting in their chairs for days without proper care. The Red Cross is committed to helping people with a wide range of needs during disasters, including people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, people with chronic health concerns and the elderly.  We have worked closely with disability groups and have an excellent track record in this area.There have been isolated instances when entire assisted living facilities have been dropped off unexpectedly at our shelters and have briefly overwhelmed the systems we have in place. We believe that the comments in the document referencing wheelchair bound clients may refer to a specific situation during Hurricane Isaac in which that happened. In those cases, our staff and volunteers work with shelter residents to determine the best course of action, so they can remain safe until we have the physical resources to better manage their individual situations and needs.The bottom line is: If we’re unable to provide suitable equipment to address these needs immediately, we bring in the resources necessary to address them as quickly as possible. But in the interim, our health and mental health staff ensures that the shelter residents are safe and cared for.