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Joplin and Recovery: A Thought Provoking Discussion during the May Think Tank Call


A little over one year ago, on May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado tore through the city of Joplin, MO and surrounding areas. This tornado caused significant damage and tragic loss of 161 lives. I was on the ground less than 15 hours after the event and saw firsthand the inspiration leadership displayed by community leaders. I drew inspiration from the people of Joplin-how the leaders gave hope to the residents of Joplin and hope to the country. And that is why I chose Joplin as the location for the May Think Tank Conference Call. It was an opportunity to return almost a year later and listen to community leaders while they shared their experiences and lessons learned with over 30 community members at Missouri Southern State University and more than 500 people on the phone nationwide.

The resilience of the community has been nothing short of amazing, which is both a testament to the city’s inspirational leadership and to some of the pre-planning that took place. In case you missed the call, here’s a quick recap.

Recovery Efforts in Joplin

Dr. Bruce Speck, President of MSSU, spoke about the integral role that the University played in helping the community recover. “Only three weeks before the tornado hit we finalized an agreement with the American Red Cross to serve as an emergency shelter. At the time, some may have wondered when we would ever be called to serve such a need. Little did we know that need was lying just ahead of us and would test our strength and resilience in a way we'd never imagined.” Soon after the tornado, MSSU stepped in and offered its campus as a shelter, surge medical clinic, and volunteer coordination point, among a number of other things.

Other speakers from Joplin included those first on the scene, like Mark Rohr, the City Manager of Joplin, and Keith Stammer, Director of the Jasper County Emergency Management Agency. Both have been integral to the response and ongoing recovery efforts of the communities affected by the tornado. Callers asked many questions about their experiences and lessons learned throughout the recovery efforts. Rohr stressed the need for strong local leadership and continued communication with the people affected by the disaster, while Stammer focused on the value of preexisting relationships and agreements such as the one between MSSU and the American Red Cross.

Jane Cage, Chair of Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, and Stephanie Brady, Director of Programs at the Independent Living Center, also spoke about their efforts. Cage and Brady’s comments supported the lessons learned that were shared by Rohr and Stammer. Brady discussed her role in representing the disability community in Joplin. Cage spoke about the impact that volunteers can have on a community’s recovery. Rohr pointed out that there were 130,000 volunteers for 755,000 hours of community service, valued at over $17 million and more than 82 years' worth of community service. Each story and lesson learned provided all the participants, myself included, with valuable lessons and insight into the recovery process. For more insight into the inspiration efforts of these community leaders, I encourage you to read this article from the Boston Globe.

Integrating Planning for Recovery

The second topic of the call focused on how to integrate recovery into all planning, stakeholder engagement, community participation, and Tribal and Federal partnerships. Deb Ingram, Assistant Administrator for FEMA’s Recovery Directorate, provided information about the National Disaster Recovery Framework and stressed the importance of the whole community coming together in pre-disaster recovery planning including economic, health and social services, infrastructure, schools and housing partners.

Amanda Phan from the Fairfax County, Virginia Office of Emergency Management, spoke about the comprehensive pre-disaster recovery plan recently completed by her office, highlighting the number the stakeholders involved in its creation. Phan explained some of the successful pieces of their planning process, such as how to get stakeholders engaged in the project.

I commend the people of Joplin for their resilience and the extraordinary progress that the city has made in less than a year. I would also like to thank everyone that worked, and continue to work, to help Joplin recovery. The team of citizens, volunteers, local, state, and federal government partners is essential; and has been an amazing source of hope to the survivors and country as a whole.

For the next Think Tank conference call, FEMA is partnering with Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the Department of Health and Human Services. The theme for the June call is Emergency Management, Healthcare and Public Health: Increasing Coordination and Collaboration and will take place on June 28.

Please submit your ideas and comments on this theme, or on any topic related to emergency management, to the Think Tank Online Forum. A full transcript of the May 15 conference call is available on the FEMA Think Tank page

Last Updated: 
08/14/2012 - 13:43

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