Report on Joplin tornado warning to be released

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 | 8:05 a.m. CDT; updated 4:30 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 20, 2011

KANSAS CITY — A federal agency was set to release a report Tuesday detailing communication efforts ahead of a massive twister that hit Joplin in May, killing more than 160 people.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it would be releasing the report from a team sent to Joplin to assess damage from the nation's deadliest single tornado in six decades. The tornado damaged thousands of homes and injured hundreds of people.

The team from the National Weather Service, a department under NOAA, examined warning and forecast services before the EF-5 tornado cut through the southwest Missouri city of about 50,000 residents. The team also reviewed the public's response to warning communications. NOAA said the team's goal was to identify what was done correctly and areas that could be improved.

Keith Stammer, Jasper County's emergency manager, Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA's deputy administrator and Richard Wagenmaker, a leader of the assessment team, were expected to discuss findings from that report Tuesday afternoon.

Cleanup, recovery and rebuilding have been under way in Joplin since the tornado hit on May 22. Four schools were destroyed and six other district buildings were damaged. Entire neighborhoods were leveled, as was much of the city's main commercial district.

Preventing a similar tragedy remains a top concern. At a community meeting in August arranged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, residents called for more community storm shelters in schools and other public buildings, as well as an improved storm warning system.

Doug Doll, regional president for Arvest Bank, said Monday he felt the warning systems in Joplin were adequate but that they could possibly be improved.

"About the only thing we can do to make it better is to add more sirens in strategic locations throughout the community that can be heard by everybody," he said.

Doll also recommended developing a way to alert major employers and let them know if a storm is coming. He said bank employees typically head to the vault in the event of a tornado warning. But the recent Joplin tornado hit on a Sunday when the bank was not staffed.

Stammer, the Jasper County emergency manager, said Monday that residents had ample warning about the tornado. He said the department issued two sets of sirens ahead of the tornado and that many people ignored the first siren. Some people thought a second siren was an all-clear signal, which it wasn't, he said.

Stammer said he has never issued an "all-clear" during his 18 years in the department.

"Honestly it was a bit of a disappointment that there were so many people who didn't move to shelter after the first warning," Stammer said. "The human side is the part that's most frustrating."

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