WHAT OTHERS SAY: Learn from the lessons of the Joplin tornado

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 | 4:45 p.m. CDT

This month marks the three-year anniversary of the Joplin tornado.

The storm on May 22, 2011, killed 158 people and caused an estimated $2.8 billion in damage. It is without question the worst natural disaster the state has experienced in our lifetime.

Looking back now, we are able to ask what can be learned from this tragedy. The National Institute of Standards and Technology helps by providing these key recommendations in its final report:

  • Building design and construction. The report recommends standards be developed and adopted for designing buildings to better resist tornadoes. Already, Joplin on its own has adopted new standards for anchoring homes to foundations, strengthening walls and connecting roof trusses to walls.
  • Public shelters. The report recommends guidelines be developed to assist communities in creating safe and effective public sheltering strategies. In Joplin’s case, the city has expressed concerns about a focus on centralized public shelters; instead, it encourages providing sheltering space in a wide range of settings, including homes, businesses, schools, churches and public venues.
  • Emergency communications. The report recommends guidelines be developed for ensuring clear and accurate communications in times of a weather emergency. Joplin reports it has provided weather radios to 4,000 residents, upgraded its outdoor sirens and reworked its siren testing policy to guard against a false sense of security.

“The overarching conclusion of our two-year study is that death and destruction from tornadoes can be reduced,” says Eric Letvin, director of disaster and failure studies for NIST.

The loss of life caused by tornadoes again this spring spurs us to want to do more. In particular, the recommendation on shelters gets our attention.

Many people live in or visit facilities — specifically mobile homes, multistory apartment buildings and campsites — that do not have adequate storm protection. While warning systems are essential, people need a place to take shelter.

Like Joplin, communities across northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas should evaluate where shelters might be located or added. Camp Geiger, for instance, recently received a FEMA grant to build shelters at the campground where thousands of Boy Scouts visit each year. Nearby residents also will be able to take shelter there.

Let’s mark the three-year anniversary of this tragedy with vigilance to be prepared.

Copyright St. Joseph News-Press. Reprinted with permission.

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