WHAT OTHERS SAY: Tornado Alley towns can learn from Joplin

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:53 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Three years and billions of dollars later, we have to ask: Is Joplin safer? Are other communities in the path of tornadoes safer?

The answer to the first question, we believe, is yes.

Many people in the area have built back smarter — adding shelters, strengthening and reinforcing buildings — even if building codes don't yet require it.

We believe they ultimately will, but why wait, right?

As for the second question, we're not so sure, but there's a growing push in that direction.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has completed the most exhaustive and comprehensive study of a tornado-impacted community to date, and wants to see that the lessons learned in Joplin are incorporated into future building codes.

Among them:

  • Critical buildings should be designed to survive a severe (we'd say EF5) tornado and remain operational. That seems obvious, but unfortunately it wasn't the case with several of our critical buildings, including a hospital and two fire stations.
  • Multi-family buildings — such as apartments, businesses and other places where people assemble — should include tornado shelters. Many churches and some businesses have done this when they built back, but it's expensive to retrofit, and not enough are doing it on their own.

The institute's study should lead to tougher standards as its recommendations are written into building codes in the coming years.

We welcome that.

Since May 22, 2011, we have noted several times in this forum that on the West Coast, buildings are (supposed to be) designed for major earthquakes, and on the East Coast, buildings are (supposed to be) designed for large, powerful hurricanes.

But in Tornado Alley, too many communities build to a minimum standard, the least of what may come their way, instead of the worst.

If this country doesn't build on the lessons learned in Joplin, that will only compound the depth of our tragedy.

Copyright Joplin Globe. Distributed by the Associated Press.

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