Joplin city is located in the county of Jasper, Missouri, in the southwestern part of the United States. It boarders states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Kansas and has an estimated population of 49,024 residents, making it the fourth largest metropolitan in the area. The city is within the tornado Alley, the central part of the United States that experiences a high number of tornadoes yearly. The tornadoes normally occur during the late spring and less often during the early fall. The region experiences formation of super cell thunderstorms that results in the occurrence of tornadoes rated between EF-2 to higher EF measurements.


In the evening of May 22, 2011, a massive tornado tore across the 6-mile path of southwestern Missouri, killing 161 people and injuring more than 1000 people through the heart of Joplin. The tornado was three-quarter mile wide and measuring EF-5, and is regarded as the deadliest tornado to have hit the united states in history. The tornado travelled from the west side to the southeast side of the city making it a right turning tornado an implication of a bigger tornado. At the time of hitting Joplin, it grew to a width of a three-quarter mile before it dissipated to a half mile width (Joplin Globe 2011a).

The May 2011 tornado destroyed approximately 7000 homes, the damage covering about 1800 acres, estimated to be a quarter of the city and a home to nearly 50,000 residents. The gas leaks caused overnight fires in and around the city, and one of the community hospitals, St. John’s Regional Medical Centre was destroyed by the tornado hampering the initial rescue response efforts. The Joplin tornado resulted to an estimated insured loss of about $3 billion, excluding the non-insured losses, which were not counted (Sarmiento, 2007).       

The event in Joplin is the deadliest single tornado to have hit the United States since the modern record keeping started in 1950, standing above the 1953 tornado in Flint, Miami that caused 116 deaths (Mustain, 2011). Contrasting this horrible event, 45 casualties of tornado were recorded in the United States in 2010 and only 21 in 2009. The annual deaths from tornado for the periods of 2000 to 2010 are averaged to be 55, but adding the deaths in 2011, the figure raises to 63.5. The deaths in Joplin were higher than yearly deaths from tornado on average during the periods, which is between 2000 and 2010 and between 2000 and 2011.

The Joplin tornado caused destruction and damages to thousands of structures ranging from single-family houses and apartments to the large public and retail buildings. The tornado destroyed approximately 4380 houses and caused damages to additional 3884 houses. Many of the structures were uprooted from their foundations. Many of the buildings that included the pre-cast concrete wall constructions and brick masonry partially or completely collapsed. The tornado affected around 30 percent of Joplin and resulted in debris on a 3 million cubic yard area.

Medical Response

The tornado caused damages to several health care centers, including St. John Medical Center and Ozark Center. Following the incident, several patients were evacuated from St. John’s within a span of 90 minutes. On the evening of the tornado, an amendment to DR-1980 was issued by the FEMA administrator that provided funding to individual assistance, removal of the debris and provision of emergency protective measures in Jasper and Newton counties. After the tornado, Joplin and Jasper County immediately put into place the mutual agreements with the regional partners. The Southwest Missouri IST provided a value support incident for the restoration of communication at the county’s emergency operations centre. This was relied upon the training and grant funds from the department of homeland security (Simmons, Sutter & Pielke, 2012).

Nurses and portable vaccine refrigerators were deployed to Joplin by the Crawford Health Department. Close to 110 response personnel were also deployed from the office of the sheriff from Greene County. Emergency Management Offices, department of the Highway, Offices of the public information, ICs and the training received from FEMA, together established a foundation to enable effective and well coordinated regional response. The response by the community as a whole was made easier by the level of preparedness structure that has been constructed for years by the Joplin, Jasper County and its partners from the region. Following the damages on the St. John’s Health Center, the medical personnel established centers for their operations at the parking lot right outside the hospital building to help assist the survivors. Critical patients were moved to the Freeman Health System, approximately one mile from St. John’s Medical Center (After the Storm, 2012).

The damages by the tornado forced both the medical and EMS personnel to adopt a creative solution to help contain the casualties, since most of people transported the injured people to the center, because they were not aware of the damages caused to the medical center itself. The power lines were destructed, as a result, the Freeman Health system relied on generators to carryout treatment to the victims. According to the reports, about 200 victims received medical attention in the makeshift centers that were improvised by the medical and EMF personnel due to lack of medical supplies.

FEMA prioritized approach to the response was one of its Strategic Plan initiatives for 2011–2014 fiscal years. The Community approach to the response emphasizes the access of non-traditional resources, which applied the innovative ways to save lives and offer sustainability to the communities after the tornado disasters.

Local Response

The Joplin tornado response provides an opportunity for identifying Whole Community contributions and solutions to the incident. The disaster of this magnitude has never been experienced in the State of Missouri for a decade long. However, the City of Joplin suffered from severe weather, but the outcome did not match the magnitude of this kind of incident. As the single most deadly tornado in the United States since 1950, the Joplin tornado outnumbered the capabilities of Joplin City and Jasper County. However, the Whole Community responded to Joplin and Jasper County came at the time when the entire region was in need of help. This was possible due to the level of the preparedness partnerships developed between the Federal, State, local, private sector, voluntary, and non-profit organizations (FEMA, 2011).

Responses to the Joplin tornado engaged a deployment of additional aid response personnel across the public organizations, in addition to the regional mutual aid responders. With the help of emergency Management Assistance, more than 800 police cars, ambulances, close to 400 fire trucks and hundreds of responders were at the scene ready for contributing to the response operations in Joplin. Although the response aid benefited the operations in Joplin, several challenges were faced as well. For instance, many of the self-dispatched responders began rescue operations without the local incident command coordination. Some of the responders were short of equipments, lack necessary training to safely and effectively conduct the search and rescue operations. Use of various markings for the search instead of standard search marking resulted to some of the structure to be searched multiple times (Economic Information Newsletter, 2011).

The fire department stations of Joplin were destroyed by the tornado. Despite the destruction, the Joplin fire department still played a major role into the devastated areas and to those areas not affected by the tornado. The Joplin fire department, thus, mitigated the aid fire personnel that supported the response operations to the affected zones and the remaining parts of the city. A combination team system of Joplin and the aid fire personnel was then established for the call of services. The donated equipments and the additional support from the mutual aid personnel were provided for the Joplin fire department to maintain their full operations.

Government Response

Joplin city used both the traditional and social media mechanisms to inform the public on the information on emergencies and to conduct an outreach that aimed at supporting long-term recovery plans. The information was communicated through press conferences, news alerts and press releases that provided emergency information both to the public and response teams and to partners. The city also used the web and facebook pages where they posted information about the sheltering, centers for disaster recovery, available opportunities for donations and volunteers, how to seek assistance from FEMA and the critical information that was of help to the public. However, the pages allowed the residents to comment on posts but they could not create their own posts. Additionally, the pages did not engage much with people outside the region who might have wished to offer support to Joplin. Both the traditional and social media mechanisms used provided the public with valuable information of the FEMA’s program of Expedited Debris Removal. Collaborating with FEMA, fact sheets were developed by Joplin concerning the debris and demolitions, providing information in a format considered consumer friendly. Products were distributed throughout Joplin that reached the locations most affected by the tornado disaster.

While the tornado was still on the ground, the Missouri State Highway Patrol organizes for the largest law enforcement response to a single event in Missouri history. Field Operations Bureau command staff and Troops, Springfield, officers responded immediately to coordinate the massive response effort. Within hours, tens of troopers were engaged in the assistance in search and rescue operations as well as providing security. The tornado destroyed phone lines and cellular towers, seriously affecting the ability to communicate by cell phones (Dun & Bradstreet, 2011).

Communication Issues

The phone lines and cellular towers were destroyed by the tornado that prompted the dispatching of The Patrol’s Mobile Command and Communications Vehicle (MCCV) into the disaster zone. Operated by the Patrol’s Communications Division, the MCCV was primary communications asset for the law enforcement officers and agencies that responded to assist Joplin through the disaster. The move by the Patrol provided a strong, visible presence to the residents and prevented opportunistic crime. The Patrol also assumed the role of coordination of all responding law enforcement officers from hundreds of agencies.

Economical Issues

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Disaster events 1980 and 2012 included damages throughout Missouri. Major damages occurred along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Tornados were the major contributor to damages in Joplin. Estimation by the HUD’s 2011 for the unmet needs for the damaged homes and businesses amounted to $107,257,964, unmet housing needs amounting to $74,283,794 and that for the business amounting to $32,974,170. An economic model was used by the Department of Economic Development to assess the effects on these unmet needs to the regional base. The unmet needs of businesses registered in the model as an increased cost in capital investment of $32,974,170. These unmet housing needs affected the equity and rental incomes of property owners and resulted in lowering personal income in the economic model by $74,283,794.   

Damages caused to businesses and homes reduced family profits and incomes resulting into a total reduction of states economic activities by $81.8 million. The Gross State Product (GSP) also declined by $52 million and Personal Income declined by $102 million. Additionally, the loss in business profits and family income contributed to over 800 job losses across the state. Loss in crops was experienced in the Birds Point Levee Breach in 2011 resulting from flood on over 130,000 acres of farmland and homes. Initially, FAPRI estimated a net loss in crop revenues of $42.6 million that was initially estimated by FAPRI in the Southeast Missouri region. The study assumed that 130,000 acres of land were not put into use.  

Disaster insurance plan provided alternatives to disaster assistance, reducing the increasing costs of rehabilitating buildings damaged during the disasters. For instance, damages from disasters are reduced by close to $1 billion yearly through community implementation of sound disaster management requirements and purchasing of disaster insurance. NFIP insists on buildings to be constructed in compliance with their building standards, as these buildings are likely to experience less damage as compared to those buildings that do not meet their standards.  

In addition to providing disaster insurance and monitoring of damages through their regulations disaster management, the NFIP has to perform an identification of the disaster prone areas that are on hazardous broad%u2010based awareness and, thus, making sure that the data needed are provided for disaster management programs. Government on the other hand ensures the community can easily access the disaster insurance for their property. The communities in its turn must ensure that their adopted disaster management ordinance and enforcement procedures are in line with the program requirements. Local regulations are updated on provision of additional data by FEMA or on revision of the Federal or State standards. These regulatory requirements by FEMA are the minimum acceptable measures for NFIP participation. More of the adopted requirements by the local community or State precede the minimum established regulatory requirements for the availability of the disaster insurance. It is a policy for the community in Joplin to sound sirens when a disaster is reported to be approaching toward city or when severe thunderstorm winds exceeding 75 mph is expected. These triggers may or may not be associated with an NWS warning, thus the Emergency Manager of Joplin has discretion and put in use the professionalism judgment on activating the sirens. These local warning system policies are not unique to Joplin (Kevin & Roger, 2011). 

Logistical Issues

Once the activation of sirens is applied, they sound for 3-minutes and are then shut off. As the people considered the sirens an initial alert, they could not immediately learn of the magnitude and nature of the threat as well as its potential impacts. This lack of information made it difficult to sound the warning to the recipients to determine the severity of the situation, thus, delaying their response plans. In addition, those, who were interviewed, stated that they were confused with the single alert that they thought there was no more threat once the sirens went off. Warnings are the number or combination of risk signals each received and processed prior to decisions in taking protective action. Interviews indicated that individuals received between two and nine risk signals from the time of the possibility of severe weather condition to the time they take on protective action. This difference is explained by a) the differing time length that passed from first threat indication to the time of engaging in the protective action, b) the different ways in which individuals received and interpreted risk signals as threatening, and c) the conflicting effects of the risk signals.


After a disaster, local officials may want details provided by a Liaison Officer (LNO) with no other assigned responsibilities. For instance, a Joplin official noted that working with FEMA could be daunting, because people do not understand the operations of FEMA and the fact that its disaster personnel operations are frequent. The Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) assigned dedicated LNOs to senior Joplin government officials shortly after the striking of tornado. The LNOs provided these officials with a single Point of Contact into FEMA, facilitating information sharing between FEMA and the local officials. City officials turn to the LNO whenever they had questions concerning the programs of FEMA, instead of finding appropriate Joplin Division Office (JDO) program person. The LNOs worked with the local officials in navigating the requirements and deadlines for receiving any assistance from FEMA. The LNOs ensured the strengthening of the situation awareness of JDO by alerting the priorities and concerns of the city. Joplin Field Office and Joplin Division Office officials noted the ability building a personal rapport with the city officials was due to the effectiveness of the LNO.

FEMA should make the LNO duties to senior local government officials a common practice for disaster operations, depending on the size and local conditions of the disaster. The LNO should serve as their Point of Contact for questions and information, concerning the supports of FEMA. Similarly, the LNO should not be assigned any other disaster responsibilities. The LNO should report directly to the Federal Coordinating Officer or, as in Joplin, the Division supervisor. This position is considered a special assistant to the FCO. As noted by the JFO officials, having the LNO reporting through External Affairs or other section would dilute their overall effectiveness. Personnel at this capacity must have the interpersonal skills for a better environment for working with senior local officials, which includes the ability to convey an understanding to the needs of the locality and how FEMA addresses the needs. It is important for FEMA to communicate how it is capable of assisting the local officials. A revision to the JFO Standard Operating Procedure and other relevant guidance is necessary in situations when the FCO assigns an LNO to a local government office (Simmons & Sutter, 2011).

The LNO should have standard materials to provide to the officials, like the checklists and fact sheets on how to work with FEMA, and keeping track of deadlines and requirements. The LNO should be capable of providing the local officials with updated organizational chart of the JFO or JDO at the time of replacement for senior staffs. This aims at easing the burden on local officials, who may try managing disaster response and recovery operations in their jurisdiction. Most important, the External Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs offices of FEMA should collaborate with a local government professional association in developing brief guides for local officials, regarding the disaster assistance in FEMA. The guide should be brief and focus majorly on the questions local officials might face after a disaster.


At the time the tornado struck Joplin, officials employed the available resources, systems and procedural measures used in the functional response activities. For instance, a Joplin official stated that everyone was at the Emergency Operations Center and the periodic exercises ensured that Joplin officials determined the availability of regional assets and how to engage the available assets to the rescue operation exercises effectively. A large number of the assets acquired through grant programs of FEMA. As described in Preliminary Finding, the Missouri 1 DMT mobile field hospital exercised at the Branson Airport was deployed to Joplin to treat survivors’ days later. Missouri utilized the moving patient and tracking systems for Joplin it had tested.

A number of private sectors and voluntary organizations that participated provided critical assistance in Joplin after the tornado. For instance, Cellular communications companies worked to restore communication problems in Joplin after the tornado. In the same way, the Missouri Public Private Partnership activated the Missouri Business Emergency Operations Center (BEOC) that facilitated the support of the private sector to disaster response operations in Joplin. The BEOC representatives were deployed to FEMA Region VII, its Regional Response Coordination Center (RRCC), and SEMA.

During the initial response activities, communications and information sharing between the JFO and the JDO was a challenging task. Some JFO personnel argued that there was lack of visibility into the JDO and, thus, it was not clear with whom to coordinate. Since JDO reports to the JFO Operations section, the other sections in the JFO were forced to work through Operations to receive any information that concerns Joplin. There were limited abilities for JFO sections to coordinate directly with their respective JDO counterparts. As a result, this organizational structure led to an inhibition of the information flow both within and between the JFO and the JDO. The FCO had to ensure that there was effective communications among the staffs of the JFO and JDO. These issues were associated with the disagreements on the responsibility planning or other processes to reside either with the JFO or with the JDO.

It is important for the FEMA Headquarters to perform historical data analysis from each of the disasters. This should aim at predictive model, including common data elements occurring during the response and recovery operations. The data should categorize the geographic region and most importantly the type of event. The effort should be able to produce analysis, including important questions used in decision-making exercises. The Headquarters should capture these historical data in a database that FEMA personnel can easily access. Recovery strategy and doctrine should address the employment of these historical analyses during disaster operations. In addition, the historical data should incorporate information on the level of preparedness of the State and the local officials, including the mitigation activities. This would see to a refined level of preparedness and mitigation metrics. 

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