Academic journal article Independent Review

Response and Recovery after the Joplin Tornado: Lessons Applied and Lessons Learned

Academic journal article Independent Review

Response and Recovery after the Joplin Tornado: Lessons Applied and Lessons Learned

Article excerpt

A hardy stalk, you might say, that doesn't want to wait for the government to come help; they can solve problems today, and we appreciate whatever you're going to do, but while we're waiting for you to do that, we're cleaning up.

-Joplin resident and business owner

You're going to see something different here [from New Orleans after Katrina] because there's this resilience and this resolve where the people in this community-that we're not waiting for somebody to come do it for us. We're going to get it done, and other people are attracted to that and come alongside to help and make it happen faster.

-Joplin resident who lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina

On May 22, 2011, a supercell thunderstorm spawned a tornado just east of the Missouri-Kansas state line that rapidly intensified to produce EF-51 damage as it tore a half-mile to three-quarter-mile-wide path of near total destruction across Joplin, Missouri. The death toll in Joplin stands at 161, making this tornado the deadliest in the United States since 1947; no tornado had claimed 100 lives since 1953. The tornado damaged or destroyed an estimated 7,500 homes and more than 500 businesses, with property damage estimated to be S3 billion, the highest ever for a U.S. tornado.

The inept response by federal, state, and local governments to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 shocked the nation. The public-sector responses stood in stark contrast to the private-sector responses. Charities, community organizations, businesses, and the voluntary sector provided significant assistance in the wake of the hurricane. Katrina sparked a debate about the proper roles of the public and private sector in disaster response and recovery, and the Joplin tornado provides an additional case study to inform this debate.2

Although each disaster is unique, both Katrina and Joplin resulted in destruction and death unprecedented in recent U.S. history for each respective type of disaster. The geography of the two disasters differs substantially. The damage path of the Joplin tornado was less than twenty square miles total, featuring almost total devastation in a very compact area yet leaving surrounding neighborhoods and local government intact. Katrina brought devastation and flooding across 90,000 square miles of the Gulf Coast and forced the evacuation of New Orleans for more than a month.

Joplin provides an opportunity to observe the role of the private and public sectors in a very different environment, allowing evaluation of which findings from Katrina generalize to other disasters. In addition, Joplin was devastated less than one month after a record tornado outbreak in the Southeast, including an EF-4 tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and represents a test of the voluntary sector's ability to respond to several extreme events in quick succession.

We offer a case study of the recovery efforts following the Joplin tornado with two primary objectives. First, we catalog and analyze recovery-and-response efforts from the private sector. Second, we explore how the institutional environment in Joplin contributed to the pace of recovery in contrast to how institutional factors exacerbated the impact of Katrina in New Orleans (Boettke and Smith 2010). We build on this prior research by focusing on elements of central planning and regime uncertainty in the public-sector response in Joplin as well as the mechanisms employed to coordinate private-sector responses. Response-and-recovery efforts were far more successful after Joplin than after Katrina due to the accommodating approach taken by local, state, and federal officials in the former. Rather than attempting to plan and micromanage every aspect of the recovery, Joplin officials allowed the private sector to lead the response and recovery.

This research project was based on interviews with local officials, community leaders, residents, and business owners affected by the tornado. Selection of participants was based on purposive sampling in which initial participants were relied upon to identify others in the community who played a role in the response-and-recovery efforts and were willing to participate in interviews. …

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