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On the Road in Joplin, Missouri

By: Victoria Harp

A former driveway in Joplin, Missouri - December 20, 2012

A former driveway in Joplin, Missouri - December 20, 2012

As we were driving through the town of Joplin, Missouri in the morning light, we suddenly realized there were no trees. It dawned on us that we were driving through ground zero of the F-5 tornado that devastated this small town in May of 2010. Driveways and staircases led to grassy patches. The buildings that are now there are shiny and new, but are surrounded by the scars of the disaster. Little scars, like the bent sign posts wrapped with shards of twisted metal, indicating that something else was there before. A few individuals we met with would quietly and cautiously remind us that Joplin is a town that is all too familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder and also very proud of the leaps and bounds the community has made in its recovery, and rightly so.

We were on site to learn about how The Independent Living Center (TILC) embodies a Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management. TILC is a unique Independent Living Center. One of the many things we learned is that it is rare for one to be so invested in the emergency preparedness of their “consumers” or clients. The TILC’s emphasis on this preparedness approach and the nature of their collaborations with so many others within their community are some of the findings that lead to their success in embracing the Whole Community. The people we met were so passionate, capable, and inspirational. You can’t help but be touched by their dedication and resilience.

Susan Smith, TILC Consumer and prepared resident of Joplin, Missouri

Susan Smith, TILC Consumer and prepared resident of Joplin, Missouri

Since the tornado, Susan Smith, a “consumer” of The Independent Living Center, spoke with us enthusiastically about her appreciation of the emergency preparedness planning assistance she has received from TILC. Smith states that TILC provided her with an emergency kit from the American Red Cross. “I haven’t had to use it yet, but I know what’s in there.” Smith has also drawn a map of where she would go in case of a fire or if she needs to shelter in place. She pulled her plan from her pocketbook and proudly showed it to us. (See photo.)

Twice a day, only one commercial airline plane flies in and out of the Joplin airport. Unfortunately for us, that plane had mechanical issues causing an over eight hour delay. During our eight hours, we learned the following:

  1. While there are no food vendors at the Joplin airport, Papa John’s will happily and quickly deliver.
  2. Social media is a powerful tool.
Photo of Victoria Harp and Jane Cage at the Joplin airport on December 20, 2012

Photo of Victoria Harp (L) and Jane Cage at the Joplin airport on December 20, 2012

When my colleague Cori Wigington snapped a photo of me working on my laptop during hour 5 of the flight delay and posted it to Facebook, Jane Cage, the Director of Joplin CART and 2012 Citizen of the Year (also a Facebook friend), appeared bringing salvation in the form of ice cream and an offer to stay at her home until the flights resumed. While we did not have to take Jane up on her offer, she further solidified why Joplin is so resilient: the compassion of its people.

Click here to read a Blog about the Whole Community Project and TILC in Joplin, Missouri.

Victoria Harp has been supporting the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Learning Office as a Contractor for Lockheed Martin since 2009. She has been a Project Coordinator for the Meta-Leadership Summit for Preparedness Initiative and is currently supporting the Learning Office working with the CDC Foundation and FEMA for the Whole Community Program.