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Joplin Businesses Continue Recovery With Safety Precautions

Gail Banzet-Ellis
Oklahoma Tornado Project

As we pass the one year anniversary of the devastating tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, we’re looking at lessons learned from another devastating storm, three years ago in Joplin, Missouri. Joplin’s EF-5 tornado damaged or destroyed more than 500 businesses, but since that time, the city has made remarkable progress getting back on its feet. As Gail Banzet-Ellis reports, that recovery has included planning for the unexpected.

Like any disaster, the 2011 storm was a shocking reminder of how fast emergencies can arise. Joplin’s city hall, public works buildings and emergency operation center were unaffected, but Rob O’Brian from the Joplin Chamber of Commerce says officials were still left scrambling. 

“We never envisioned having a disaster plan where you’re ok and 500-plus businesses are down with thousands of employees at risk, and they’re not just Joplin residents who are employees," O'Brian says.  "You know these businesses employ people from all over the region.”

Joplin business owners suddenly faced the task of salvaging valuable records and customer data. Amy Earp is the general manager of SNC Squared, a company that provides backup computer recovery systems. When her office was destroyed, Earp says employees cut servers out of the wreckage and set up shop in the CEO’s basement.

“We had our clients’ servers running," Earp says.  "We had physicians that would come in and we overnighted hardware, so we overnighted laptops and they would come in and grab a laptop, and they had access to their records.”

SNC Squared went live again within 24 hours. Earp says she and her co-workers are trying to spread the message that careful planning makes a difference in overall recovery.

But beyond preparations for business and retail, there are also precautions that help save lives … The tornado hit Con-way Truckload, a large freight company in Joplin, where heavy-duty semis were tossed around like toy trucks. Vice President of Maintenance Randy Cornell says storm warnings were once a cry of wolf at Con-way, but not anymore.

“Today we require people to take cover when those types of things happen because we do not want to take the chance of one of our employees being hurt,” Cornell says.

During the storm, mechanics in Con-way’s maintenance facility took shelter in the open pits where they stand to work on trucks, a dangerous spot considering most tornado injuries occur from flying debris.

Cornell asked the company to install six Atlas Safe Rooms around Con-way’s property. Stepping inside one of the new shelters, he says the idea was an easy sell.

“It’s made out of solid steel and it’s made out of quarter-inch steel plates," Cornell says.  "And they sent this to Texas Tech to have it tested with their air cannon.”

According to those tests, Con-way’s safe rooms are expected to sustain 300-mile-per-hour winds, a comforting assurance for the future.

Disaster plans and storm shelters require a lot of time and money, but Joplin businesses have learned the investments are priceless. An EF-5 tornado may never return to Joplin, but Moore, Oklahoma’s multiple storms are proof that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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