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City of Joplin responds to recommendations of NIST report "Technical Investigation of the May 22, 2011, Tornado in Joplin, Missouri"

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NEWS RELEASE ISSUED JANUARY 14, 2014 BY THE CITY OF JOPLIN

After review of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) draft final report entitled “Technical Investigation of the May 22, 2011, Tornado in Joplin, Missouri”, City officials have noted three areas specifically applicable to the City of Joplin and our citizens.

At the request of City Manager Mark Rohr, staff representing the police, fire, public works and emergency management departments studied each of the 16 recommendations listed in the November 2013 NIST draft report. In a summary of their findings, the committee found that the City has already taken steps to address the areas of concern that pertain to municipal operations.

Below is a summary of their findings:

Recommendation 8: NIST recommends the development and implementation of uniform national guidelines that enable communities to create the safest and most effective public sheltering strategies. The guidelines should address planning for, siting, designing, installing, and operating public tornado shelters within the community.”

Comments on Recommendation 8: Of the three recommendations that City staff reviewed in relationship to City practices and policies, as well as the Joplin citizens, this one seems to be of greatest interest as it speaks to public sheltering. It should be here noted that, while the City supports efforts to shelter the public in the location where they are currently located, there is a constraint placed upon the City that is not well addressed in the report. Simply put, this restraint is TIME.

The average response time for a tornado approaching the City, from when it is spotted to when it first touches down, averages around 10 minutes. This is hardly enough time to: receive the warning; understand it; believe it; personalize it; seek other input; decide to act; and act appropriately. It is only enough time to seek shelter immediately, in place. There is little, if any, time to seek shelter by traveling to another location as is often the case when public shelters are built and advertised as such. To encourage the citizens to travel to a public shelter is to encourage them to be out in the open where they would be subject to the wind and debris produced by a tornado, resulting in possible injury or death.

As a result of this constraint called time, the best advice from this committee is to encourage the building of shelters for personal protection, regardless of the facility – be it home, business, work, school, place of worship or public venue. Such advice will indeed enable this community to create a safe and effective strategy for sheltering the public.

Recommendation 9: NIST recommends that uniform guidelines be developed and implemented nationwide for conducting tornado risk assessments and designating best available tornado refuge areas as an interim measure within buildings until permanent measures fully consistent with Recommendations 5 and 7 are implemented.

Comments on Recommendation 9: Regarding interim measures within buildings the City adopted Council Bill # 2011-024, Amendments to the International Residential code., for the purpose of making certain changes to address issues related to May 22, 2011 tornado. These amendments include:

A. Foundation anchorage to be spaced a maximum of 4 feet on center on the wood sole plate at all exterior walls on monolithic slabs and wood sill plates.

B. Block cells shall be filled with concrete from the footing up.

C. Masonry foundation walls shall have a minimum of one #4 reinforcing bar a maximum of every 4 feet on center.

D. Trusses shall be connected to wall plates by use of connectors commonly known as “hurricane clips”.

Recommendation 13: NIST recommends the development of national codes and standards and uniform guidance for clear, consistent, and accurate emergency communications, encompassing alerts and warnings, to ensure safe, effective, and timely responses among individuals, organizations, and communities in the path of storms having the potential to create tornadoes.

NIST also recommends that emergency managers, the NWS, and the media develop a joint plan and take steps to ensure that accurate and consistent emergency alert and warning information is communicated in a timely manner to enhance the situational awareness of community residents, visitors, and emergency responders affected by an event.”

Comments on Recommendation 13: The City of Joplin, while recognizing the effort and time required to develop a national code and standard for safe, effective and timely responses by all, has over the last few years developed a policy and procedure for the timely warning of its citizens in the event of an impending tornadic event. This policy and procedure may be seen in the Storm Siren Activation Policy as published by the City on its website, www.joplinmo.org.

Regarding the effort to ensure accurate and consistent emergency alerts and warnings to all concerned, several steps have been taken by the City:

A. Purchasing 4,000 NOAA Weather Radios for citizens without such, and, distributing them gratis.

B. Upgrading the Outdoor Siren Warning System to: full narrow band compliance; two-way radio communications; installation of remote testing and activation software; installation of solar power panels to provide redundant power capabilities to each individual siren; and reworking the siren testing policy to reduce the number of yearly activations.

C. Installation of a new CivicPlus website which enables notification to subscribers of current weather information, via: web, email, SMS, Facebook and Twitter.

D. Budgeting for the installation and operation of a NOAA Weather Radio Transmitting Station within the city of Joplin itself, thus providing a strong and clear signal to all who have a NOAA Weather Radio.

For more information about the NIST report and the City’s conclusions, contact Keith Stammer, Emergency Management Director, at 417-624-0820, ext. 260.

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