Monday, April 1, 2013

Build to Survive!

Not every storm is a metaphor…


It was an anxious Sunday afternoon, the weather was getting fierce and storm clouds were coughing up torrents of anger. Just east of the Kansas state line, a vicious funnel touches the earth, and on May 22, 2011 Missouri was about to make history.

A record breaking thunderstorm hit the people of Joplin Missouri with unprecedented intensity. A rare EF-5 Multi-vortex tornado touched down reaching a mile in width and hitting speeds of up to 300 mph. The tornado went through Joplin like a wrecking ball. Homes were completely swept off their foundations, large buildings were flattened and debris flew for miles. The tornado was so intense, the entirety of St. John’s Regional Medical Center was said to be shifted 4 inches from its foundation.

The impact area of the tornado
When this maelstrom finally ended, the destruction was heart breaking. One could scarcely believe the extent of the damage inflicted on Joplin. Survivors have said that their minds had no way to cope with what they saw next. Yet, before there was time to comprehend the destruction, a far more gruesome shock set it; what about their neighbors? 158 people in Joplin were directly killed and over 1200 injured. The loss of human life was staggering. Shocking stories from the survivors began to be told in the news. Parents describe their children being torn from their arms, entire families were found crushed under rubble, and droves of homeless people had to find shelter.

Forever burned into the minds of the city were the satellite and ariel photographs depicting the tornados trail of destruction. It is estimated that 25% of Joplin was destroyed or made uninhabitable.

One of the many photos of the aftermath
However, as such moments of history tend to contain, one lone building survived the maelstrom. The Edward Jones financial building remained intact. It was located on Connecticut Avenue in one of the hardest hit areas in the tornadoes path. The building was brand new to the area, and while every structure around it was demolished, it remained standing. Apart of minor damage, the building was fully functional and safe to enter. The business was able to assist the community during the ensuing year, and remains a symbol of hope to the community. Naturally, people were very curious how an 8 story building survived a direct hit from an F-5 tornado.

The secret? Hurricane straps. A small feature with mild additional costs that allows the truss system in the roof to endure the cyclical nature of high impact winds. When Don Swanson added this feature in the construction of his building, it made all the difference.

Each of us makes decisions every day about how we are going to build. We build relationships, families, partnerships, financial plans, and business. When we face the costs of building, do we decide to build cheaply? For the people of Joplin, the phrase, ‘preparing for a rainy day’ is no longer a platitude.

How many of us miss the opportunity to slow down, plan better, and build smarter? Do we cut corners that presume ideal weather conditions. What happens to us when faced with real storm fronts? What happens to us when we face family drama, relationships going cold, illness, loss, bad business deals, accidents, or life savings drying up?

While I’m sure that comparing our own trials to the losses suffered in Joplin seems very glib, it's the people of Joplin themselves that ask this question. Many have spoken about what it took to recover, and how it changed the way they choose to live thereafter.

Thousands of people poured into Missouri to help their fellow countrymen in this time of need. Are we also willing to help one another as we face our own storms? Are we willing to forgive, talk, and take actions that bring us all closer together?

A memorial now stands in the city of Joplin. Paula Baker, president of Freeman Health System, pulled down a cloth to reveal the structure at the memorial ceremony. A choir of Freeman employees sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

The sun, obscured by gray clouds, suddenly broke through." 
Said Baker: “Joplin is proof that from tragedy can spring hope. That even the darkest night is followed by dawn. That a once-stormy sky can again be filled with the colors of the rainbow.”