By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Want to make a difference? Then you need to write down this number: 240-780-6701.
When you call that number, the person on the other end will set up an appointment for you to tell your story about what you experienced on May 22. The objective is to save lives when a tornado threatens another community in the future.
“We want to do as many face-to-face interviews as possible between Oct. 21 and Oct. 31,” said Erica Kuligowski, a researcher with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “We want to understand what really happened on May 22.
“What information did they have beforehand about the tornado? What did they go through? How did they take shelter if they did? Who did they contact? What did they think was going on? We want the whole picture of what happened that day.
“We especially want to talk to friends and family members of the victims. We need for them to tell us their stories and experiences.”
In July, the institute announced that it would conduct a full technical study of the impact of the devastating EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin, killing 162 people. The findings from the study will be used to help improve standards, codes and practices, with a goal of reducing loss of life and property in future tornadoes.
As part of that study, Kuligowski and another researcher, Jennifer Spinney, will be conducting interviews in the Joplin area with survivors, and the families and friends of victims.
Both women are familiar with Joplin, having conducted interviews immediately after the storm. Kuligowski’s interviews were for a preliminary assessment by the NIST. Spinney was part of a National Weather Service assessment team that visited the area.
The interviews will provide information about what individuals saw, heard, felt and did before, during and after the tornado. The researchers hope to better understand how people within the warning area responded.
The interviews will help the NIST determine the behavior and fate of those who survived and those who did not. The institute will collect and analyze information on injuries and fatalities, human behavior, situation awareness, and emergency communications before and during the tornado.
The interviews between Oct. 21 and Oct. 31 will be conducted in person. After Oct. 31, the researchers will continue to do interviews by telephone through early December. The NIST study is to be released early next year.
“We are very excited about what can come out of a better understanding of these experiences as far as life safety and future tornadoes,” said Kuligowski. “We want to get at the heart of what happened to improve our communications in the future.”
The interviews will last about a half-hour at a time and location that is convenient for the participants.
Said Spinney: “Erica and I understand that several months have passed since the tornado. We can only hope that people in Joplin are still willing to talk about their tornado experiences during this time of recovery.”
OFFICIALS SAY the Joplin tornado is the single deadliest tornado in the United States in the 61 years that official records have been kept.