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Mizzou on call

After the tornado Tigers help Missourians in need

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  • Story by Nancy Moen
  • Photos by Shane Epping
  • Published: July 7, 2011
Kay Fauss

Kay Fauss, a nurse in MU’s Medical and Neurological Intensive Care Unit, volunteered to help survivors of the May 22 tornado in Joplin. Among her patients were children who'd been injured by the tight grips of parents trying to prevent them from being sucked into the funnel cloud.

When the city of Joplin requested help after a massive tornado tore through town May 22, Mizzou was ready to respond.

As a land-grant university, MU shares a responsibility to assist Missouri citizens in times of need, and it responded to Joplin’s emergency within hours.

The feelings ran deep. Functioning like family, MU staff participated in all aspects of emergency services, delivering the resources of a university to the state’s people. Here’s how the help unfolded.

Search and rescue

Immediately after the tornado delivered death and destruction, MU Health Care mobilized two ambulances and a crew of four. Those emergency medical technicians and paramedics worked throughout the night and into the next day providing search, rescue and recovery assistance.

At University Hospital, Chris Smith, safety and emergency preparedness coordinator, activated an emergency command center to coordinate assistance with state and local officials. Two Staff for Life helicopters were put on alert standby.

“We went to an Emergency Management System that accesses all hospitals statewide,” Smith says. At the command center — a room with computers, TVs, phones and emergency checklists — MU’s team monitored the emergency and gathered information on the changing needs. 

“We do a lot here with emergency preparedness. When things like this happen it feels like it pays off because we’re ready to go,” Smith says. MU Health Care runs multiple emergency drills each year and had just completed one a few days before the storm hit.

With a colleague from St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City, Smith leads a coalition of hospitals that support each other when they are overwhelmed during emergencies. MU’s Highway Patrol Region F includes 13 neighboring counties, but resources were pulled from other parts of the state as well.

Medical emergencies

A week after the storm, with medical services stretched thin at Freeman Health System in Joplin, the Missouri Hospital Association issued a call for volunteer critical-care nurses.

Kay Fauss, a nurse who staffs MU’s Medical and Neurological Intensive Care Unit, was among those who gave up their Memorial Day Weekend to volunteer in Joplin.

Fauss has been a nurse for 23 years, but this was like being in another country. “You’re hearing these surreal things, not normal conversations,” Fauss says.

She encountered children who were injured because “their daddy held onto them so tight” to keep them from being sucked into the tornado. She cared for a woman who recounted her ride inside the tornado, during which her face was six inches from the ground at one point before the funnel whipped her up again. 

On her first day there, Fauss worked in cardiovascular, intensive care, orthopedics and general surgery units. “The need was evident. It was an honor to serve. I could see the gratitude in their eyes.”

Although the work directly served patients, Fauss knew her volunteerism was support for staff, too. She and 10 other MU Health Care nurses were helping nursing and medical peers get through their shifts after losing homes, friends or family members. 

Fauss expects the need to continue for several months and says she will volunteer again. “I took a lot from it as I drove back home. Normal stress now seems a lot more relative,” she says.

Already Smith is working with MU departments to send more nursing staff. “We see the fatigue. They weathered the first week in Joplin without much help but now need support and relief.”

University of Missouri Health Care donated $10,000 to a fund established by the Missouri Hospital Association to benefit Joplin’s hospital staff and will continue to provide assistance as needed to the residents and health care providers.

Structure safety

As storm victims began searching their damaged homes for personal belongings, a team of specialists assessed the buildings for safety.

Architect Gerald Morgan and three other MU architects and engineers are part of the state-certified team of 60 design and construction professionals who performed structural assessments on buildings damaged by the tornado.

“We were there to keep the occupants safe as they tried to find what little was left of their lives,” Morgan says of the emotionally draining project. 

Morgan, Marsha Smith and Mike Cobb of Campus Facilities and teaching assistant professor Michael Goldschmidt trained for such duties and are recertified every three years by the State Emergency Management Agency. The team evaluated 5,000 Joplin buildings in three days.

Functioning as deputy building inspectors and reporting to city officials, team members worked quickly to post signs evaluating the safety of buildings. They restricted occupants from entering buildings only if the structures were inherently unsafe.

“People were digging through the rubble trying to find keepsakes and family things they couldn’t replace, so it was heart wrenching,” Morgan says.

Recovery and rebuilding

Jeff Barber examines the safe room of Joplin residents Matt and Claire Adrian

MU Extension architect Jeff Barber, center, examines a safe room Joplin residents Matt and Claire Adrian hired a contractor to build in the space under their front porch. The couple and their daughters took shelter there during the May 22 tornado, which destroyed most of their home. Photo by Curt Wohleber, MU Cooperative Media Group.

Long after the first responders and relief agencies have departed Joplin, MU Extension will be on hand, just as it was before the disaster.

Extension will be in Joplin for months, as part of the Governor’s Disaster Recovery Partnership.

“Our role is to help communities work through the recovery process and help people rebuild their lives,” says Mary Simon Leuci, Extension’s community development program director.

MU Extension’s Community Emergency Management Program has teams throughout the state providing training and education in disaster readiness, mitigation and recovery.

Firefighters, law-enforcement personnel, nurses, doctors and emergency medical technicians in Joplin, Sedalia and St. Louis were prepared as first responders to recent tornados thanks to training through Extension’s disaster-preparedness institutes and programs.

“Immediately after the tornado, we were part of the multi-agency resource center and continue providing educational resources and information as Joplin rebuilds,” Leuci says. 

Extension specialists on site help answer questions on how to handle insurance claims, deal with budgets after job loss, clean up water-damaged property, replace important documents and cope with stress. They work with city officials on infrastructure and community planning and with residents on repairing and rebuilding homes, farms and buildings. 

In partnership with the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and two other entities, Extension has staffed a business recovery center in the city to serve approximately 400 businesses affected by the storm.

While continuing relief work in Joplin, Extension seeks to mitigate the loss of life in future storms with installation of tornado warning systems, changes in construction practices and installation of safe rooms in houses.

And because disasters don’t pick good times to happen, Extension also is assisting with flood recovery along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Critter casualties

Like people, many animals lost their homes in the tornado. With more than 900 displaced animals overwhelming the staff of the Joplin Humane Society Animal Adoption and Resource Center, MU veterinarians, veterinary technicians and students responded. 

Led by year-three student Aspen Perretta, the Shelter Club of the College of Veterinary Medicine issued an early request for supplies and set up collection locations in Columbia.

The students borrowed an MU cargo van, stuffed it with pet-care necessities from floorboards to ceiling and drove the supplies to the Springfield Humane Society, which is making periodic trips to the space-challenged Joplin facility. The students added $1,212 cash to the donated supplies. 

Joplin’s shelter requested necessities — food and bowls, bottled water, litter and litter boxes, paper towels, blankets, leashes, collars and trash bags — for a burgeoning pet population that spilled out of the shelter and into two adjacent buildings.

Three weeks later, as animal-care needs overwhelmed the Joplin staff, MU veterinarians, veterinary assistants and technicians answered the shelter’s request for volunteers to provide emergency sheltering care for the cats in Warehouse 1 and dogs in Warehouse 2. The ASPCA, which sent out the call for help, alerted volunteers that the service would entail “hard work and long days” in bare-bones conditions.   

In Columbia at the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, a veterinary team worked to help a family’s paralyzed dog walk again. Today, Sugar is back home in Joplin, where she is expected to fully recover use of her legs. The teaching hospital and a donor fund absorbed the cost of treating Sugar’s ruptured disc. 

Help from the heart

  • Chancellor Brady Deaton discussed future university assistance in a meeting in Joplin with city officials and Extension staff, and he contacted incoming students from the area, offering help with fall attendance.
  • KOMU-TV, in partnership with the Heart of Missouri United Way, raised more than $1 million in a two-hour telethon just days after the Joplin disaster.
  • Intercollegiate Athletics partnered with the Heart of Missouri United Way to produce and sell more than 20,000 "One Mizzou" Tornado Relief T-shirts, which so far have netted more than $225,000 for United for Joplin relief efforts. The project far surpassed the goal of 5,000 shirts. Shirts still can be purchased for $14.95 at mutigers.com, the Tiger Team Store and University Bookstore. MU Athletics scheduled an Oct. 30 men’s basketball exhibition game vs. Missouri Southern State University, with proceeds benefiting relief efforts. Coaches, staff and students traveled to Joplin to assist in cleanup, visit shelters and deliver a semi-truck trailer of supplies; former star quarterback Chase Daniel donated $5,000 raised in an autograph-signing appearance at a Columbia car dealership.
  • Staff members of Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon, Mo., helped emergency workers with search, rescue and recovery, and they treated patients for injuries related to the tornado or relief efforts.
  • Marching Mizzou members, in conjunction with several mid-Missouri band programs, contributed a 26-foot truckload of supplies to Webb City High School. The items were collected from various MU entities, including the Alumni Association. 
  • Mizzou Licensing donated 100 Truman the Tiger Build-A-Bear plush toys for men’s basketball Coach Frank Haith to distribute to children during his Joplin visit.
  • The Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders continues to collect money for the Joplin Autism Center, which was destroyed by the tornado. The center has moved to a temporary location and continues to see patients, but many families need financial assistance to travel to the temporary site.
  • School of Music students, faculty and alumni performed June 2 at MU’s Whitmore Recital Hall to generate donations for Joplin.
  • Construction Services employees Jerry McCowan and Rocky Coleman, their wives and friends drove to Joplin six days after the tornado to deliver donated items and cook for anyone who needed a meal. They set up grills in a church parking lot at 11 a.m. and cooked until 7 p.m.

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012