A First Responder Reflects: The Two Year Anniversary of Joplin

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RedCross

Today is the 2nd anniversary of the Joplin Tornado of 2011.  At the time I worked for the State of Missouri and was called upon to support the relief efforts.  I spent four weeks supporting locals in the Red Cross emergency homeless shelters and the emergency relief center.  Over 600 of the tornado’s victims were housed in the gymnasium of Missouri Southern State University (MSSU).

As a therapist, my first inclination was to delve in and address the presenting emotions and stresses of the multitudes of those displaced.  Those affected taught me quickly that the most precious gifts for them during this time was information on friends and family, transportation and directions to recovery resources.  Most important to them was empathy, my listening skills and space to process their situation in their own way. The next two weeks enlightened me on the power of just stepping back and allowing the grieving process to unfold. Over 600 lives were processing the impact of the tornado in their own unique way.

So I arranged to begin every morning at 6:30 am outside their make shift living quarters and be there with a warm smile and comforting ear.  Most of the residents were out of the shelter by 10:00 am seeking resources and assistance from a multitude of support agencies and services located in other temporary locations around the city.  My afternoons were focused on assisting others members of my team at the FEMA managed resource center about 3.5 miles south of the MSSU campus on the opposite side of the tornado’s path. There I would gather information for victims and research questions they posed on their way out of the shelter that morning, bringing what I learned to the shelter that evening.

Yesterday afternoon, my current position ironically allowed me the opportunity to drive by and observe the devastation of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado.  This recent tragedy conjured up memories of Joplin.  Again, the therapist in me yearned to stop and help others in need. The people of Joplin taught me, though, that my efforts would be better served by not impeding the emergency response efforts.  Those affected need space to process and grieve. I am here with two ears and willing to share what I learned.

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