Timothy W. Manning, a deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, noted he didn’t need to deploy FEMA’s specialized search-and-rescue teams after the Joplin tornado because local groups did all of that work so rapidly.
Stammer does one thing differently now. He would never have planned for a tornado that large before May 22, 2011. Now, he tells other emergency managers to think big.
“If you’re thinking flooding, think a big flood,” he counsels. “Overwhelm yourself.”
Planning to respond to tornadoes and actually building for them are different, however. Model building codes would require contractors to frame houses and roofs that withstand hurricane-force winds. But not all states adopt those models, and the ones that do frequently lower wind standards, according to a study of coastal states last year by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.
Even after a tornado, a community may not change building codes for a variety of reasons, including fear from homeowners who were unscathed that their lack of tornado-resistant features could affect their property values.
Joplin has made some small building code changes. A new house must have hardware, called hurricane straps, that secures the roof more tightly. Bolts securing the house to the foundation now have to be placed four feet apart, rather than six. Walls made of concrete or cement need steel reinforcement. Such simple, inexpensive changes should mean that a tornado has to be strong enough to lift up the whole house — not just the roof — before it can do structural damage.
There isn’t good data on how many communities in tornado-prone places require such protection built into new houses. But even in those regions, according to the Insurance Institute, the chances of a house being hit by a damaging tornado could be as low as 1 in 10,000.