MSW Management Editor's Blog
Tuesday, June 14, 2011 11:56 AM
The Tornadoes of Spring 2011 May Be Gone, but not Forgotten
What most people, including members of the press, focus their attention on is the immediate damage, where photos and TV clips of the wreckage and body bags speak more eloquently to the situation than words ever could. Of course, the words themselves—in this instance the number of dead and injured, billions of dollars in lost property, millions of families without utilities—will stick with us at least until the next catastrophe strikes. So will tales of heroism and charity on one side of the ledger—perhaps charges of inadequate disaster preparedness programs, slow emergency management support, and personal privation on the other. That the brunt of Charley’s fury missed the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan complex is perhaps the best news of the entire episode, though this will be of no consolation to those who have lost loved ones, homes, businesses, and perhaps their means of livelihood.
What will receive little if any press is the daunting task that lies ahead for federal and state disaster relief officials who will have to plan, coordinate, and make available funds for cleanup. In the thick of the action will be waste managers from the entire region, who will have to oversee the cataloging, collection, storage, and disposal of millions of tons of wreckage that present a severe threat to public health and safety.
Stories of terror, suffering, and loss abound, but I’d like to draw you attention to the activities of one outfit that has equipped itself to be first responders in disasters such as those we’ve seen this spring.
When First Response Team of America founder Tad Agoglia got word that “the worst tornado in history” had hit the Southeast, he deployed his team immediately to Ringgold, GA, to help. The largest tornado outbreak in US history swept through the southern part of the country from April 25 to the 28, leaving catastrophic destruction in its wake. This “Super Outbreak” spawned 327 tornadoes in 21 states, from Texas to New York, killing at least 341 people. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared it the fourth deadliest outbreak, with April 27 listed as the fifth deadliest tornado day in US history, having set a record for the most tornadoes in one day (173) from a single storm.
Over the course of those four deadly days, three of the tornadoes were officially rated as EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, making April 27 the second day in history (the other being the April 3, 1974 Super Outbreak) that had three or more EF5 or F5 tornadoes.
The team’s goal is to arrive in the crucial moments following a catastrophe, filling the gap between the moment disaster strikes and the arrival of traditional relief agencies, when most communities must fend for themselves because the resources necessary for rescue and recovery—equipment, tools and personnel—are damaged, inaccessible, or simply unavailable. According to Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers, who closed roads due to downed power lines and broken gas lines, homes were so badly damaged that “only foundations are left.” Many of those foundations were buried under debris. By late May, Agoglia’s First Response crews had cleared 25 home sites for people without insurance and who lost loved ones.
Agoglia’s crew of four to six regulars is on the road 12 months a year, working seven days a week around the clock when needed. Although the assistance they provide is free to those in need, it costs considerable money to mobilize and to operate their equipment. Initially funded by Agoglia’s personal savings, the organization now runs on corporate and private donations. Companies that have partnered with the First Response Team include Caterpillar, Peterbilt and Terex.