May 25 2012 – Media Mavens

We interviewed Rebecca and Genevieve Williams, the mother and daughter behind the facebook page Joplin Tornado Info, During the Joplin tornado their facebook page served as a hub connecting volunteers with organizations and supplies with those who needed them. The page also provided up to the minute information for people on the ground whose only source of information was their phones. The ladies recently released an instructional whitebook on the use of social media as a tool for disaster relief. The lessons they learned in Joplin have already been put into action at other disasters.

After the interview they invited us to join them at a restaurant/bar with live music. It was a great chance to meet some of the locals and to see how Joplin spends its Friday nights.

May 24 2012 – War Room

We took the day off from interviews so that we could catch up on a few administrative tasks, edit video, upload pictures and map out our plan of attack for the next 3-5 days.

May 23 2012 – Follow-Up Interviews in Joplin

We decided to heed Olaf’s advice about the importance of remembering to listen to your body so we slept in, cooked a nice breakfast and then drove over to the KOA for our first showers since we arrived in Joplin.

We followed up on last year’s interview with Debra Fort, the Principal at Irving Elementary School, to see how things went during this past school year. The grades had been split between an older school and temporary classrooms FEMA set up outside that building. The kitchen was in a third building, also provided by FEMA. The role of cafeteria, gym and auditorium were all performed by a single room known as the “cafegymatorium.” In addition to the issue of split campuses the school experienced a rise in disciplinary problems especially amongst the youngest children. The hallways and classrooms were full of books and art donated by other schools from all around the nation.

We followed up on last year’s interview with Randal and Shelly of Kraft Insurance, a customer oriented company based just blocks from where St. John’s hospital used to be. In the center of the tornado’s path, their office was the only building still standing for blocks in any direction. Upon finding salvageable the couple immediately began working to help get their customers back into homes. They filed claims over their cell-phones surrounded by piles of rubble until they could move into a temporary office. Randal walked us through the improvements he is making on the newly rebuilt office to insure that it is even safer and more disaster resilient than before. They are just finishing construction this week after telling their contractors to prioritize their clients.

We interviewed three friends: Greg Wininger, Brandy Kendall and Stephanie Ruckman. Greg’s girlfriend and son died in the Wal-Mart during the storm and his girlfriend’s dog walked through 6 miles of rubble back to his house, showing up 3 days later.

We ate dinner with Misti and her family at a fundraiser for her mission before heading back to camp to begin processing the day’s footage.

May 22 2012 – Day of Unity

We shot video of Misti’s Mission in action and interviewed some of her employees. Misti uses grant money to employ people who are down on their luck. She teaches them life skills and helps them build up a resume so that they can find long-term work when they graduate from her program.

We filmed Joplin’s Walk of Unity and watched the groundbreaking ceremony for the new High School being built to replace the one torn apart by the tornado. For the 2011-2012 school year school was held in the Northpark Mall and the food court was used as a cafeteria. Joplin was contact by the United Arab Emirates who wanted to help with the recovery effort. The UAE wanted to do more than just replace what was already in place so they asked what the school had on its wish-list before the disaster; because of the UAE’s support there is now one laptop for every student in Joplin High School.

At 5:41, the one year anniversary of the tornado, we interviewed James McKeel who lost his father in the storm. The house where James’s father lived was in the first block where the tornado touched ground. Across the street from his house the buildings remained structurally intact but starting with it everything for miles was leveled. James talked to us about what it was like searching for bodies in the rubble at night without any electricity. During his free time James is a sky diving instructor and he told us that jumping helps him find release for never getting to say good-bye to his father.
After talking to James we interviewed his friends and family.

Justin Cafer talked to us about how the local businesses stepped up and gave people time off to help with recovery. The auto shop he was working at started replacing tires and windshields for free.

While driving from our interview with James towards the Day of Unity celebrations, Stacy recognized Olaf Hensen as one of the people who spoke in the discussion after the Reading from the Book of Job so we swung around to interview him. Olaf was a career architect who worked for FEMA in multiple disasters evaluating the structural integrity of buildings hit by disaster. He was so moved by the community in Joplin that he is retiring and marrying a local teacher. As a FEMA employee he shared his experiences visiting dozens of survivors every day for months. He emphasized how important it was for disaster workers to protect their physical and psychological health. FEMA’s mission is to prevent the disaster from expanding into problems such as disease or building failures so Olaf had to detach himself from the desire to comfort the people he was helping in order to get to everyone in time.

Closing out our day we talked to the team of Operation BBQ Relief. They are a group of competitive BBQ hobbyists who decided to get involved in the relief effort after the tornado last year. They have since expanded to regions as far away as Pennsylvania. They took their skills and equipment and managed to feed over a hundred thousand meals a day using contributions from companies like Enterprise and Sam’s Club.

President Obama Delivers Commencement Speech to the Joplin High School Senior Class

Air Force One landed at Joplin Regional Airport at 6:24 CDT.  The President stepped off at 6:38.

He was greeted by Sen. Claire McCaskill, Gov. Jay Nixon, Missouri First Lady Georganne Nixon, Rep. Billy Long and Joplin Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean.
He walked over to the roughly 100 people waiting near the small terminal, standing outside on a beautiful spring evening with a sunny sky and light breeze.

He shook hands, and signed a copy of the book, “Of Thee I Sing.”  Motorcade rolled out at 6:49 pm CDT.

People lined parts of the motorcade route, some waving American flags, many taking pictures.  One held a hand written sign asking him to not forget. The Motorcade arrived at Missouri Southern State University at 7:04 pm CDT.

After a 21-minute commencement address, the President’s Motorcade left the Missouri Southern State University campus at 9:17 pm CDT.

The President Arrived back at Joplin Regional Airport at 9:32 pm.  Air Force One’s wheels were up at 9:41

Remarks by the President at the Joplin High Commencement

The Storm Surge team got credentials to film Obama’s arrival and departure in Joplin. He was in town to give the commencement speech for the high school. Here is the transcript:


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

May 21, 2012




Missouri Southern State University

Joplin, Missouri

8:40 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  Please have a seat.  A few people I want to acknowledge.  First of all, you have an outstanding governor in Jay Nixon, and we are proud of all the work that he’s done.   I want to acknowledge Senator Claire McCaskill who is here.  (Applause.)  Representative Billy Long.   (Applause.)  Your mayor, Melodee Colbert Kean.  (Applause.)  Somebody who doesn’t get a lot of attention but does amazing work all across the country, including here in Joplin, the head of FEMA, the administrator, Craig Fugate, who spent an awful lot of time here helping to rebuild.  (Applause.)

Superintendent Huff.  (Applause.)  Principal Sachetta.  (Applause.)  To the faculty, the parents, the family, friends, the people of Joplin, and most of all the class of 2012.  (Applause.)  Congratulations on your graduation, and thank you for allowing me the honor of playing a small part in this special day.

Now, the job of a commencement speaker primarily is to keep it short.  Chloe, they’ve given me more than two minutes.  (Laughter.)  But the other job is to inspire.  But as I look out at this class, and across this city, what’s clear is that you’re the source of inspiration today.  To me.  To this state.  To this country.  And to people all over the world.

Last year, the road that led you here took a turn that no one could’ve imagined.  Just hours after the Class of 2011 walked across this stage, the most powerful tornado in six decades tore a path of devastation through Joplin that was nearly a mile wide and 13 long.  In just 32 minutes, it took thousands of homes, and hundreds of businesses, and 161 of your neighbors, friends and family.  It took a classmate Will Norton, who had just left this auditorium with a diploma in his hand.  It took Lantz Hare, who should’ve received his diploma next year.

By now, I expect that most of you have probably relived those 32 minutes again and again.  Where you were.  What you saw.  When you knew for sure that it was over.  The first contact, the first phone call you had with somebody you loved, the first day that you woke up in a world that would never be the same.

And yet, the story of Joplin isn’t just what happened that day.  It’s the story of what happened the next day.  And the day after that.  And all the days and weeks and months that followed.  As your city manager, Mark Rohr, has said, the people here chose to define the tragedy “not by what happened to us, but by how we responded.”

Class of 2012, that story is yours.  It’s part of you now.  As others have mentioned, you’ve had to grow up quickly over the last year.  You’ve learned at a younger age than most of us that we can’t always predict what life has in store.  No matter how we might try to avoid it, life surely can bring some heartache, and life involves struggle.  And at some point life will bring loss.

But here in Joplin, you’ve also learned that we have the power to grow from these experiences.  We can define our lives not by what happens to us, but by how we respond.  We can choose to carry on.  We can choose to make a difference in the world.  And in doing so, we can make true what’s written in Scripture -– that “tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope.”

Of all that’s come from this tragedy, let this be the central lesson that guides us, let it be the lesson that sustains you through whatever challenges lie ahead.

As you begin the next stage in your journey, wherever you’re going, whatever you’re doing, it’s safe to say you will encounter greed and selfishness, and ignorance and cruelty, sometimes just bad luck.  You’ll meet people who try to build themselves up by tearing others down.  You’ll meet people who believe that looking after others is only for suckers.

But you’re from Joplin.  So you will remember, you will know, just how many people there are who see life differently; those who are guided by kindness and generosity and quiet service.

You’ll remember that in a town of 50,000 people, nearly 50,000 more came in to help the weeks after the tornado -– perfect strangers who’ve never met you and didn’t ask for anything in return.

One of them was Mark Carr, who drove 600 miles from Rocky Ford, Colorado with a couple of chainsaws and his three little children.  One man traveled all the way from Japan, because he remembered that Americans were there for his country after last year’s tsunami, and he wanted the chance, he said, “to pay it forward.”  There were AmeriCorps volunteers who have chosen to leave their homes and stay here in Joplin till the work is done.

And then there was the day that Mizzou’s football team rolled into town with an 18-wheeler full of donated supplies.  And of all places, they were assigned to help out on Kansas Avenue.  (Laughter and applause.)  I don’t know who set that up.  (Laughter.)  And while they hauled away washing machines and refrigerators from the debris, they met a woman named Carol Mann, who had just lost the house she lived in for 18 years.  And Carol didn’t have a lot.  She works part-time at McDonald’s.  She struggles with seizures, and she told the players that she had even lost the change purse that held her lunch money.  So one of them, one of the players, went back to the house, dug through the rubble, and returned with the purse with $5 inside.

As Carol’s sister said, “So much of the news that you hear is so negative.  But these boys renewed my faith that there are so many good people in the world.”

That’s what you’ll remember.  Because you’re from Joplin.

You will remember the half million dollar donation that came from Angelina Jolie and some up-and-coming actor named Brad Pitt.  (Laughter.)  But you’ll also remember the $360 that was delivered by a nine-year-old boy who organized his own car wash.  You’ll remember the school supplies donated by your neighboring towns, but maybe you’ll also remember the brand new laptops that were sent from the United Arab Emirates -– a tiny country on the other side of the world.

When it came time for your prom, make-up artist Melissa Blayton organized an effort that collected over a 1,000 donated prom dresses, FedEx kicked in for the corsages, and Joplin’s own Liz Easton, who had lost her home and her bakery in the tornado, made a hundred — or 1,500 cupcakes for the occasion.  They were good cupcakes.  (Laughter.)

There are so many good people in the world.  There is such a decency, a bigness of spirit, in this country of ours.  And so, Class of 2012, you’ve got to remember that.  Remember what people did here.  And like that man who came all the way from Japan to Joplin, make sure in your own life that you pay it forward.

Now, just as you’ve learned the goodness of people, you’ve also learned the power of community.  And you’ve heard from some of the other speakers how powerful that is.  And as you take on the roles of co-worker and business owner — neighbor, citizen — you’ll encounter all kinds of divisions between groups, divisions of race and religion and ideology.  You’ll meet people who like to disagree just for the sake of being disagreeable.  (Laughter.)  You’ll meet people who prefer to play up their differences instead of focusing on what they have in common, where they can cooperate.

But you’re from Joplin.  So you will always know that it’s always possible for a community to come together when it matters most.  After all, a lot of you could’ve spent your senior year scattered throughout different schools, far from home.  But Dr. Huff asked everybody to pitch in so that school started on time, right here in Joplin.  He understood the power of this community, and he understood the power of place.

So these teachers worked extra hours; coaches put in extra time.  That mall was turned into a classroom.  The food court became a cafeteria, which maybe some of you thought was an improvement.  (Laughter.)  And, yes, the arrangements might have been a little noisy and a little improvised, but you hunkered down.  You made it work together.  You made it work together.

That’s the power of community.  Together, you decided that this city wasn’t about to spend the next year arguing over every detail of the recovery effort.  At the very first meeting, the first town meeting, every citizen was handed a Post-It note and asked to write down their goals and their hopes for Joplin’s future.  And more than a thousand notes covered an entire wall and became the blueprint that architects are following to this day.  I’m thinking about trying this with Congress, give them some Post-It notes.  (Laughter and applause.)

Together, the businesses that were destroyed in the tornado decided that they weren’t about to walk away from the community that made their success possible — even if it would’ve been easier, even if it would’ve been more profitable to go someplace else.  And so today, more than half the stores that were damaged on the Range Line are up and running again.  Eleven more are planning to join them.  And every time a company reopens its doors, people cheer the cutting of a ribbon that bears the town’s new slogan:  “Remember, rejoice, and rebuild.”  That’s community.

I’ve been told, Class of 2012, that before the tornado, many of you couldn’t wait to leave here once high school was finally over.  So Student Council President Julia Lewis — where is Julia?  She’s out here somewhere.  (Laughter.)  She is too embarrassed to raise her hand.  I’m quoting you, Julia.  She said, “We never thought Joplin was anything special” — now that’s typical with teenagers.  They don’t think their parents are all that special either — (laughter) — “but seeing how we responded to something that tore our community apart has brought us together.  Everyone has a lot more pride in our town.”  So it’s no surprise, then, that many of you have decided to stick around and go to Missouri Southern or go to colleges or community colleges that aren’t too far away from home.

That’s the power of community.  That’s the power of shared effort and shared memory.  Some of life’s strongest bonds are the ones we forge when everything around us seems broken.  And even though I expect that some of you will ultimately end up leaving Joplin, I’m pretty confident that Joplin will never leave you.  The people who went through this with you, the people who you once thought of as simply neighbors or acquaintances, classmates — the people in this auditorium tonight — you’re family now.  They’re your family.

And so, my deepest hope for all of you is that as you begin this new chapter in your life, you’ll bring that spirit of Joplin to every place you travel, to everything you do.  You can serve as a reminder that we’re not meant to walk this road alone, that we’re not expected to face down adversity by ourselves.  We need God.  We need each other.  We are important to each other and we’re stronger together than we are on our own.

And that’s the spirit that has allowed all of you to rebuild this city, and that’s the same spirit we need right now to help rebuild America.  And you, Class of 2012, you’re going to help lead this effort.  You’re the ones who will help build an economy where every child can count on a good education.  (Applause.)  You’re the one that’s going to make sure this country is a place where everybody who is willing to put in the effort can find a job that supports a family.  (Applause.)  You’re the ones that will make sure we’re a country that controls our own energy future, where we lead the world in science and technology and innovation.  America only succeeds when we all pitch in and pull together, and I’m counting on you to be leaders in that effort, because you’re from Joplin and you’ve already defied the odds.

Now, there are a lot of stories here in Joplin of unthinkable courage and resilience over the last year, but still there are some that stand out, especially on this day.  And, by now, most of you know Joplin High’s senior Quinton Anderson — look, he is already looking embarrassed.  Somebody is talking about him again.  But, Quinton, I’m going to talk about you anyway, because in a lot of ways, Quinton’s journey has been Joplin’s journey.

When the tornado struck, Quinton was thrown across the street from his house.  The young man who found Quinton couldn’t imagine that Quinton would survive his injuries.  Quinton woke up in a hospital bed three days later.  And it was then that his sister Grace told him that both their parents had been lost in the storm.

So Quinton went on to face over five weeks of treatment, including emergency surgery.  But he left that hospital determined to carry on, to live his life, to be there for his sister.  And over the past year, he’s been a football captain who cheered from the sidelines when he couldn’t play.  He worked that much harder so he could be ready for baseball in the spring.  He won a national scholarship as a finalist for the High School Football Rudy Awards.  He plans to study molecular biology at Harding University this fall.  (Applause.)

Quinton has said that his motto in life is “always take that extra step.”  And today, after a long and improbable journey for Quinton — and for Joplin and for the entire class of 2012 — that extra step is about to take you towards whatever future you hope for and whatever dreams you hold in your hearts.

Yes, you will encounter obstacles along the way.  I guarantee you will face setbacks and you will face disappointments.  But you’re from Joplin and you’re from America.  And no matter how tough times get, you’ll always be tougher.  And no matter what life throws at you, you will be ready.  You will not be defined by the difficulties you face, but by how you respond — with grace and strength and a commitment to others.

Langston Hughes, poet, civil rights activist who knew some tough times, he was born here in Joplin.  In a poem called “Youth,” he wrote:

We have tomorrow

Bright before us

Like a flame.


A night-gone thing,

A sun-down name.

And dawn-today.  Broad arc above the road we came.

We march.

To the people of Joplin and the Class of 2012, the road has been hard and the day has been long.  But we have tomorrow, so we march.  We march together, and you’re leading the way, because you’re from Joplin.  Congratulations.  May God bless you.  May God bless the Class of 2012.  May God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END 9:04 P.M. CDT

May 21 2012 – Obama

We left the KOA early to meet up with Misti of Misti’s Mission. She runs a national storehouse for disaster relief supplies and was kind enough to let us camp on her property while we are in Joplin. We filmed her employees working and watched her lay the hammer down at a team meeting.

We went to the Joplin airport at 3:15 to get our camera equipment set up for the Secret Service screening. We met Matt, the White House airport lead, who is a Computer Science student going to school in Boston.

While talking to the press in the holding area we spent a couple of hours with Jeff Piotrowski, a veteran storm chaser who filmed the Joplin tornado from a distance of just a couple hundred yards. He helped get the tornado sirens running and was there digging people out of rubble within minutes. He said that of the hundreds of storms he has chased over decades this one was more destructive than any other.

Air Force One landed and a cavalcade appeared out of nowhere. When Obama got off the plane he shook hands with Sen. Claire McCaskill, Gov. Jay Nixon, Missouri First Lady Georganne Nixon, Rep. Billy Long and Joplin Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean. From 50 feet away Obama waved and asked “What’s up everybody?” We filmed the President shaking hands with residents of Joplin waiting for him and then he left for the High School.

While we waited for Air Force One to depart we worked on processing video and chatted with Secret Service agents. Obama’s convoy rolled into the airport and the plane was in the air less than five minutes later. Our Crew noted that the President had a bit of swagger when he walked from the limo up into the plane.