“Five years ago, the town of Joplin, Missouri was forever changed by a nearly mile-wide EF5 tornado.  The tornado killed 158 people, injured 1,100+ and caused damages totaling $2.8 billion” (Wheatley, 2016).  Response and recovery efforts in Joplin were coordinated between all levels of government, non-profit, private sector, and faith based organizations (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2011).  Intergovernmental relations have been crucial to all aspects, both visible and unseen, of Joplin’s community recovery.

Five years later, Joplin shows tangible evidence of recovery, through the steady rebuilding of schools, homes, businesses, and a new hospital (Ellinwood, 2016).  While community resilience is evident, the psychological and emotional wounds still persist (Adler, 2016).  Since the storm, mental health cases have increased over 200%.  Post-traumatic stress is unseen, but very much real as residents report seeing the tornado, hearing the screams, and actively avoiding roads that trigger images of that night.

May 23, the day after the tornado struck, the Department of Mental Health (DMH) initiated recovery efforts (Missouri Department of Mental Health, 2013).  DMH began gathering data to apply for a federal crisis counseling program grant and deployed staff to the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to coordinate the mental health response.  Staff experienced with disaster response was deployed to Joplin to assist Joplin’s DMH agent, the Ozark Center.  DMH also appointed an individual to coordinate all initiatives that would be necessary during the recovery.  FEMA funded crisis counseling and outreach through an Immediate Services Program grant in the amount of $708,636.  A follow-up Regular Services Program grant of $3,425,765, provided up to 9 months, was funded to expand and continue outreach and counseling services.  The grant was extended from July 2012 to September 2012, based on demonstrated need.  The ongoing efforts between DMH and the Ozark Center was named Healing Joplin.

In September 2011, DMH also submitted a SAMHSA Emergency Response Grant, which provided behavioral health treatment for those who needed more than crisis counseling, but did not have the financial means.  Additionally, the $990,335 grant provided prevention services focused on increased risk of substance abuse, domestic violence, and other negative behaviors that occur after a disaster.  DMH contracted with the Ozark Center as well as the United Way of the Ozarks to deliver services through September 2012.  While the grant funding ended in September 2012, Joplin continued to address ongoing needs for adults and children with the help of local funding sources.  In 2016, the Ozark Center housing program received a state award in recognition of “more than 30 years of dedication to providing supportive and affordable housing solutions to individuals seeking mental health treatment” (Ozark Center News, 2016).

On May 22, 2011, an EF5 tornado destroyed six miles of Joplin, MO.  Recovery efforts in the past five years have exceeded the expectations of many.  90% of destroyed or damaged businesses have reopened and the population has increased since the tornado (Adler, 2016).  While new development is visible, the trauma that individuals experience is quiet and persistent.  Through intergovernmental initiatives, efforts for mental health recovery and healing were established and implemented.  Not all who need crisis counseling seek it, but all outreach efforts make a positive difference.

Lauren Dods
Administrative Associate
Current Graduate Student at UMUC


Adler, E.  (2016).  Joplin five years later: Healing and scars.  The Kansas City Star.  Retrieved from http://www.kansascity.com/news/special-reports/joplin/article78154942.html

Ellinwood, M.  (2016).  Joplin tornado: Recovery efforts five years later.  Weatherbug.  Retrieved from http://weather.weatherbug.com/news/Joplin-Tornado-Recovery-Efforts-Five-Years-Later

Federal Emergency Management Agency.  (2011).  Two months after the tornado – the FEMA numbers [news release].  Retrieved from http://www.koamtv.com/story/15150105/two-months-after-the-tornado-the-fema-numbers

Missouri Department of Mental Health.  (2013).  Supporting Joplin in recovery: The behavioral health response.  Retrieved from https://dmh.mo.gov/docs/opla/supportingjoplininrecovery.pdf

Ozark Center News.  (2016).  Ozark Center housing program receives state award [press release].  Retrieved from https://www.ozarkcenter.com/about-us/ozark-center-news/ozark-center-housing-program-receives-state-award

Wheatley, K.  (2016).  Joplin, Missouri: Five years after the EF5 tornado of May 22, 2011.  U.S. Tornadoes.  Retrieved from http://www.ustornadoes.com/2016/05/22/joplin-five-years-later/

2 thoughts on “Not All Wounds Are Visible: Recovery in Joplin, MO

  1. Thank you MACEM for writing about the very important topic of Mental Health related to disasters. As a clinician now working in the Emergency Management field, I find that mental health is one of the least discussed and least addressed aspects when it comes to planning/prevention and response. I’m especially interested in ensuring that public safety agencies integrate mental health of their employees into their day-to-day operations as well as during response to incidents/events. We are quick to act when our colleagues experience chest pain or a sprained ankle- we should make sure we also have the tools (i.e. basic crisis intervention skills/knowledge of resources) to respond when we observe symptoms that may suggest depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, or an inability to cope effectively. The more professionals acknowledge that mental health can impact agencies and employees, the less it will be viewed as “that” topic often discussed in whispers (or avoided all together) due to uncertainty, uneasiness and the stigma attached to seeking intervention. Thanks again for taking the time to raise this issue!!

  2. Outreach and Counseling during recovery efforts are of particular interest to me. I really enjoyed your post!

    I agree that while all who may benefit from counseling may not seek it, it is certainly positive that these initiatives were established and implemented in Joplin.

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