At Disaster Response Roundtable, Officials Talk of a Safer, Stronger Missouri

Oct 27, 2016

Along with electing a new president in November, Missourians will vote a new governor into office. After nearly eight years leading the state, Governor Jay Nixon wants to leave office knowing Missouri’s disaster response efforts continue to make progress.

This fed into the purpose behind his ten-day trek around the state, hosting roundtable discussions with community organizations, to highlight improvements in the state’s emergency response procedures.

Gov. Nixon speaks with faith-based disaster response organizations Tuesday at Convoy of Hope in Springfield.
Credit Lindsey Argo / KSMU

On Tuesday, Nixon spent the morning walking the path of the 2011 Joplin tornado and ended the afternoon conversing with a panel at Convoy of Hope in Springfield. He was joined by representatives from the Red Cross, United Way, AmeriCorps, the Salvation Army, Crosslines, and many other faith-based organizations.

Nixon said the theme was to highlight a safer and stronger state.

He added, “But equally importantly if not more we’re going to be resilient in our disaster response so that improvements that we have made over the last seven and a half years, we’re going to make sure those are the baseline for where we go from here.”

According to Nixon’s office, the State Emergency Management Agency has worked to expand Missouri’s team of disaster response volunteers. This has come through coordinated regional and local training at churches and other houses of worship.

Each panel member updated the governor and other attendees on their individual progress as well as highlighted collaboration between these groups. This has led to the establishment of “one-stop” shops, called Multi-Agency Resource Centers or MARCs, for disaster survivors. Services for victims include, among other things, assistance with housing, mental health counseling, insurance claim issues, and long-term recovery case management.

Karen Benson is director of Global Disaster Response for Convoy of Hope. She also chairs the Governor’s Faith-based Community Service Partnership for Disaster Recovery.

“First of all Governor I want to thank you for your executive order that created the partnership and gives us the opportunity to get together with federal, state faith-based and other NGO partners so that we are ready in gray skies by being together a lot in blue skies,” says Benson.

Many echoed the importance of working together and continuing to stay in communication with one another, especially after Gov. Nixon leaves office. Jody Dickhaut drove this point home. He’s the chairman of Missouri Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and state director of the Adventist Community Services Disaster Response.

“As long as I get the privilege to be a part of this incredible team I can promise you governor that the legacy that you have started and that you are calling us to pick up, we’re going to keep that legacy going,” stated Dickhaut.

Others focused on the trust they place on one another and in the family that has been established between these groups readying Missouri for when disaster strikes.  Debi Meeds, president and CEO of United Way of the Ozarks recalls being the first to open the shelter at Missouri Southern State University after the Joplin tornado hit.

“Now I have to tell you, that night we had no cellphone, we didn’t have a radio yet, there was no communication but I knew that in our plan for Missouri that Bruce (referring to Bruce Bailey of Americore) was going to be there in the morning to take care of me,” explains Meeds.

The Joplin tornado was brought up continually throughout the discussion. Jane Cage, former chairman of the Joplin Citizen Advisory Recovery Team, expressed gratitude for the hard work put in to restore Joplin.

“You gave us hope that we didn’t have to go it alone and for that I can only say thank you and God bless you,” says Cage.

Gov. Nixon ensured the panel and the audience that he would continue his work until his last day in office on January 1st.

His office says that since 2009, more than 2,500 individuals have been trained to assist with disaster relief. In addition, Missouri’s disaster sheltering capacity has increased from less than 10,000 to more than 51,000 today.