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Introduction—Joplin Tornado News Briefing

Howard Harary, Acting Director, Engineering Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Nov. 21, 2013

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Good morning. My name is Howard Harary. I’m the Acting Director for the Engineering Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

I’d like to welcome everyone to this news briefing about our technical investigation of the devastating tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011. We are releasing a draft report on the investigation today. We will be accepting comments from the public over the next month and a half.

Eric Letvin, Director of the NIST Disaster and Failure Studies Program, will summarize his team’s findings and recommendations in just a few minutes.

But first I’d like to give you a quick introduction to NIST and to the background for this investigation.

NIST’s mission is to advance U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness. We do this in many different ways. Most relevant to our topic today is NIST’s long history of helping the construction industry improve the resiliency and safety of buildings through recommendations for improved model codes, standards, and practices. 

NIST has been conducting disaster and failure studies since 1904 and has completed 13 studies of high wind events since 1969.

We conducted our investigation of the Joplin tornado under the provisions of the National Construction Safety Team Act. This law specifically authorizes NIST to investigate major building failures where there has been a substantial loss of life or the potential for a substantial loss of life in order to gather lessons learned that can be used to better protect people and property in the future.

By studying disasters such as the Joplin tornado and its impact on the community, we hope to better understand the performance of structures, emergency communications, and human behavior during catastrophic events.  

NIST is a technical organization, not a regulatory agency. We don’t mandate building standards or code changes. However, our experts serve on many national standards committees, and we work diligently with standards organizations, code-making bodies, federal agencies, and professional societies to encourage the adoption of our recommendations. 

The City of Joplin, Jasper County, and the State of Missouri suffered a tragedy in May 2011. Just a few days ago on Sunday, dozens of tornadoes struck Illinois and several other states, again killing residents and destroying homes and businesses. It is in everyone’s best interest to do whatever we can, as soon as we can, to better protect our communities.

We encourage everyone to review our report and provide us comments that will make our recommendations as effective as possible. We will consider all comments received by January 6, 2014, prior to issuing the NIST Final Report.

We can be contacted via email at disaster@nist.gov. Full study information is available on our Disasters and Failures website linked from the NIST homepage at www.nist.gov.

At this point, Eric Letvin will tell you about the NIST investigation and the resulting findings and recommendations. Eric?

Editor's Note-NIST would like to thank Missouri Southern State University for hosting the news briefing.