How BigDogBoutique Responded to the Joplin, MO Tornado
BigDogBoutique.com's Relief Efforts following the May 22 Joplin Tornado
The 2011 Joplin tornado was a catastrophic EF5 multiple-vortex tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri in the late afternoon of Sunday, May 22, 2011. It reached a maximum width in excess of 1 mile (1.6 km) during its path through a heavily populated part of the city. 158 people were killed, 1,000 injured, and 8,000 homes were completely destroyed. 944 pets were rescued and 292 were reunited with owners
Our store is located about 5 minutes from the northernmost edge of the Joplin tornado's path, so thankfully we were safe underground when the storm hit and our structure only received minor wind and hail damage. But, like nearly everyone in Joplin, we had friends who lost everything.
Most of our utilities were out and cell phones calls didn't work so the only information about the storm was what we could access on the internet via our cell phones' sporadically functioning data network.
Loss of power, phone, and internet to our store made shipping orders impossible. All our staff needed time to be with family and assist their family and friends who'd lost their homes or loved ones.
We love dogs, but people are our priority. We spent the days immediately after the tornado walking through the tornado zone - passing out water, hugging and praying with strangers, handing out shoes to people who'd escaped into debris barefooted and pool floats as beds for people who'd lost their bedroom to the storm or who had 3 families sleeping on their floor. We'd pile debris on the curb as we walked and leave dog food for the dogs, still in shock, that roamed the neighborhoods.
As outside resources arrived to bring in relief to the affected citizens but our utilities remained out, Joplin Chamber of Commerce let us set up our shipping printer and computer to use their power to begin shipping orders again.
With a breather from the immediate aftermath disaster work, we went to the phones and checked with the Humane Society which had more than enough volunteers but were accepting supplies to care for the 600 dogs and cats that had been rescued.
In a joint effort with Yellow Dog Design were were able to give a large number of collars and leashes to the Joplin Humane Society and another large box to a relief center to distribute to people who'd survived the tornado with their pet, but had lost everything else.
Would anyone guess that experience in internet sales is a vital skill in disaster relief? As donations began pouring into our church, which was on the edge of the devastated area and had mobilized as a Red Cross shelter and relief supply distribution center, we recognized that our method of inventory management and distribution could be applied to organizing and distributing relief supplies. We worked with a counselor who'd come to Joplin to volunteer, and in 48 hours we'd developed a method to interview survivors regarding needs, manage inventory of relief supplies, and efficiently & quickly distribute those supplies that remained in use throughout the summer.
While staff at BigDogBoutique.com got back to a normal schedule almost immediately after our utilities returned (Day 8), BigDogBoutique's owner continued to volunteer full time through June and July and part time through August.
We learned so much about how to respond in the aftermath of a disaster. Please take a moment to read our article: Things You Need to Know BEFORE a Disaster Hits