SDN Blog

Tornado survivor gives disaster planning presentation

Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Uptime University

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A violent tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011, killing 158 people and causing more than $2 billion in property damage.

It destroyed or seriously damaged thousands of homes and businesses. The extent of the devastation was not immediately evident to survivors, however.

Gary Duncan was the president and CEO of the Freeman Health System when the tornado hit Joplin late on a Sunday afternoon. He rode out the storm with his wife in the basement of their home. Then, he tried to get to the hospital.

Storm water, fallen trees and debris blocked his drive to the hospital, but with help from police officers, he got there. The hospital treated about 1,000 people in 18 hours.

Duncan had just participated in a disaster drill a few days before the tornado. Even so, the reality of the tornado was staggering. Gary Duncan, FACHE

“I don’t know if anyone is prepared for a calamity of this scope,” says Duncan, who has retired from the hospital system but chairs the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation. “No one here, at the time, had any idea how big it was.”

Duncan will share with business leaders in Sioux Falls the lessons his hospital and community learned in dealing with the disaster. He’s the featured speaker at SDN Communications’ next Uptime University session.

The top-level, EF-5 tornado left a 13-mile path of destruction in the southwestern Missouri city. The rain-wrapped tornado presented challenges to Joplin, a regional center of approximately 52,000 residents, on a muggy day that suddenly turned dark.

St. John’s Regional Medical Center, now known as Mercy, was seriously damaged, leaving Freeman Health with the only functioning hospital in the city.

Freeman Health had to contend with flooded rooms, power outages, patients with traumatic injuries, and getting employees to work. Medical providers raced against time to complete surgeries as water pressure in the community dropped because of structural damage. Routine tasks, such as identifying patients, became significant challenges.

At Uptime University, Duncan will talk about the problems the disaster created and real-life lessons they learned. In 2011, prior to the tornado, Freeman Health also dealt with a paralyzing blizzard. Each weather event created unique complications for the hospital.

“The takeaway from this, for business and industry, is you’ve got to collaborate ahead of time. You have to have plans on paper. And you have to do the exercise ahead of time,” Duncan says.

Experts will field questions

“You have to be prepared, but it has to be more than a paper presentation, and it has to be stress-tested,” Cassie Baldwin, SDN’s contact center manager, says.

Baldwin is among the experts who can attest to the need for businesses to devise, test and constantly update business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) strategies. She’s a certified continuity manager and heads the BCDR planning at SDN, which helps other companies and organizations move, store and protect electronic assets.

Following Duncan’s presentation, the Uptime University session will host a panel discussion between Baldwin, SDN technical sales engineer Amos Aesoph and four other BCDR experts. Aesoph is an expert in firewall and other network security equipment.

The Uptime University session is scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 28, in Meeting Rooms A and B in the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown.  Register for the free event, which will include lunch but is only open to the first 100 people who register in advance.

Update: You can watch Gary Duncan's presentation on our Uptime University: BCDR event page.

SDN offers equipment and services designed to help small and midsize businesses keep their network information secure even in the worst of any circumstances.

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