The House and Senate interim committees on disaster response are holding their final meetings and compiling reports to see what needs to be done before another disaster strikes.
The House committee heard from nearly every state agency involved with disaster response and recovery this year, asking what went right, what went wrong, and what can be done at a legislative level to improve the system in the future.
One problem legislators would like to see resolved is that sometimes Good Samaritans are being turned away.
Missouri contractors told the committee that those volunteering or helping pro bono should have some liability coverage when working a disaster scene. They also want to know if there could be a way contractors could prequalify for disaster response so there’s already a pre-approved list when a disaster hits, which would speed up the recovery process.
The Dept. of Insurance continues to work with the largest insurance event in Missouri’s history — the Joplin tornado. Director John Huff says his department is working with insurance companies to cover storage units for those who are rebuilding. He also talked about the FEMA first program, saying debris removal has caused some insurance concerns.
“We continue to collect information and data to disseminate to the industry and to the public,” Huff says, adding that continued efforts to get more hands on deck to respond to consumers include offering expanded consumer hotline hours.
Huff says the department was contacted by 912 consumers in Joplin with questions / complaints about insurance.
He also says mold has become an issue in many affected areas, which is a common problem in storm and flood disasters.
Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner of Education, says Joplin lucked out in that the tornado hit just as school ended, giving educators a couple of months to get classrooms back in order, which was still a huge undertaking. He says had the storm hit during the school year, the disruption to children’s lives would have been much more impactful.
He says the biggest challenge of rebuilding, maintaining enthusiasm and says Joplin will need help deciding how to rebuild. They want a high school of the future, he says, and they have asked the department for guidance on that.
The director of Mental Health, Keith Schaefer, talks about the emotional stability of children and adults who survive a disaster. He says, “90 percent of victims will recover, 10 percent will not.” He says focusing on that 10 percent is paramount. He also says the department had some 750 clients who were victims, a few who were killed. Schaefer compliments Joplin superintendent C.J. Huff for being “a great help to the mental health of Joplin.”
Chairman of the House committee, Rep. Shane Schoeller (R-Willard), says he’s concerned about building permits and federal funding. When the governor accepted those funds, it was understood that meant buildings would be built to state code standards, not federal green energy standards. He wants to make sure the rebuilding and home ownership opportunities to Missourians aren’t hindered by opposing policies between state and federal standards. He expects future collaboration with the Department of Natural Resources on that issue.
Schoeller also says many doctors, nurses and emergency personnel who came from other neighboring states in the aftermath to help but were turned away. He says licensure issues shouldn’t impede help when it’s offered, and needed.
The committee also heard reports from Social Services, MoDOT, Conservation, Corrections and DNR.
The committee has met in disaster stricken areas Joplin, Sedalia, St. Louis and Sikeston, this week at the Capitol in Jefferson City, and plans to meet one more time in Northwest Missouri, where flooding continues.
The Senate Interim Committee on Disaster Recovery might have met for the last time this week.
Chairman Ron Richard (R-Joplin) says senate leadership could call it back together, but he wants to see a new, joint committee formed to pick up the work of assessing response to and needs stemming from this year’s disasters.
Richard recommends studying whether hospitals could begin sharing encrypted information on their patients, so that those individuals and their needs can be more easily identified if they are transferred between facilities in an emergency. He also wants to look into Department of Revenue records being made available in disasters to use in identifying people from things like driver’s license photos.
Mike Lear contributed to this report.