Sept. 20 will mark the four-month anniversary of the powerful thunderstorm that raked Hannibal with winds over 100 mph. While most people have done their best to put the damaging storm out of their mind, local emergency responders and city of Hannibal officials have been meeting regularly since May to review and prepare for the next disaster.
"We know we cannot stop it," said John Hark, Hannibal's emergency management director. "We can prepare for it and try to warn everybody with CodeRed (phone notification), tornado sirens and the weather service (radio), but then we can turn right around and have plans to respond to it and recover from it. I think that is the key."
The lengthy review has not revealed any glaring shortcomings, according to Hark.
"We looked at things that might have fell through the cracks. Thank God none were major situations," he said. "I think we've got a good handle on what we're going to improve on. We're going to attempt to improve on some of the things that went well. Just because something went good doesn't necessarily mean that's the finishing touches."
One of the major topics of discussion has been how emergency personnel communicated with one another following the storm.
"Communications is one of those key elements that we find to always be a problem," said Hark. "We need to find a common-ground frequency that can be monitored by all entities – fire, police, ambulance, sheriff's department – who are coming in to assist, so we've got radio communications all the time. We were able to talk to each other, but it was a matter of having to switch frequencies to talk. That's one of the major things we're going to be working on."
While the massive loss of electric service in the community also cut phone service to many, that wasn't an issue for local emergency personnel.
"We still had cell phones and a form of communications that was beneficial," said Hark. "We had to bring out more cell phones because of the amount of calls that we were getting as well as making. We had the answer to that. We have a cache of phones that we have on hand that you don't have to pay nothing for until you use them and then it's by the minute. It's definitely a great backup."
Falling victim to the storm was the radio tower at the Emergency Operations Center, located in the basement of the fire station on McMaster's Avenue.
"We're in the process of replacing the old tower," said Hark. "It will not be any taller, but it's a lot more heavy duty and will stand a lot more wind."
When the previous tower fell, it brought down with it a number of power lines. Hark is hopeful that won't ever happen again.
Page 2 of 2 - "We're working with the Board of Public Works on burying them so if by chance anything else ever happens we won't get into the power lines," he said.
Drafted since May is an emergency response plan for people at city hall to follow when the next powerful storm approaches.
"That (May) storm hit at roughly 7:30 in the evening. We're looking at what if we have a tornado or something and there's a big Council meeting going on at city hall. We've drawn up a preliminary standard operation guideline for what should be done if a tornado warning is sounded during a major meeting at city hall," said Hark, adding similar plans will likely also be drafted for the library and possibly the police station, where the municipal court meets.
While a significant amount of damage occurred during the May storm, Hark is quick to point out how lucky America's Hometown was.
"Thank God we weren't a Joplin," he said. "We were very, very fortunate."
Because Hannibal might not be so lucky next time, planning for the next disaster is ongoing.
"It's never done," said Hark. "You never quit planning and preparing and trying to improve."