Disaster Response and Debris Removal Helps Tornado-Ravaged City Recover

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District/Joplin, MO

The tornado that hit Joplin, MO, in May 2011 was one of the deadliest and most damaging in U.S. history. In addition to the devastating loss of life, more than 8,000 homes and buildings were destroyed along a path that was more than 8 miles long and a mile wide. This resulted in massive amounts of debris—some of it hazardous—from downed trees and damaged or destroyed buildings.

Before the city could begin to rebuild, the debris needed to be removed. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned to WESTON for this time-critical response under a cost-plus contract that provided the best combination of flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

Joplin, Missouri, will thrive again, helped on their path to recovery with emergency response debris removal.

A Rapid Response to Build a Successful Team

Construction debris was taken to landfills, while debris that had the potential to contain hazardous materials received special handling and air quality monitoring.WESTON was asked by the Corps to respond to the Joplin disaster on the Monday of Memorial Day weekend. Within 14 hours, we had people on-site, outlining project objectives and logistics. Simultaneously, team members deployed from all over the country with a day's notice to begin the debris disposal mission.

Within 10 days, WESTON and our partner and primary subcontractor, Phillips & Jordan (P&J), had more than 1,400 people on the job site. This team included local firms selected by WESTON as the most responsive, responsible, and qualified, including local electricians to address downed power lines.

Debris Removal

More than 1,000,000 cubic yards of debris were cleared by the WESTON-led team.The National Guard plowed roadways clear to support search and rescue and life-saving missions, which created 3 million cubic yards of debris piles. Before the plowed debris could be transported off-site to allow recovery to begin, it had to first be surveyed for physical hazards, including live electrical lines, hazardous materials, and asbestos containing materials (ACM). Special collection trucks and crews handled piles thought to contain ACM, while other crews took air samples to measure for the presence of airborne asbestos.

Regular construction and demolition debris was taken to city-designated landfills. Vegetative debris was taken to a separate processing area where it was chipped and stored for a future beneficial use, such as mulch.

The teams handled more than 58,000 cubic yards of debris per day at peak production, for a total of more than 1 million cubic yards. That equates to more than 300 truckloads of debris collected, transported, and processed or disposed of daily. Once the debris was removed, residents could start down the path to recovery.

An Award-Winning Approach to Safety

The likelihood of high-hazard material and the need for a quick pace required a comprehensive and uncompromising approach to safety. WESTON and P&J worked hard to instill the "safety first, every time" culture throughout the project team, including subcontractors. The time-critical response required long hours: 12- to 14-hour days, 7 days a week, on 3-week rotations. The crews accumulated 250,000 labor hours with zero lost-time incidents and zero OSHA citations. The team's focus on safety and quality was recognized by USACE with a rarely bestowed Medal of Accommodation.