Joplin Tornado — A lesson in the power of people & social media 5 years later

Most assuredly, all of us were somehow touched by this tragic event five years ago. Even if you don't have family in the Joplin, MO area and even if your only connection was through a news feed or a friend of a friend, most of us felt the pain of a collective community sitting just three hours south on I-49.

The EF5 tornado that ripped through the City of Joplin on May 22, 2011 claimed the lives of 161 people — the highest death toll by a tornado in the US since 1950 — and all but wiped out one-third of the city. During the past week, news organizations and social media feeds allowed that community and the world a chance to look back, honor the memories of those lost and lives forever altered. Additionally, it gives us a chance to look at an incredible lesson in humanity, and the real power of social media.

The storm knocked out most means of communication that night. No power. No TV. No cell service. Electronic communication, it seemed, boiled down to two things. Social media and the radio. Facebook, and others, became a news source and a party line as people near and far searched for family and friends and up to date news. The result was a massive response from private citizens in the community, from surrounding cities, and even around the country. In those, days, months, and even years following the disaster, the human response to those in need serve as reminder of the capacity for good, not just in humanity, but in our ability to turn tools of business and personal ramblings into a tool for survival and healing.

This post has very little to do with business and economic development. We could delve into the recovery, rebuilding and reconstruction of homes and businesses throughout the city, but for now, let's just look at the human component and what can happen when people and businesses do things for the greater good.

I wrote this just days after the storm. I had made the trek south to help my own friends and family. What I saw were hundreds of thousands simply helping. Offering service to anyone and everyone. At a time when social media feeds and uncomfortable public conversations are seemingly overloaded with vitriol and language designed only to enrage those who already agree with us, it's nice to look back and be reminded of the moments and tools that can unite us for the betterment of our neighbors and ourselves.