moorephoto-1It’s been less than a year since an E-5 tornado swept through the city of Moore, Oklahoma killing 25 and injuring more than 300 people. Recently I spent an afternoon touring the site of the destruction with City Manager Steve Eddy and Director of Marketing and Economic Development Deidre Ebrey, along with Cathy Nestlen, Director of Communications from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. Here are four takeaways from my visit:

1.  Moore is Booming! The path of last year’s tornado is still clearly evident, with twisted trees and large swaths of cleared land, but the debris has now all been removed as the result of FEMA support. New homes are quickly springing up. Eddy told me that 1,100 homes were destroyed but nearly 500 building permits have already been issued. Most new homes are of moderate size but are a modest upgrade from what previously existed.  HUD is providing $26 million for housing infrastructure.

2.  Build Back Better.  “Build back better” is a familiar phrase we hear after a disaster, but doesn’t always occur. I was curious to find out if the city was making any changes as a result of the tornado. Probably the most noticeable is the fact that the two schools that were destroyed last year resulting in the deaths of elementary school children are being rebuilt with large safe rooms with steel doors.  (Whether to retrofit all schools with safe rooms is still a major ongoing political debate in the state). There were other examples of improvements:

  • The Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City has donated $1 million for new athletic fields for the Junior High School.
  • The American Red Cross has provided $3.5 million to build safe rooms for homeowners, meaning nearly one-third of all homes in the City will have a shelter.
  • Eddy told me new building codes have been adopted that require new minimum building standards in order to better withstand major tornadoes.
  • Some of the vacant land is being purchased for new city parks and existing parks are being upgraded.

3.  Resiliency. Last year’s tornado was the most recent in a series of tornadoes to hit Moore and the surrounding area. How is it that the city is bouncing back so quickly? I observed a few factors:

  • Moore is a suburb experiencing rapid residential and commercial growth. The tornado hasn’t slowed down the growth that was already taking place and didn’t change the culture and feel of the community
  • Eighty percent of the homes destroyed were insured.
  • Moore’s primary source of revenue – sales tax – was not adversely affected by the tornado since commercial districts were unscathed.
  • Moore has a highly desirable school district, and that  encourages residential development.

4.  Money. Donors and government sources have been very generous to the Moore community. Nancy Anthony, president of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, reminded me that the national TV networks spent three nights reporting live from Moore after the tornado destroyed two schools. As a result, financial and product donations poured in at an astonishing rate. One nonprofit executive told me her organization did not engage in fundraising but “fund catching” as the donations piled up. No one seems to know for sure, but estimates are that well over $100 million has been donated. In an effort to spend all this money, nonprofit organizations are widening the geographic area of their grants well beyond Moore, and broadening case management and the types of projects they will support.  But even all these efforts may not be sufficient to use up all the contributions that have been made.

It is a good problem to have, I guess, but underscores one of the issues of disaster philanthropy and the challenge of raising adequate funding for planning, preparation and long-term recovery.

What do you think? Email me at bob.ottenhoff@disasterphilanthropy.org.