Volume 13, Issue 6 - November/December 2011

Feature

When Tragedy Strikes
Auto Glass Industry Reps in Joplin, Mo., Reflect on F5 Tornado and Its Impact
by Penny Stacey

Like many, Steve Tusinger, owner of a SuperGlass Franchise in Joplin, Mo., recalls exactly where he was when a massive F5 tornado struck the town in the later afternoon on Sunday, May 22.

“I was at home, and we went to our next-door neighbor’s house and went to their basement,” recalls Tusinger. “We were watching the news, and the local station caught a picture of [the tornado], and they kept talking like it was coming for our end of town. My wife said she’d never seen me look as scared as I did at that moment.”

Fortunately for Tusinger, it did not strike his home—but that doesn’t mean he didn’t avoid the tragedy completely.

“It was really scary, and they started talking about all the damage, and we started to call my wife’s sister and her husband because we knew they were in the midst of it,” he says. “Their cell phones kept ringing and ringing.”

Tusinger and his wife, Kristie, found out shortly afterwards that Kristie’s sister and her husband, Lorie and Glenn Holland, had been killed by the storm, along with more than 100 others.

“We at least were lucky to know quickly,” recalls Tusinger. “There were just a lot of people in Joplin who didn’t know where their loved ones were and that was horrible. I don’t ever want to see that again—it was definitely a nightmare from hell.”



Preparing for Disaster

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several tips for small businesses to keep in mind in preparation for a disaster.

Develop a solid emergency response plan. The SBA recommends business owners designate a contact person to communicate with other employees, customers and vendors in the event of a disaster.

Make sure you have adequate insurance coverage. Business owners should review their insurance policies to make sure they have enough coverage to rebuild the business in the event of a disaster, and to see what is or isn’t covered. Companies also should consider business interruption insurance, which helps cover operating costs during the post-disaster shutdown period, according to SBA. Flood insurance is essential.

Copy important records. It’s a good idea to back up vital records and information saved on computer hard drives, and store that information at a distant offsite location in fireproof safe deposit boxes, according to SBA. You should have copies/back-ups of important documents ready to take with you if you have to evacuate.

Create a “Disaster Survival Kit.” The kit should include a flashlight, a portable radio, extra batteries, first-aid supplies, non-perishable food, bottled water, a basic tool kit, plastic sheeting and garbage bags, cash and a digital camera to take pictures of the property damage after the storm. n


Source: U.S. Small Business Administration. Visit www.sba.gov for more tips and ideas for preparing for a disaster.


The Aftermath
In the days following the storm, Tusinger spent a good deal of time dealing with his family’s loss. “The first week afterwards was pretty tough,” he says. “We didn’t do a lot of work—I really needed to be with my wife. I would just go out and do things close by.”

Meanwhile, while Bob and Candy Kooy, the owners of Auto Glass Outlet, were fortunate to have made it through the storm with both their employees and families intact, they were dealing with a different issue.

“Our main distributor’s business was destroyed, and so that impacted how quickly we could get our glass, of course,” recalls Candy Kooy. “But fortunately other distributors temporarily began running additional delivery services.”

The distributor to which Kooy referred was Kryger Glass. The company’s Joplin distribution center and fleet there were completely destroyed, though all employees made it safely through the storm, according to company president Bill Kryger (see related story in July/August AGRR, page 12). Kryger re-located its Joplin operations to Kansas City, Mo., for the six weeks following the storm, then moved into a temporary facility in Joplin in July. At press time, the company planned to re-build the facility at the original spot but declined to comment further.

Amidst this challenge, Auto Glass Outlet’s phone started ringing almost immediately, says Candy Kooy.

“The tornado hit on Sunday and Monday we were immediately getting calls,” says Kooy.

And the calls weren’t just for windshields. “Between the debris and everything, it not only shattered every piece of glass in the vehicle, but it destroyed doors, so sometimes it was bad enough where you could barely get the glass in for a customer,” she says. “A lot of the vehicles were totaled, and when every piece of glass breaks in a vehicle most insurance companies will total the vehicle. But people were [keeping] totaled vehicles and requesting that we replace all of the glass.”

Once Tusinger returned to a more normal schedule, amid dealing with his family’s loss, he endured a slow time—and then a boom.

“There was so much turmoil that everyone was focused on recovery at first,” he said. “But then as soon as the [Memorial Day] holiday happened on the 30th, things kind of clicked. Trucks were coming into town [to work on things], and Enterprise said they were bringing cars in and they wanted them looked at before they were rented out, so that kept me busy for awhile.”

Mobile service also was an issue for some. “We were so inundated that we were not able to run mobile [service], which we normally do,” says Kooy. “That was kind of a sad thing for us, as we like to try to help everybody, but it was one of those things we had to choose to do.”

In June, just two weeks after the tornado, another problem arose for replacement shops; medical officials began to report a breakout of mucormycosis, a rare, aggressive fungal infection, in Joplin. It was detected in several hospitalized tornado victims shortly after the storm, according to local reports. It is said to penetrate the body through puncture wounds and lacerated skin and appeared to have been spread by flying debris.

“Our guys can get cut very easily and you’re working on a car that could have fungus on it, so you’re not only worried about their safety in a normal situation but now you’re worried about them getting cut with the glass and [contracting the infection],” she says.

A New Normal
Just a few months later, many in the town are experiencing a new normal as the May 22 storm continues to impact business.

“It kind of put a hole in the amount of people I service, so I’m driving a little further now to do work,” says Tusinger.

Auto Glass Outlet still sees tornado-damaged cars come into the shop, but on a rarer basis. “We’re getting few and far between calls now,” says Kooy. “Maybe we get three to five a week related to the tornado.”

But that doesn’t mean people have forgotten the storm that changed many lives forever. “I won’t say we’re numb to it here, but everyone wants to talk about what happened,” says Tusinger. “Everyone has a story to tell, and the best thing you can do is listen, and you can bond with your customer that way. They want to know where you were when it struck and they want to tell you where they were.”

Penny Stacey is the editor of AGRR™ magazine. Email her at pstacey@glass.com, follow her on Twitter @agrrmagazine, read her blog at http://fortherecord.agrrmag.com, and read her updates on Facebook by searching for AGRR Magazine.

 



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