The April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak in Alabama was the focus of a briefing today on Capitol Hill where congressional staff heard from two Alabama members about how to be prepared for and respond to a deadly tornado in their district.
"If anything I learned as a freshmen from that experience it is the importance of collaboration," said U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham. "Alabamians really needed immediate assistance, emergency help, and the only way to get that was to collaborate: state, local, federal and nonprofits, all had to band together to help."
U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, urged staffers have a plan for getting law enforcement from other unaffected cities to come in and help in the immediate aftermath of a tornado.
"For a tornado of this magnitude, law enforcement is overwhelmed and so is the local government," Bachus said. "Bring in the police forces from other towns."
Bachus also repeated his advice that members should promote FEMA assistance programs that are available for building shelters in schools or in communities that don't have basements, such as manufactured housing or apartments.
U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., who represents Joplin where 161 died May 22 of last year, said elected officials should visit the area immediately after the disaster strikes.
"Your congressman needs to get on the ground as soon as possible, which is 180 degrees from what I would have told you before May 22," Long said. "I thought it was a photo-op, and I thought it was better if those people weren't around ... but I was completely wrong on that count. Go do something. Don't wait to react."