Wedding Lesson From Joplin, MO: Prepare For The Unexpected

Photo via ABC News / Jeff Roberson / AP Photo

This past Saturday (05/21/11) my associate and I were concluding the 5th hour of a 6 hour wedding reception at a Kansas City hotel. At almost straight up 11:00 p.m. the banquet captain came to me and said that there was a “situation” and he needed to speak to me in the hall.

Once in the hallway, he told me that the area was under a tornado warning and that the sirens were screaming the alarm for residents to take cover. He went on to say that the hotel guests were being evacuated to the lower level parking garage for their safety. I was then instructed to shut down the reception and advise everyone in attendance to follow the same safety procedure.

For those of us that have grown up in the Midwest, tornados are a fact of life in the spring and summer. Partly because the area’s television stations go into “storm tracker” mode every time it sprinkles, we’ve become somewhat complacent about tornado alerts. Some locals will even go outside with hopes of being able to “watch” a tornado as it passes by. I’m just as guilty of believing a tornado will never hit my house. No way! It can never happen to me!

So, when I made the announcement regarding the need to put the party on “pause” and told everyone where they were to go, many of the guests did not move from where they were seated or standing. I wasn’t totally surprised that there were a couple, somewhat intoxicated wedding guests that didn’t understand the need to make their way to a safer area. But, there were also a few, not so intoxicated guests with similar attitudes.

It wasn’t until a more forceful tone was used that they headed towards the ballroom exit.

We were all very lucky. A tornado did not hit the hotel or anywhere near the Kansas City area that night. And, the wedding reception and fun was able to resume after a 20 minute delay.

But, fast forward about 19 hours (05/22/11) to Joplin, Missouri, a city located about 2 hours south of the metro. It was there that a tornado touched ground, wiping out about 75% of the city and killing 116 residents (current estimates) with winds that reached 198 mph. It is now the deadliest storm on record since 1953. Many of the stories from victims indicate that they had 15 minutes or less to take cover. That’s not a whole lot of time.

The tragic story of Joplin should make everyone take pause and reconsider the ramifications of not responding to tornado warnings, regardless of how unlikely anyone might think they are to strike. It should also be a wake up call to anyone hosting a large event at a time of year when the weather can make an unexpected turn for the worse. What would you do?

At this time of year, Brides & Grooms should ask the question of wedding reception venues…”What is the protocol if severe weather is imminent?” “What is the evacuation route and procedure?” “Where are our guests to go?”

I know. To so many people those questions appear to not only be unnecessary but down right silly. But, these are questions that will not only put you at ease; they are details that should be added to every wedding checklist for Brides and Grooms. More importantly, every Kansas City wedding professional should also have a clear understanding of evacuation procedures at wedding venues for any unforeseen emergency from severe weather to fires.

Imagine hosting a wedding reception in a backyard, barn or similar reception site with limited or no place for guests to go in such an emergency. What would you do? How would you protect those you love from danger and injury?

At some point, one might have to make a decision to end early, cancel or postpone an event in the interest of safety. Granted, it may not be an easy or popular decision to make. Sometimes, however, the most difficult decisions have nothing to do with winning a popularity contest. It’s just the right thing to do. What can be learned from the Joplin tornado is that complacency is not an option. Safety of the guests should always be priority one!

Sure! Nobody wants to think about it. Wedding days are supposed to be beautiful and perfect. Since it was a Sunday, my hope is that there wasn’t a wedding reception taking place in Joplin at the time the tornado touched down. How awful it would have been to have a large number of people gathered to celebrate in one place that was in the path of the giant storm.

How sad it would have been if the circumstances of the wedding reception where I was performing had not had such a happy ending. I’m not sure that anyone would have been able to forget such a tragedy.

As I conclude this article, I can hear the naysayers that would rather believe that I’m suggesting an unneeded detail for couples to consider. I can only hope that they all take a look at the video below before dismissing the notion.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of the Joplin tornado. You are encouraged to contact your local Red Cross to make a monetary donation or donate blood.

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