The Civil Defense Department for Kansas City was created on December 1, 1941 in response to the growing hostilities in the world leading to the Second World War. The Civil Defense Department coordinated all civilian and government defense and emergency activities in Kansas City including coordinating the City’s response and relief efforts to natural disasters.
In 1950, President Harry Truman signed the Federal Civil Defense Act in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. As a result, the main role of the Civil Defense Department of Kansas City in the 1950’s thru the 60’s was to prepare Kansas City residents for the possibility of nuclear attached by Communist forces.
By the mid-1960’s many people realized the need for an office that not only dealt with the possibility of nuclear attached, but also other emergencies and disasters that could affect the city. So in 1967 the Emergency Preparedness Office was established and placed under the Kansas City Fire Department.
The next stage of emergency management for Kansas City came in November 1998 when the present day Office of Emergency Management was created. The office was made a separate division under the City Manager’s Office and provided the city with a full time staff dedicated to implementing the principles of preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation for major emergencies and disasters for the City of Kansas City.
Unless you have been directly impacted by a disaster, it is easy to think that disasters only happen to someone somewhere else. If you’re lucky that may be true but Kansas City has experienced its share of disasters. The following is a short list of some of the more severe weather incidents which is in no way intended to diminish the major emergencies and disasters that are not listed.
Flood – July 12, 1951
Unusually heavy springtime rains in Kansas led to major flooding in the Kansas City area. The West Bottoms and Fairfax districts were devastated by this flood. The American Royal floor was under 15 feet of water and losses in the metro totaled more than $80 million. In today’s dollars that disaster would have cost around $745 million.
Tornado – May 20, 1957
The Ruskin Heights tornado was an F5 that decimated communities in southern Kansas City. The tornado roared over a 71 mile long path starting near Williamsburg, KS and ended near Blue Springs, MO. By the time it was over 44 people were killed, 500 reported injured, and an estimated 600 buildings destroyed. The cost of damages was listed at $2.5 million.
Flood – September 12, 1977
Known as the Plaza Flood this flash flood inundated the Brush Creek area as a result of massive rain fall over a two day period. Underground parking garages at the Country Club Plaza flooded to the ceilings and businesses were damaged. Dozens of cars were swept away along Brush Creek and despite rescue efforts several people were swept to their deaths. In total over 25 people lost their lives and an estimated 4,750 homes were damaged. The cost of the disaster exceeded $100 million.
Heat Wave – Summer of 1980
High temperatures that persisted day and night led to an estimated 136 heat related deaths. The KCI airport recorded 17 consecutive days with temperatures in excess f 100 degrees.
Flood – July 1993
Known as the Great Midwest Flood this disaster reached across the heartland including the Kansas City area. Throughout the Midwest flood waters wreaked havoc destroying whole towns, homes, businesses, farm lands, and taking lives. In Kansas City, flash floods inundated Southwest Boulevard flooding dozens of business and both Kemper Arena and the American Royal building had flood water in them. Over 50 people nationwide were killed in the flood including 2 in Kansas City. The total cost was estimated at $23.1 billion nationwide with $18 million sustained in Kansas City.
Snow Storm – October 22, 1996
Known as the October Surprise this snow storm deposited between 4 and 8 inches of heavy wet snow on trees that still had their leaves. While snow was predicted, the intensity was a surprise. KCP&L reported 175,000 customers without power. Numerous traffic accideents occurred during the evening rush hour with tow trucks reporting wait times of 4 or more hours. The estimated cost of property damage and cleanup was $2 million.
Flood – October 4, 1998
Kansas City was yet again overwhelmed by heavy rains that caused flash flooding along Southwest Boulevard and Brush Creek. Several cars were swept off the Prospect Bridge resulting in the deaths of 7 of the 12 peopled killed in the flood. An estimated 1,100 homes in the metro were damaged.
Ice Storm – January 29, 2002
The ice storm began as light rain on Tuesday morning that turned to sleet by afternoon. All day Wednesday the freezing rain and sleet fell. By late Wednesday night there was 1 to 2 inches of ice blanketing Kansas City. To make matters worse an additional 3 to 6 inches of snow fell across the metro covering the ice by dawn on Thursday morning. The damage caused by the storm was huge. Over 350,000 customers were without power at the peak of the outages. Several days passed before many had power and several weeks before all power was fully restored to everyone. Over 85,000 trees were damaged or knocked down and by April 2002 approximately 1.2 million cubic yards of storm debris has been collected by the City. The total cost for the ice storm cleanup was over $28 million.
Tornado – May 4, 2003
A tornado outbreak produced over 94 tornadoes that hit a 6 state area including 9 that touched down in a 3 hour period over the metro. All of the damage caused by the tornadoes in Kansas City occurred north of the Missouri River in the suburban northland. Homes, businesses and public infrastructure suffered major damage. Damage in the Metro areas was approximately $150 million.
Blizzard – February 1, 2011
The Groundhog Eve Blizzard of 2011 started on Tuesday, February 1 and ended on Wednesday, February 2. For many area affected by the storm record snowfalls were reported. In the Kansas City area final estimates put the snowfall between 9 and 12 inches. In addition to the heavy snow this event also brought very rare blizzard conditions to the region. Strong northwest winds frequently gusted up to 40 mph which drastically reduced visibility and piled drifting snow 3 to 4 feet deep in many areas.
Since 1941 we have been working hard to keep Kansas City safe. As we move into the future we’ll continue to adapt to the ever changing risks we face and the environment in which we live. Please visit our links to learn how to prepare for disasters before the next one is added to the list.