Monday, September 30, 2013

Kansas Town Going Green After Tornado

An interesting and inspiring article, posted by USA Today, examines the traumatic event that shaped the town of Greensburg, KA on May 4, 2007. A tornado struck the small town of 1,600 people that damaged 95% of structures, killing 13 residents and injuring 60 others. Many people doubted if the town would ever go back to the all American, farm country it used to be. Prior to the catastrophic event, Greensburg, KA was known to have the largest and deepest hand-dug well in the world. "The Big Well," as it claims, is 109 feet deep and more than 30 feet in diameter. It was completed in 1888 and served as the town's main water supply until 1932, thereafter, declaring it a national museum in 1972.

The Big Well declared a national museum in Greensburg, KA
The Big Well museum staircase
There were many volunteers and workers to help aid the community almost immediately after the tornado hit. The Kansas Department of Transportation sent trucks, ambulances, safety equipment and volunteers to help. The U.S Forest Service set up a base camp and provided residents with more than 36,000 meals after the storm. Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) implemented hundreds of mobile homes that housed about 300 families.

Since the six years after the tornado hit, Greensburg has dedicated itself to becoming a green city, and is now one of the country's top owners per capita of LEED platinum certified buildings. The town owns a half dozen LEED-certified platinum buildings, which include the town's City Hall and the Kiowa County Memorial Hospital. The streetlights are LED (Light Emitting Diodes), and the town is run on renewable energy.

Initially, some residents were hesitant about re-creating the town in a sustainable way, skeptical of greenwashing and the actual benefits they would see from it. BNIM, a Kansas design firm that specializes in environmentally-friendly design, came in and presented a recovery plan that illustrated how it could be beneficial to the town and its residents. Gradually, residents began to embrace the idea of rebuilding with a green focus, and decided to accept the challenge. After eight months since the tornado, the city council of Greensburg decided that all large buildings exceeding 4,000 square feet would become LEED platinum certified and must use renewable energy sources.

Greensburg was covered by an incredible amount of media coverage since the tornado event. Two television series and several books were developed in the telling of how the town becomes green. In 2007, Discovery Channel created a mini series, Greensburg, and starred environmental activist/actor Leonardo DiCaprio which documented the town's reconstruction. The series ran for three seasons. Similarly, a four-episode series, Build It Bigger: Rebuilding Greensburg, premiered in November 2008 on the Science Channel. A book called The Greening of Oz, by Robert Fraga, was about the towns reconstruction as well.

For other towns that have faced similar damage in recent years, such as Tuscaloosa, AL and Joplin, MO, the dedication and perseverance of Greensburg and its green initiatives serve as inspiration for rebuilding. These cities have followed in Greensburg's footsteps and solicited advice for re-building their towns, recognizing the opportunity to create positive change after such devastation for the towns.

To learn more about the LEED green building rating system, visit or register to attend our FREE Intro to LEED webinar.