The Role of Parks and Recreation in Tornado Response: A Qualitative Exploration

David T. Rolfe, Merry L. Moiseichik


The purpose of this study is to explore the stories of parks and recreation employees during times of great natural disaster. Joplin, MO and Moore, OK have experienced devastating tornadoes. This study describes before, during and after the events that changed the landscape of these communities through the lens of the parks and recreation directors and their employees. The Moore and Joplin parks and recreation departments were major players in planning, immediate response, and community rebuilding for natural disasters. This study considers communities after the event; what changes within the department have been made, and what suggestions they have for other communities were discussed. Qualitative methods were utilized. Semi-structured interviews were conducted. Responses were recorded and transcribed. Ancillary, first-hand materials such as photographs, videos and personal journals were also provided by the study participants in order to provide depth and richness to the data. The final step of the study consisted of placing the data into salient themes using open-coding methodology. Trustworthiness was ensured through the following qualitative devices: data triangulation, persistent engagement, prolonged engagement, confirmability, and the use of a researcher’s journal. Eight overall themes were discovered. Three themes revealed the human experience of surviving a tornado: “Family”, “Pride in Resiliency”, and “Lasting Pain”. Three themes described the experience of being a Park and Recreation Practitioner during a natural disaster: “Power of Volunteers”, “Practitioner as First Responder”, and “Post-Disaster Facility Improvement”. One theme bridged the Human Experience and being a Parks and Recreation Practitioner: “Return to Normalcy”.

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