Kansas Guard better prepared than in '07

TOPEKA — Kansas National Guard units are better prepared to handle disasters than they were four years ago when a tornado flattened Greensburg, the Guard's top official said.

Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli said the Guard has plenty of personnel and equipment to handle "the majority of the routine kinds of disasters we face in the state of Kansas."

Equipment and personnel became an issue after the 2007 Greensburg tornado killed 11 people and wiped out most of the community.

At the time, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said the storm exposed holes in National Guard preparation, especially regarding equipment the state had sent to help war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Significant improvements have since been made in U.S. Department of Defense funding to replace the equipment sent to war, Tafanelli spokeswoman Sharon Watson said. Watson said the federal government also has sped up the process in which National Guard equipment is returned to the U.S.

Tafanelli and Watson said 1,100 Kansas Guard members are deployed overseas, after reaching 2,500 briefly during a troop surge. The state has about 7,700 Guard members overall, including 5,500 in the Army Guard and 2,200 in the Air National Guard.

Any Guard members who aren't deployed are available to respond to a natural disaster, Watson said. About 1,400 responded to the Greensburg tornado.

Kansas Guard members have responded to previous disasters that include wildfires in California and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Watson said Kansas is part of an emergency management assistance compact that enables it to ask other states for Guard assistance or federal resources if it encounters a disaster that is bigger than its capability to respond.

Any Kansas National Guard response to the tornado scene in Joplin, Mo., would need to be much larger than the Guard provided at Greensburg because of the size of the southwest Missouri city, Watson said.

So far, the main Kansas Guard contribution to Joplin has been to send five ambulances and 10 crew members to help in rescue efforts.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle