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Community for All Ages

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Brian Head, city attorney for the City of Lee’s Summit, was awarded the Governor’s Conspicuous Service Medal by Brigadier General William A. Ward at a ceremony on November 6 at the Missouri National Guard Armory in Joplin, Missouri. The award recognizes Head’s exceptional service to the State of Missouri and the Nation in support of State Emergency Duty during the catastrophic EF5-rated tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011.

Per Missouri Revised Statute 41.570, the Missouri Conspicuous Service Medal is presented to individuals designated by the governor “who have done and performed distinguished and conspicuous service or services either civil or military which reflect honorably and creditably upon the state of Missouri.”

Brian Head was serving as Joplin’s city attorney at the time the tornado tore a path one mile wide and six miles long through the main part of the city. Thirty-five percent of the Joplin was destroyed. Head and his team were tasked with the enormous job of facilitating the removal of 3 million cubic yards of debris in 67 days. The debris included concrete, trees, household goods, hazardous waste and bricks. Head vividly remembers the day President Obama visited Joplin to tour the disaster, “It was 105 degrees outside. The odor from rotting debris was in the air and everywhere you looked, all around you, there was six feet of debris.”

“Mr. Head’s ability to adapt to changing situations, overcome adversity, and provide unmatched legal support to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), FEMA and the Commander of this task force was instrumental in the continuing success of the mission. Mr. Head was instrumental in creating the Right of Entry forms that were necessary for the USACE and its contractors to enter on personal property and remove debris,” reads the citation signed by Governor Jay Nixon.

Even though Head’s own home sustained significant damage, his first consideration was for his nearby neighbors and the citizens of Joplin. It was imperative that the debris be removed in order for the city to move forward. “It was disorienting to drive through the City. Landmarks I’d known for 10 years were gone. Street names had to be painted on the pavement so people would know where they were.”

Of the award, Head says, “I am pleased to receive the award but it was a team effort. This group had to think critically and creatively to get around, through and over the many hurdles we encountered. The full might of the Army Corps of Engineers removed 1.5 million cubic feet of debris, but I want you to know, the citizens and volunteers removed just as much. That says a lot about the power and determination of the citizens and volunteers and their desire to get back to normalcy.”

Today, as a member of the International Municipal Lawyers Association, Head offers services and support to cities that experience a disaster. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August, Head and 75 others participated in a conference call with Houston officials to help them through the issues they were experiencing. “If there is something they need, I want them to know I’m here to help,” says Head. “It’s important to me to pay it forward.”

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