Until last week, Tom Phillips’ only experience with natural disasters was what he’d seen through the eyes of the media. 


Until last week, Tom Phillips’ only experience with natural disasters was what he’d seen through the eyes of the media. 
That all changed the morning of August 13 when the 52-year-old owner site representative for Target Stores, Inc. entered Greensburg shortly after the sun had risen.
Licensed as both a building inspector and plan reviewer in his home state of Michigan, Phillips was in town all of last week to offer his services in those areas.
“They say a picture’s worth a thousand words,” Phillips told The Signal last Thursday.  “If that’s true, being here is worth at least ten times that.
“There’s just no semblance of a community here, except for the underground structures.  I was in awe, in shock and utter amazement when I first hit town.  I just can’t imagine what it must have been like to walk these streets the day after.”
Once he had recovered a bit from the initial impact of what he was seeing, and not seeing in town, Phillips continued driving around, taking photos and notes, to begin his assessment of what the town would be needing in terms of infrastructure, as well as how stringently code had been followed during Greensburg’s formation.
What he saw left him convinced the city will need to more or less “start over” in terms of planning and building.  Matching current specifications with residents’ collective mindset will, however, be akin to walking a tightrope.
 “It’s a question of how you adopt and apply the current building codes so that you bring the town into the 21st-century, and yet recognize people’s desire to build back as quickly and familiarly as possible,” Phillips said.
“There’s a tremendous number of professionals in town now that want to build back the right way, while residents want to get it back up the way it was.  Finding a balance between the two isn’t going to be easy.
“Bottom line is that we need to make sure we put it back right so it’s a place that people will be attracted to in the coming years.”
After working as a building inspector for the state of Michigan for nearly 30 years, Phillips left his government post three years ago to go to work for Target, overseeing code compliance for new stores from Maine south to northern North Carolina.  By Thursday of last week he’d already inspected several residential and commercial structures, as well as conducted several plan reviews in Greensburg.
Even more important he believes is the work he’s been doing to streamline the building inspection process that will be used increasingly in the coming months in the middle of Kiowa County.
He’s also done his best to define the responsibilities and authority of the recently hired building inspector, Robert Brunell.
“I’ve done my best to make sure the process is as efficient as possible, because they’re about to get very busy in the building department with a very small staff,” Phillips said.
 A native of Commerce Township, Phillips still lives in the community 30 miles northwest of Detroit, and was at home when he got a call back in May from the International Code Council, asking if he’d give a week of his time to help the building inspection efforts in Greensburg.
Phillips recalls agreeing to do so, simply because it seemed the “righteous” thing to do—taking a few days away from his job to help out those in trouble.  What he didn’t imagine, however, was preparing to leave Greensburg with an inclination to serve a second term of duty.
“Shortly after I got here this place changed my idea of what we should be doing as people, rather than just pursuing our career.  I’m not going to be able to forget anytime soon what I’ve seen and experienced here.I’m not too sure I won’t be back.”
Aware the Greensburg tornado has long since fallen out of the news cycle, Phillips regrets the human drama that continues in terms of recovery has “been swept under the mat” in recent weeks.
“This was a big story for a couple of weeks with the president coming and so forth,” Phillips said.  “But that soon changed for the national media, which is too bad, because this is an ongoing reality for the people here, and will be for a long time to come.
“I’ve been inspired by the people here—the people hired, the people with the government, volunteers and of course, the people that have survived and are staying.
“It makes you realize that helping people like that with the expertise you have is what we’re supposed to be about.  It’s what I need to be about.  I think I’ll probably be back for another week to help here.  In fact, I know I will.”