October 30, 2008 By Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor
After more than a year and $400 million in repairs, the Interstate 35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis reopened in September 2008, and serves as a case study for emergency managers and public officials for infrastructure maintenance and emergency management preparation and response.
Attendees at the 10th Annual Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness Conference on Oct. 29 at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago were presented with eyewitness accounts of the Aug. 1, 2007, catastrophe and some of the lessons learned by local officials who responded that day.
Although 13 of the 190 people who were on the bridge perished when it collapsed, no emergency responders were injured in a recovery mission that took place under extreme conditions -- a success attributed to foresight by city officials who had planned for an event of that magnitude.
More than 140 agencies were involved in the rescue and recovery efforts. Mutual aid pacts, new 800 MHz radios and relationships built during five years of exercises allowed for organized communication instead of chaos.
A five-year gap analysis plan commencing in July 2002 was completed just a month prior to the collapse and put in motion the kind of reaction practiced during the five years of training. The plan called for the new radios to aid interoperability between multiple agencies; mutual aid agreements; relentless training; and the development of relationships.
The recovery effort "would not have been successful five years ago," said Minneapolis Emergency Preparedness Director Rocco Forte.
Of the many lessons learned is to "prepare relentlessly," said Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek. Though it's difficult to foresee and prepare for an event like the collapse, building relationships, training with jurisdictional partners and having an understanding of National Incident Management System (NIMS) protocols can provide a template for response during a disaster.
All of the training, the NIMS compliance and the relationships forged during the five-year plan paid off during the 20-day cleanup and recovery mission.
Other key lessons: