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collapsed bridge

On August 1, 2007 disaster struck in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Shortly after 6p.m., the 1-35w bridge collapsed with over 80 vehicles on the bridge, during rush hour traffic.[August 2007 I-35w Bridge Collapse Minneaoplis, Minnesota] The NRFstates that the term “response” as used in the Framework includes immediate actions to save lives, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs. The Emergency responders that handled the I-35W bridge collapse did an excellent job responding to the event in an effective and timely manner.

The I-35w Bridge was built in 1967. Perhaps, one of the initial mistakes the construction crew made when building the bridge was not properly forecasting. The amount of traffic that traveled the bridge when it was first opened was probably a lot smaller that what it was in 2007 when the bridge collapsed. By 2007 the bridge carried around 140,000 vehicles north and south over four lanes between University Avenue and Washington Avenue (Stambaugh, and Cohen). Hypothetically speaking if the people in charge of building the bridge projected that only approximately 60,000 cars would travel the bridge then they may have only built a bridge that would support that amount of traffic. This failure to properly look 40 years down the road possibly aided in the collaps[ing].

When responding to a disaster there are five critical areas that emergency responders must acknowledge. They are engaged partnerships, tiered response, scalable, flexible, and adaptable operational capabilities, unity of effort through unified command, and readiness to act. An advantage of the engaged partnerships is that the emergency response personnel that responded to the collapse used post-9/11 techniques and technology. This means the Federal Government did an excellent job communicating to state and local governments an[d ]effective way to respond to disasters. Prior to the bridge collapsing local leaders together had taken the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s[,] Integrated Emergency Management course, and credited it as a major factor in their level of preparedness (United States Fire Administration).Secondly[an important factor] in responding to a disaster is a tiered response. A disaster is always going to begin and end locally (National Response Framework). Local police and fire were obviously the first to respond the scene. One mistake that local fire and police made was that they initially set up different Unified Command Post[s]?. Even a mistake like this did not hinder the response efforts because as time preceded all rescue efforts were directed from a Unified Command center. First responder[’]s included the Minneapolis Police Department, Minneapolis Fire Department, and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. Even though there were three agencies that were first responders to the bridge collapse, rescue efforts still went smooth[ly]. Prior to the event all of theses agencies had trained together and each agency understood their role and played their position properly, and this kept confusion amongst the agencies minimal. On the federal level the Army Corps Engineers, the Navy, and the Coast Guard were a second line of defense to rescue efforts.

[The] [N][n]ext critical aspect of recovery efforts are scalability and flexibility. The I-35W event was both scalable and flexible. The emergency responders that responded to the bridge collapsing were able to utilize their resources and adapt to the needs of the collapsed bridge. For example in order to assist[ance] with the dive effort, the United States [Army] Corps of Engineers assisted the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office by adjusting the water levels to make looking for survivors in the Mississippi River easier (United States Army Corps of Engineers). Another example is how the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office utilized the Medical Examiner[']s office to handle the death certificates and notify the families of the victims (Department of Homeland Security).These examples prove that the event was on a small of enough scale and local officials were able to communicate with partnering agencies to complete rescue efforts with minimal assistance from federal agencies. The brid[ge] collapse was flexible because emergency workers were able to adapt to the situation and make a fast recovery process. Emergency workers came in with a plan and executed well. They came in and their first priority was to save lives and get everyone off the bridge, then their efforts were focused on removing people and vehicles from the river, and then there was destruction of what was left of the bridge, and lastly [they had] to rebuild a new bridge and restore normal activities that the bridge assisted in. Aside from a few mistakes the individuals that responded handled this well. Within three hours all of the victims that were stranded on the brid[g]e had been rescued and three weeks later recovery of all the victims was complete.
Unified command was probably the biggest role player in the success of the response and recovery efforts related to the I-35w bridge collapse. When you have an event like this where different counties and agencies are involved there is always the possibility of conflict in regards to who is in control and who needs to do what. All of these agencies [and]b[had] trained together and every agency knew what their responsibility was and their was no conflict of interest (United States Fire Administration).

Lastly [there] is the readiness to act. This is a no brainer. A disaster is a bittersweet experience. No one wants to go through a disaster but at the same time a disaster can help us as emergency planners learn from mistakes and make preparing and responding to disasters an easier experience. The one factor that really stood out about this disaster in particular is that within 5 minutes of the bridge collapsing emergency responders were on the scene (Minnesota Department of Transportation). Responding in a timely manner like that is what is going to minimize casualties and infrastructure damage.

This bridge collapse is only one incident in a [C][c]ountry filled with plenty of infrastructure and highways that link the nation. So what is exactly is the United States doing to deal with the issue of structural vulnerability on our country’s highways.[?] During October 12-13, 2006 in Taipei, Taiwan the fourth international conference on earthquake engineering was held. The topic of the conference was seismic vulnerability study of the United States highway bridge systems. The project began in the fall of 1998. The Federal Highway Administration began to conduct studies related to the seismic performance of the U.S. national highway system (Yen). The purpose of the research was to evaluate and asses the costs and impacts of earthquakes on highways and bridges. Also, the administration wanted to utilize tools to reduce damage not only to existing systems but ones built in the future. One shocking figure is that a survey of available statistics reveals that more than one-third of U.S. highway bridges may be vulnerable to damage and/or failure due to earthquakes and about 65 percent of the nation’s 600,000 highway bridges were built prior to 1970, and can be regarded as vulnerable to moderate-to-major as was the I-35w bridge (Yen). [WOW!] Although the cause of the I-35w bridge collapse was not [because of] an earthquake, the research conducted in Phillip Yen’s paper addresses ways to minimize fatalities, structural damage, and minimize cost in the event a bridge collapses.

Another factor that makes our highways vulnerable is security. According to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 7, transportation is identified as one of the critical infrastructures (Pike). The highway is not only a necessity to get commuters to and from work, but for commerce. And in the event a disaster occurs the highway is essential for responders to get to the incident and effectively respond. If the bridge collapse was so sever[e] that emergency responders could not reach victims then casualties and infrastructure may have been a lot worse. Highways also come in handy in the event that something like a hurricane, tornado, or flood is occurring because the highway will be most individual’s means for evacuating the endangered area. Currently there are 600,000 bridges and 300 tunnels on the highway network and many of these can be considered as being critical structures and/or on essential corridors (Pike). In addition to natural disasters that can affect the highway systems, terrorist attacks are now on the forefront of the government[']s minds. The Federal Highway Administration has begun to work with the American Association of the State Highway and Transportation Officials to address the issues that may brought about by a terrorist attack against bridges, tunnels, and our highway system (Pike). The joint effort recognized four initiatives to address. They are identifying critical highway infrastructure and assessing its vulnerability to attack, and developing effective countermeasures, creating a nationally recognized panel to address short-term and long-term goals when it comes to security issues facing our bridges and tunnels, conduct workshops nationally to improve emergency preparedness for response to recovery to attacks, and lastly engaging in national dialogue to develop priorities for security research and training (Pike). As of March 2004 a Blue Ribbon Panel concluded that in many parts of the country, the transportation system is struggling to keep up with the demands of the economy and society (Pike). Efforts like this on behalf of our nation show us taking a more proactive approach to disaster management. Traditionally we have been a reactive nation[,] meaning that we wait for the cookies to hit the fan before we address an issue. The United States is also guilty of the pendulum effect[,] meaning our attention shifts based on what is going on in the nation. As of now we have never had a major issue such as terrorist attack against our highway systems so budgeting and prioritizing an issue like this may not be on a major issue in Washington. However, by taking our proactive approach and recognizing our vulnerability to a terrorist attack against our highway structure, we can minimize casualties and infrastructure damage.

No response effort is perfect. In researching this disaster it was obvious that a few mistakes occurred. First was the fact that the Police department and fire department initially had two separate command posts. Emergency planners need to stress the importance of unified command from the response to the recovery phases of disasters. Even though response time was fast for the bridge collapse if the two agencies had not trained together the separation of command post could have cost [caused there]their to be even more casualties and conflict between agencies. Secondly, was the fact that there were no safety patrol officers on the bridge while rescue workers were completing rescue efforts (Department of Homeland Security)? As an emergency planner you not only want to save lives but protect your rescue workers. Based on the NRF, class discussions, common sense, and prior knowledge about responding to disasters the response efforts that were a result of the bridge collapse were highly successful. Being able to study disasters is very beneficial because it allows us to learn and improve. We have enough disasters from local to global to learn from[,] so that in due time responding to disaster can possibly become a flawless event. No one wants to experience something like being on a bridge collapse, but at the end of the day the proper training, effective communication, tiered responses, unified command, flexibility and scalability, and the readiness to act will become much appreciated practices.


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New Bridge

WORKS CITED

Stambaugh, Hollis, and Harold Cohen. "U.S. Fire Administration/Technical Report Series." FEMA. Web. 09 Dec 2009. <http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/tr_166.pdf>.

Yen, Phillip. "4th International Conference on Earthquake Engineering." Seismic Vulnerability Study of the US Highway Bridge System. 10 012 2006. http://conf.ncree.org.tw/Proceedings/i0951012/data/pdf%5C4ICEE-0318.pdf, Web. 05 Dec 2009.


Pike , John. "Global Secuirty." Interstate Highway Security Systems. 03 009 2007. Global Security, Web. 09 Dec 2009. <http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/systems/highways.htm>.