Monday, August 20, 2007

Excellent Questions, Good Responses

At The Logbook, Justin asks an excellent question - one I hadn't seen asked before - regarding the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

The bridge disaster was bad enough; but the threat can multiply quickly in the event of cascading failures. Intentional actors such as terrorists will seek to create cascading failures, so accounting for them is an essential element of preparedness.

Fortunately, emergency managers in Minneapolis were prepared for a number of contingencies that presented themselves in the bridge collapse - in some cases, the plans had recently been completed:

Before the bridge fell:

  • The state practiced snap assembly of an emergency operations center, where agencies could quickly coordinate their immediate response to a tragedy.
  • Minneapolis studied where to place massive amounts of debris in a disaster.
  • Most local law enforcement officials had updated radio systems, allowing them to talk to each other in emergencies.
  • The Minnesota Department of Transportation developed traffic plans in case a bridge failed.

  • "We had a state bridge, in a county river, between two banks of a city. ... But we didn't have one problem with any of these issues, because we knew who was in charge of the assets," said Rocco Forte, Minneapolis emergency preparedness director.

    Rescuers also could talk to each other on emergency radios. ... Carver, Anoka and Hennepin counties' emergency responders all use new-generation 800 MHz radios.

    The planning and preparations also paid off in almost eerily specific ways.

    "We do have a plan for if a bridge goes down. Our folks didn't have to sit there and say: 'OK, what are we going to do?' We had a plan in place. That's why it could happen as quickly as it did," Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau said.

    And Minneapolis officials were trained and equipped to deal with a structural collapse. In 2002, city, county and state officials realized they had no one ready to deal with a massive building collapse. "It was a huge gap to have identified," said Tim Turnbull, director of emergency preparedness for Hennepin County. ... The city of Minneapolis secured about $3.5 million for training and equipping a collapsed-structure team.
    There's simply no substitute for preparedness - as this well-written post from ThreatsWatch points out. The crux of the argument:
    Much more important than planning, preparedness is about setting up social structures so that people fall into doing something sensible when things go wrong.

    It really doesn’t matter what disaster scenario you’re testing. The real disaster won’t be like the test, regardless of what you do, so just pick one and go.

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