WiFi Network Helped Minneapolis Deal with Bridge Collapse

Mae : Wireless Mobility Blog
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WiFi Network Helped Minneapolis Deal with Bridge Collapse

Craig Settles (author of Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless and other books on similar topics), who keeps me updated regularly regarding U.S. municipal WiFi projects, wrote the other day to highlight how an only partially-complete WiFi network helped Minneapolis emergency responders deal with the recent Interstate 35W bridge collapse.
As you probably know, during evening rush-hour on August 1, the eight-lane interstate bridge portion of I-35 over the Mississippi River collapsed, dropping vehicles about 60 feet into the water below.
Ironically, Settles in May completed a report about how municipal WiFi networks can help cities cope with disasters. Following the Minneapolis bridge collapse, he appended his report to include background on this specific disaster as a case study.
The addendum is available for download here. Full report is here.
Despite the fact that the Minneapolis network, being built by vendor USI Wireless, was only one-quarter complete when the bridge collapse occurred, it nonetheless came in handy for emergency responders.
Settles interviewed Minneapolis’ CIO, Lynn Willenbring and USI Wireless CEO Joe Caldwell to learn about the emergency-response aspects of the network. One way it helped was to make more bandwidth available for citizens and officials to get in touch with one another. Caldwell tried to reach city officials, but couldn’t get through because of overloaded cellular equipment; this prompted him to make access of the entire WiFi network built out so far free for 24 hours. This let people with WiFi-enabled phones call each other; people also got in touch using instant messaging, video, photos and e-mail.
Another way the network helped was by providing a means to distribute maps of the disaster site to city staff so they could more efficiently perform traffic and recovery efforts.
“While municipal wireless has given people some things to be critical about, Wireless Minneapolis' role in the emergency response to last week's bridge disaster proves the technology's potential to save lives across America,” Settles wrote in his message to me.  “It also shows that one answer to the national debate on how to enable different agencies to have interoperable communication during a crisis.”
Clearly, WiFi does not have to be just a convenient service; it can also save lives. The Minneapolis bridge collapse is a good case study.

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Mae, thanks magnificent article.