THE MAGAZINE

Urban Area Perspective—Minneapolis

By Joseph Straw

What was your personal reaction, as a career first responder, as you saw the I-35W incident unfold?

I come from the fire side, so I was used to handling a lot of really large emergencies. And I think for me, personally, it’s the fact that all that training that you have just clicks in, as do relationships that you’ve developed. If you follow the rules, quite frankly, implement NIMS, put your incident action plan together, get everybody in positions where they can be successful—meaning just have people do things that they’re trained and equipped in—and trust your plans, and trust the training you’ve done, it works very well. So I think the key is to be prepared, and the only way you can be prepared is through the tabletops and functional drills that you have prior to a large-scale emergency.

What is the biggest challenge in your office’s mission?

Silo thinking, whereby, say, every fire department thinks it needs its own hazmat team or collapsed-structure team, or every police department thinks it needs its own bomb squad. We have to erase those geographic and jurisdictional lines and learn how to share our resources much better, train together, and have one common mission, rather than breaking it up into stovepipes.

How would you characterize your office’s relationship with its federal partners? What, if anything, would you change?

Well, we had the bridge collapse in 2007, the Republican National Convention in 2008, and tornadoes and floods in 2010 and 2011. So we’ve been forced to work very closely together. Quite frankly, without the help from the state and the grants from the federal government, we would never have been in a position to handle these incidents the way we have. So I have no criticism at all. Every problem that we’ve confronted, we’ve been able to sit down and work out.

Has the region engaged the private sector in the emergency management mission? If so, how?

We’ve reached out in the last two years, and we’ve developed a relationship with what’s called the Downtown Emergency Advisory Committee, which basically ties emergency management into all the downtown areas in Minneapolis. This is a local Minneapolis initiative and not a broader regional initiative at this time. We’ve done things like develop a manual that we work on with all of our businesses downtown. It covers everything from severe weather to radioactive materials. We’ve developed the manual so the businesses know how the city’s going to work, and we’ve got check-off sheets for them when they have any of these types of issues.

In addition, we train together. And we now have private-sector representation in our training, and the president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council—which is a merchant and business group—sits in our emergency operations center during large events.

What are your office’s major goals?
 
What I really want to do is make sure the city of Minneapolis is prepared for any type of event, and we’re going to do that through training and through our emergency operations plan. We also want to work more closely with the metro area so we can identify what those needs are, and direct funding appropriately.
 

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