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Feature

People gathered on the Stone Arch Bridge.

People have flocked by the thousands to the reopened Stone Arch Bridge, just upriver from the I-35W bridge, to try to comprehend the scope of the Interstate bridge collapse. Makeshift memorials grace the bridge as well as the nearby Gold Medal Park.

U responds to I-35W bridge collapse

By Martha Coventry and Gayla Marty

Aug. 6, 2007

The University of Minnesota response to the collapse of the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis Aug. 1 involved countless employees and students living in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Associate professor of sociology Ross MacMillan was one of the first civilians on the scene. Traveling home from his west bank office, he helped to rescue several people near the east bank.

U of M medical students Nicole Kopari, Melissa "Missy" Wayne, and Heather Nelson helped a doctor in triage efforts on the east bank of the river, treating about 10 people. Four architecture students rushed from their studio to help, joining a team organized by a construction worker on the scene. They used sheets of plywood as stretchers to carry people from the wreckage.

From the first moments after the tragedy, the U of M Police Department and emergency management staff have been part of the integrated incident command. Eleven UMPD officers were first responders on the east bank end of the bridge. They helped survivors to safety, tended the injured, and secured the area. Police chief Greg Hestness and deputy chief Steve Johnson staffed the incident command posts on both the east and west banks. Four police officers from the U of M-Duluth came to assist with security.

The Department of Emergency Management's mobile command post and both University ambulances were deployed to the scene. Deputy director Lance Ross acted as the U's liaison at the Minneapolis Emergency Operations Center.

Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) staff responded by providing barricades and transporting people up the bank, many to waiting ambulances.

At least 40 victims were treated at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, just downstream from the bridge. The U's Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) mental health response team provided support at the emergency room and where concerned families gathered at the Masonic Cancer Center. Experts from the Academic Health Center, U of M Extension, and the College of Education and Human Development immediately provided information to the media about how parents should talk to their children about images on TV and about the therapeutic role of online message boards in response to the disaster.

The U provided the west bank ball fields next the Law School as a helicopter landing site for the FBI and the Minnesota State Patrol. PTS turned over the top level of the West Bank Office Building parking ramp to local authorities to use as a staging area for recovery operations.

The Law School's Mondale Hall became the site of a joint information center for many state, local, and national agencies--the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Minnesota State Patrol, Minneapolis Police Department, and Metro Transit.

Facilities Management provided the location and technical assistance for a camera monitoring location on top of the Tandem Accelerator Laboratory. They also helped national and local media gain access to filming locations for what fast became and the top international news story.

To date, none of the fatalities or those missing have been identified as U faculty, staff, or students. But the disaster has made an indelible mark on the University's landscape as well as the minds and hearts of its community members.

As recovery efforts continue, the Medical Reserve Corps mental health response team has provided psychological first aid and support to families of the missing, working in partnership with the Red Cross, Minneapolis Police Chaplaincy, and other local mental health agencies. Team members are still on call or working. A MRC physician will staff the Family Assistance Center Medical Station at the American Red Cross building, which is located on the west bank, near the bridge.

Everyone in the U of M Police Department and Security Monitor Program has been deployed in response. Many officers have worked on scheduled days off. Members of the Security Monitor Program--students who help with campus safety--have played an important role in traffic control on and around campus, especially on East River Road.

Two to three press conferences per day will be held throughout the week at the Law School.

I-35W has been the primary access artery for UMTC in Minneapolis. Exits fed traffic onto University Avenue on the east bank and onto Washington and Cedar avenues on the west bank. PTS is now working hard to plan for the onset of classes on Sept. 4.

Updates are posted at Bridge collapse information.