Aug. 8, 2007 —
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The Department of Defense has deployed a Defense Coordinating Element to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to assist with last week's I-35 bridge collapse.
The six-person Region V DCE, based in Chicago, prepares for civil support missions by working daily with federal and state emergency planners and consequence managers in the six-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Army Col. Michael Chesney, defense coordinating officer, is DoD's on-scene representative to provide command and control of responding active-duty forces and will facilitate requests for any additional DoD support.
“We are here at the request of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Transportation,” Chesney said. “Sheriff Rich Stanek is the incident commander, so we are here to provide support to him and residents affected by this unfortunate disaster.”
Chesney and the DCE are assigned to United States Army North, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Army North provides defense support to civil authorities as the Army component of U.S. Northern Command, the unified command on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., that is responsible for homeland defense and civil support.
The DoD brings additional capabilities as part of a larger federal response when requested by the state and approved by the Secretary of Defense.
Currently, DoD is providing two dive teams and support personnel from Navy Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit TWO (MDSU-2) from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., to assist with recovery efforts after the I-35 bridge collapse.
“The Navy has some specialized skills on this type of operation where we’re capable of entering into a confined space with high currents to recover the remains that the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is using as part of their investigation of the incident,” said Navy Capt. Rich Hooper, director of ocean engineering supervisor of salvage and diving, Naval Sea Systems Command.
“They need that specialized expertise the MDSU TWO has to get into cramped, confined spaces that are heavily damaged and that are very high risk situations for divers,” Hooper said. “That specialized skill is not something you can commonly get out on the commercial market.”
Seventeen divers and a five-person command and control element from MSDU TWO are currently on-site in Minneapolis. These personnel are assessing the situation to best determine where their assistance will be needed by the county sheriff and Department of Transportation’s recovery efforts. MDSU TWO divers already have been into the water to assess the situation and survey the landscape in the river.
The dive team was able to enter the confined space under the collapsed bridge, an area that was previously inaccessible to local and FBI recovery attempts.
“The team will conduct a hand-over-hand search of the entire area, which will take some time,” Hooper said. “There is no room for error.”
MEDIA ADVISORY—For more information on DOD’s role in Minnesota, contact Randy Mitchell, U.S. Army North public affairs officer at 210-846-9230.