The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently made a deal that allows the agency to provide Wireless Emergency Alerts or WEAs through the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System; FEMA’s national system for providing local emergency information and alerts to the public.
[Above photo by Minnesota DOT]
The Minnesota DOT explained that WEAs use the same system that share critical notifications like AMBER alerts with the public, as well as other time-sensitive information during natural disasters or threats to public safety. They also provide the ability to send alerts directly to mobile devices without the user needing to download an app or subscribe to a service.
State departments of transportation in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Texas have successfully used WEAs for major road closure alerts, Minnesota DOT noted, with many local county sheriff’s offices in Minnesota allowed to use the system as well.
“The ability to send WEA messages through IPAWS [Integrated Public Alert and Warning System] is an important additional tool for [us] to provide real-time information to the traveling public,” said Minnesota DOT Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger in a statement.
“Road closures can occur suddenly, especially in cases of severe weather or major crashes on the highway system,” she added. “With WEA messages [we] will be able to send immediate mobile alerts to people in the vicinity of a highway closure or detour – helping minimize motorists on roadways during winter conditions and aiding law enforcement and emergency personnel in responding to incidents quickly.”
Alerts from Minnesota DOT typically include a link to 511mn.org – the state’s online road information system – for more information and a simple description of the closure or incident.
The agency said its operating procedures include sending emergency alerts only when highway closures of more than four hours are expected due to weather – such as snow, ice, or flooding – as well as major roadway crashes or related incidents.
Minnesota DOT noted that its WEAs will only be sent for closures on state highways and interstates under the agency’s jurisdiction and will be sent to all mobile phones within a one-mile band around the highway, beginning 10 miles ahead of any closure location. The nature of an emergency could require a larger area for notifications and specifics will be determined on a case-by-case basis, the agency added.