The Minnesota Department of Transportation has entered into an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to begin using Wireless Emergency Alerts to improve traveler safety on the state’s roads.
Wireless Emergency Alerts are issued through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), FEMA’s national system for local alerting that shares emergency information with the public.
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) use the same system that shares critical notifications like AMBER alerts with the public, as well as other time-sensitive information during natural disasters or threats to public safety. WEAs 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, and many local county sheriff’s offices in Minnesota have authority to use the system as well.
“The ability to send WEA messages through IPAWS is an important additional tool for MnDOT to provide real-time information to the traveling public,” said commissioner Nancy Daubenberger. “Road closures can occur suddenly, especially in cases of severe weather or major crashes on the highway system. With WEA messages, MnDOT 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 MnDOT will 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, such as: “EMERGENCY ALERT – The I-90 corridor is closed from the South Dakota border to Albert Lea due to blizzard conditions. Go to www.511mn.org for more information and updates.”
MnDOT’s 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) or major crashes or incidents. MnDOT alerts 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.