Bridge, Tunnel Safety Measures Enhanced

Tunnel between Detroit and Canada serves as a model for improved emergency communications.

Whether its highway patrol helicopters swooping nearby or armed guards standing at the ready, keepers of the nations bridges and tunnels have increased security since Sept. 11.

But beyond physical security, some have also begun to take extra technological steps to prevent and respond to terrorists and or other threats.

The most common response has been to expand the use of cameras to monitor bridges and tunnels—as done on such famous bridges as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. But cameras for monitoring isnt the only answer. One tunnel at a crucial border crossing between the United States and Canada also has concentrated on how it communicates in the event of a threat or incident.

The Detroit & Canada Tunnel Corp., in Detroit, has been testing a new alerting system developed by wireless messaging software provider Simplewire Inc. Called the Border Message Information System , it allows the organization to alert law enforcement, public service agencies and others about everything from threats, disruptions or even simple traffic delays in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The system was set to go live in late August or early September, said Neal Belitsky, vice president of operations at the Detroit & Canada Tunnel Corp.

"After 9/11 we realized that the number of public safety/law enforcement agencies that needed to know what was going on at the border was staggering," Belitsky said. "We also were seeing that when something happened and there was important information to go out, a third of the population never got the information [and] a third of them got inaccurate information."

To tackle the problem, the new system allows agencies and groups to be alerted to potential problems through SMS (Short Message Service) to their pagers, mobile phones and wireless PDAs, as well as to Web-enabled computers, Belitsky said. About 50 agencies and individuals will gain access to the system with about two-thirds having the right to both publish and read alerts. The agencies can send out alerts through a secure Web site.

In one incident after Sept. 11, 2001, a local newspaper called the tunnel authority after hearing on a police scanner about a potential threat on the Detroit River; the tunnel operators and many of the government agencies hadnt heard of the issue. With the new system, the dispatcher putting out the police radio call could also send an SMS alert to key agencies, Belitsky said.

In the testing so far, Belitsky has already seen improvements in the dissemination of information.