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With Minor Exceptions, System Worked

Minnesota officials said the emergency response to the deadly failure of a major bridge in Minneapolis went smoothly with the exception of some communications glitches, in an event that is being viewed as a good test of a large regional city's ability to respond to terrorist attack or natural disaster.

The Minneapolis police and fire chiefs and the Hennepin County sheriff jointly led rescue and recovery efforts after the 40-year-old Interstate 35W bridge plunged into the Mississippi River, killing at least four and injuring 79. The sheriff's office organized operations in the water while the fire department managed those on the ground and police officials secured the scene, officials said.

It was all part of a unified command set up according to the principles of the National Incident Management System, a federally devised plan to help governmental entities work together after terrorist attacks or natural catastrophes.

"It keeps us all on the same sheet of music," said David Berrisford, state incident manager for Minnesota's Homeland Security and Emergency Management division.

The response involved at least 75 state, local and federal agencies linked through a radio system that has been enhanced with some of the $170 million in federal homeland security grants the state has received since 2002, officials said.

Although the system -- rated among the nation's best this year by the Department of Homeland Security -- generally worked well, officials said, there were reports of it jamming at moments of peak use.

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