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Ready, set…get prepared!

 
April 28, 2016
 
When you’re truly prepared for something, you’re always ready for it. You don’t need a special day reminding you to get set, because you already are. But if you’re like a lot of us, there may be certain emergencies you’re not quite ready for.
 
That’s where FEMA’s America’s PrepareAthon! comes in: by setting aside a single day when you, your family and your neighbors can take the opportunity to make sure you’re as prepared as possible for the unexpected.
 
Americas PrepareAthon graphic
Image Text: ​Be Smart. Take part. Prepare.
What’s the best way to start preparing? Knowing what you’re preparing for. For example, here in the Midwest, we don’t have to worry about earthquakes or hurricanes — but floods, tornadoes and winter storms? We need our ducks in a row for those.
 
This spring, National PrepareAthon! Day is on Saturday, April 30, and there are myriad ways you can take part. Here are 10 ways to participate:

1. Sign up for local alerts and warnings, download apps, and/or check access for wireless emergency alerts.
2. Develop and test emergency communication plans.
3. Assemble or update emergency supplies.
4. Learn about local hazards and conduct a drill to practice emergency response actions.
5. Participate in a preparedness discussion, training, or class.
6. Collect and safeguard critical documents.
7. Document property and obtain appropriate insurance for relevant hazards.
8. Make property improvements to reduce potential injury and property damage.
9. Hold a scenario-based continuity of operations tabletop exercise for your organization.
10. Plan with neighbors to help each other and share resources.
 
The great part about being prepared is that, except for updating your skills and replacing perishables (such as bottled water), you don’t have to start from scratch to be ready for an emergency. What’s more, preparedness can help you recover from an emergency more quickly. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Homeland Security and Emergency Management division offers checklists and other resources to help you and your family with your preparedness plans.
 
So take some time this Saturday to think about, talk about and prepare for likely emergency scenarios. You’re sure to sleep better knowing you and your family are ready for what Mother Nature throws your way.
 
 

What marijuana wax is, how it’s made…and why you should care

 
April 25, 2016
 
Marijuana is being used more and more often to manufacture a drug that poses many dangers in its own right. Minnesota’s Violent Crime Enforcement Teams (VCETs) are reporting that marijuana wax is showing up in the state at an increasing rate.
 
“I just killed my grandma”
 
For starters, the method used to make marijuana wax is extremely dangerous, because it involves butane. Essentially, the process leaves behind the highly concentrated oil—that’s if it goes the way it was intended. If not, the vapors from the butane can ignite to cause an explosion and fire, such as the one caused by teenager Dustin Zablocki as he was making the drug in St. Cloud last year. Dustin’s grandmother died as a result of the fire. He pled guilty in her murder and was sentenced to prison.
 
A high price for a high
 
And when we say marijuana wax is “concentrated,” we mean it’s anywhere from 30 to 90 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that causes the high. Compare that to the average 14 percent THC levels in leaf marijuana, and you can see why users are experiencing hallucinations and even psychosis. Other adverse effects include nausea and vomiting (which is unpleasant by itself, but also poses the risk of aspirating and thus suffocating on the vomit), increased blood pressure and heartrate, and impaired concentration and judgment for prolonged periods of time. That last effect carries with it a host of other dangers, not the least of which is driving.
 
Two teens in Duluth were hospitalized after having overdosed on marijuana wax.  The mother of one said her son was hallucinating, hearing noises, and having trouble breathing, to the point that she was worried he would die on the way to the hospital.
 
In fact, hospitals are seeing such adverse effects from marijuana wax use that they’re reaching out for help: the Minnesota Poison Control System has had nine separate inquiries from healthcare facilities treating patients for marijuana wax symptoms in the past year.
 
Teens are the target
 
Six of those nine were teenagers aged 14 to 18 years old, which is a statistic that worries local law enforcement. Add to that the fact that marijuana wax seizures are up a staggering 665 percent in five years and you have a very worrying trend.
 
In just the first quarter of 2016, the Northwest Metro VCET, which makes up eight law enforcement agencies in the west metro, seized more than 12 pounds of marijuana concentrates, compared with less than a quarter pound seized in all of 2015.
 
“We are extremely concerned about the increase in marijuana wax seizures in our area,” said Commander Robert Topp of Northwest Metro VCET. “We are seeing dealers target young adults and teens, so we are encouraging parents to become educated on how to recognize the product before a tragedy takes place.”
 
image of marijuana wax 
  
Photo: Marijuana wax is also referred to butane hash (or honey) oil, budder, wax, dabs, and 710 (the word “oil” upside down). It looks like honey or butter and is either smoked using a water pipe or vaporizer pen or ingested by infusing into food or drink.
 

Coming soon: Text to 911 for the deaf and hard of hearing

 
April 21, 2016
 
Imagine you and a friend decide to spend a quiet evening at your house. Maybe you’ll have dinner or watch a movie or just chat. Now imagine your friend suddenly goes into cardiac arrest. You immediately call 911 and put the phone on speaker. The 911 operator dispatches emergency services to your house, then stays on the line with you to talk you through CPR until the ambulance arrives.
 
Now imagine that the scenario is exactly the same, except you’re deaf.
 
image of 911 dispatcher
Photo: Minnesota’s Text to 911 program is a project of
Emergency Communication Networks. A statewide rollout of
the program is expected later this year.
In a situation like this, when every moment counts, using a teletypewriter (TTY) or telecommunications relay service (TRS) can eat up precious seconds. For example, the time it takes for a third party communications assistant to read what you type into your TTY device to the 911 dispatcher, then type the dispatcher’s instructions so that you can read them on your TTY, could mean the difference between life and death.
 
And what if you can hear, but you’re in an emergency where you need to stay quiet? Think domestic violence cases or home invasions. If you need help but asking for it aloud would put you in danger, or if you are deaf or hearing impaired, Text to 911 is an excellent solution.
 
Minnesota’s Text to 911 program is a project of Emergency Communication Networks (ECN), which is a division of the Minn. Department of Public Safety. The ECN anticipates a statewide rollout of the program later this year, meaning anyone in the state of Minnesota will be able to send a text to 911 in place of a call. Not every public safety answering point (PSAP) will be able to receive texts — not right away, anyway — but if yours can’t, you’ll be put through to a PSAP that can, and that dispatcher will coordinate with someone at your PSAP to get the necessary emergency services to you.
 
The most important thing to know when texting to 911 is your location, as location accuracy isn’t as precise for texts as it is for voice calls. So keep an eye on your surroundings and take note of the addresses of places you go (this is always a good idea anyway) – that information will help a 911 dispatcher immensely.
 
Keep an eye on this space for updates on the Text to 911 program later this year! 
 

Forget princesses—Become a Minnesota State Trooper

 
April 18, 2016
 
Every once in a while, you see a female police officer or state trooper going about her duties. And if you’re a woman, you’ve no doubt thought to yourself, “I wonder what it would be like to have a career in law enforcement?” If that question keeps popping into your brain, you might consider clearing your calendar for Saturday, April 23.
 
women in the state patrol
Photo: A Women in Law Enforcement Informational
Session​ is being held on April 23.
That’s when the Minnesota State Patrol is hosting a Women in Law Enforcement Informational Session. The free, interactive event will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Becker Middle School Field House (more details at the Minn. State Patrol website). It’s a great event to attend if you’ve ever considered doing it but didn’t know who to ask.
 
Because, let’s face it: Law enforcement is a vastly male-dominated career field. In law enforcement agencies across the country, women account for about 10 percent of the officers. In Minnesota, 42 of 550 troopers are women.
 
So you may be wondering how they balance career with family life, or whether it’s difficult for women to move up the ranks (hint for that last one: State Patrol women, like men, advance because of competence and capability, not gender). That’s why there will be female troopers on hand from across the state: to answer all your questions about being a woman in law enforcement.
 
They’ll tell you that the women who do best in this field tend to be people-oriented, confident, and capable—that is, not afraid to get their hands dirty. They’ll also tell you it’ll make your family very proud of you.
 
At the informational session, you’ll also get to try out the State Patrol’s physical training (PT) test and learn how to prepare for it. The State Patrol uses the Cooper Standards for physical fitness, which are scaled for age and gender. And speaking of age, it isn’t a barrier—the oldest person to start in the academy was 52! All you need is a two- or four-year college degree in any background.
 
So stop wondering what it’s like to be a woman in law enforcement. Come to Becker on April 23 and find out for sure.
 

Distracted driving, Part 2: The repercussions

 
Posted April 14
 
“You never think you’ll have to talk about your kids in the past tense,” says Peggy Riggs. But she does, because her youngest son, David, was killed in front of their house in 2013 by a driver who was texting. “Losing a child is devastating,” Peggy adds, “but something that could be prevented puts a harder edge on it.”
 
Gifts given, dreams shattered
 
David Riggs friends and family
“This is what my family should look like,” says Peggy Riggs. Her son
David was killed by a driver sending a text. From left:
Girlfriend Ciara, David, sister-in-law Randi, brother
Matt, brother Mike, Mike’s girlfriend Jessica.​
One thing everyone says about David is how giving he was. Even his teachers and bosses agreed: He genuinely cared about people. He raised money for cancer research through his relay for life team in high school. Even in death, he kept on giving: David was an organ donor, so one of his kidneys went to a young man who was on the critical list. A mother received his lungs. And a single dad received his other kidney who, says Peggy, “Would most likely not be here today, and whose kids, who had just lost their mother, would have been parentless. There were also numerous other recipients.”
 
But the fact is that David should have been able to keep on giving in whatever way he chose. His dad, Craig, should still be getting calls from him at work just to tell him something interesting he’d learned that day. His brothers should still be getting texts from him bragging about the hole-in-one he had just made on the golf course. His girlfriend, Ciara, should be making wedding plans and preparing for parenthood with him. He should have continued to root for the Twins and the Wild and maybe started culinary school and used that and his business degree to start a restaurant.
 
But none of that is happening because one young man chose to answer a text instead of pay attention to the road. “I think about it every day,” says Peggy. “People say as time goes on it’ll soften, but the hole it’s left in our family is pretty big.”
 
“The most selfish act”
 
Peggy describes distracted driving as “The most selfish act a person can do. Because they are putting someone else’s life in danger and it’s in a matter of seconds, as we learned, that you can change a family, a community, a life forever. And for what? A phone call? To change your radio or look at a text? I get so angry.”
 
Craig, who commutes via bus, agrees: “I can see down into cars, and I can count five to 10 times on the way home from Minneapolis to St. Paul how many people are on their phones texting, not paying attention, driving. It’s scary.”
 
Because what scares Peggy and Craig the most is the possibility that other families will have to experience this pain. “Nobody wants to be on either end of this,” says Peggy. “I can’t imagine the young man who hit David having to live with the fact that he killed somebody. I mean, he was 18 years old himself; now he has to go through the rest of this life knowing he took a life for something so senseless. There’s no winning in a situation like this, and that’s the part I wish people could grasp.”
 
Being David’s voice
 
So they spread the word as best they can. As part of the sentence for the young man who hit David, Craig and Peggy asked for meaningful community service. So he was required to attend various events, such as AAA driving classes, to tell the story of how David Riggs’ life ended. “We know it has been very difficult for him,” says Craig. “We know he didn’t set out to kill our son. And he probably has nightmares about this every night. But this is what people don’t realize: This could happen to you.”
 
Craig continues, “We don’t want other families to go through this tragedy. So we are David’s voice right now.”
 
And right now, Peggy is using that voice to say, “Keep in mind that, when you’re in your car, you are in there to drive. And that if you choose to be distracted, you can destroy a family. A community.”
 

Distracted driving, Part 1: A choice that can change your life—and end another

 
April 11, 2016
 
If someone walked up to you on the street and asked, “Would you ever intentionally hit another car or a pedestrian with your car?” you – like most of your friends and neighbors – would be appalled. Of course you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t dream of it.
 
Half a second
 
Photo of the Riggs family

Photo: The lives of Peggy (center) and Craig (right) 
Riggs have been forever changed.  A distracted
driver struck and killed their son David (left) in 2013.

 

But imagine the start of a typical day in your life. Maybe you drop the kids off at school and head in to work. Maybe your boss – or friend or spouse or colleague – texts you about some important plans for later in the day. You hear the beep and know it’s important. How many seconds does it take to look down and read those few words? Two? One? Half? If you’re going 30 miles per hour, your car will travel 22 feet in half a second. That’s 22 feet you won’t see. There could be anything in that 22 feet: a tree. A car. A person.
 
And just like that, your life – and the lives of everyone who loves you, and everyone who loved that person in your path – has changed forever. What will you tell your children? Your spouse? Your boss? And what will you say to yourself in the mirror every single day for the rest of your life, knowing you caused someone’s death because you simply couldn’t wait to look at that text?
 
David Riggs: 1992–2013
 
Peggy and Craig Riggs are two of those whose lives have been forever changed by one of those split-second decisions. In August of 2013, their 20-year-old son David was struck and killed in front of their house by a distracted driver. A driver who had, in fact, seen David from further up the street, then looked down to send a text. Peggy was in her bedroom changing her clothes at the time. “I heard a noise. It didn’t sound like a crash, per se, but it didn’t sound good. And for some reason I just had a sick feeling — I don’t know if it was mothers’ instinct – but I was afraid to look out the window. Our neighbor was yelling for me to come downstairs, but I was kind of frozen.”
 
Craig, a former EMT, was returning from work: “I saw my neighbor standing there, and I had a sick feeling – like Peggy said, that instinct – that this wasn’t good. I was second on the scene with my neighbor. David had been hit. I started doing first aid and assessing David while they called 911. And I don’t know how I got through that, knowing what I know. I knew it was bad, and it felt like eternity, waiting for the ambulance to get there. It probably was ten minutes, but David, at that time, he was still breathing, but I knew in my heart from everything I knew from being an EMT that things were not good. That’s what we live with every day.”
 
“I wasn’t paying attention”
 
Peggy says the young man who hit David was standing over Craig and David as he lay bleeding on the pavement. “Craig kept asking him, ‘What happened? What happened?’ All he said was that he was sorry. ‘I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.’”
 
What you can do
 
The Riggs’ pain is palpable and heartbreaking, and if you witnessed it, you’d want to do anything you could to fix it – to turn back time and give them back their son. But you can’t. Here’s what you can do instead: You can put your phone away every single time you get behind the wheel. You can choose to pay attention to the road and its surprises for every single moment you’re driving. You can refuse to be a distracted driver.
 
Tune in Thursday for Part 2 of this blog, where you’ll learn about the long-term impact—both positive and negative—David’s death has had on his family, his friends, and complete strangers.
 
 

Rights for the Wronged


April 7, 2016

When you see stories about crime in the news, the focus is often on the perpetrator. And although there are good reasons for that, it also makes it easy to lose sight of the most important person involved in a crime: the victim. Add to that the fact that many victims are afraid to speak out about their victimization and do not get the care and support they need, and you get a self-perpetuating cycle, where the victim's welfare is often overlooked or forgotten.

Crime victim
Photo: Our Office of Justice Programs has many resources available to victims of violent crimes. ​
 
That’s why National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW) was established: to increase awareness of victim rights and honor victims and those who advocate on their behalf. This year, NCVRW is April 10–16, and although victim rights are important all year round, this week is an opportunity to educate and emphasize the fairness, dignity, and respect all crime victims are entitled to. The aim – which is also this year’s theme – is “Serving victims, building trust, and restoring hope.”

 

Victims’ rights fall into four major categories:

  • Notification
  • Participation
  • Protection
  • Compensation

For example, as the victim of a crime, you have the right to be notified of your rights and the prosecution process. You have the right to participate in the prosecution of the perpetrator by providing input and informing the judge of the impact of the crime at key hearings. You have the right to ask for protections, such as having your identity withheld from the public in police reports and keeping your home address and phone number confidential in open court. And you have the right to apply for financial compensation for losses related to the crime. A more comprehensive list of crime victim rights can be found on the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Crime Victim Rights webpage.

If you are the victim of a crime and believe your rights have been violated, visit the MN OJP Crime Victim Rights Enforcement webpage, or call 800-247-0390, ext. 3.


The End of Children’s Bullying Begins with Adults

 
April 4, 2016
 
It’s a given: All parents want their children to be safe. And we can all agree that bullying is a very unsafe behavior, whether it causes physical scars or psychological ones. So what do you do when you find out your child is being bullied? How do you stop it from happening and keep your child safe?

This year, April 4–8 is National Youth Violence Prevention Week, and it’s a good opportunity to review what to do when your child is being bullied. Chief among them is the fact that bullying is not just about children; it’s about everyone. If “don’t bully” and “just ignore it” actually worked, no one would ever be bullied. We cannot leave it to kids alone to solve; rather, adults have to be part of the solution too.
 
The prevailing data shows that only 40 percent of bullying gets reported, and if you think about it, the reason why is clear: Kids often think adults won’t do anything about it, or if they do, it will be ineffective. Which is why you generally get one chance: If a child reports bullying and the adult does nothing, that child is likely never to report again.
 
So here are a few tips for what to do when your child tells you he or she is being bullied (adapted from a tip sheet from Committee for Children, a national provider of research-based bullying prevention curricula and resources):
 
1. Stay calm. It’s easy to get angry when someone is hurting your child (literally or figuratively), but right now you need to be in a state of mind to listen and plan. Breathe, count, or do what you need to do to chill out.
2. Listen. Let your child tell you the whole story, without interruptions.
3. Affirm. Your child may be feeling anxious or scared, thinking that reporting may only make the bullying worse. Assure your child that this is the right thing to do and that you support it.
4. Ask questions. Circle back to get any details you missed in step 2. Use “who/what/when/where/how” if you need to. These details will be important if you later need to make a report to the school or even the police.
5. Make a plan. Tell your child what you plan to do. This will likely involve calling your child’s teacher and/or principal and making an appointment to talk in person. If the bullying took place on school property, it’s generally best not to directly address the parents of the child doing the bullying; let the school do that.
6. Follow through. This is the most important step. Keep that appointment with the principal and teacher, ask them exactly what they intend to do about it (hint: bringing both children into the same room and making the bullying child “apologize” to the bullied child backfires every time) and how you can help, then make sure it happens. When your child’s safety is at stake, there’s nothing wrong with being the squeaky wheel.
 
For more in-depth information on what to do when your child is bullied, check out StopBullying.gov’s “Responding to Bullying” page and Committee for Children’s bullying prevention resources and articles.
 

We Dig Calling 811

 
March 31, 2016
 
It’s coming soon: that perfect, sunny weekend day when you magically have time to pick up seeds and bedding plants, dust off your gardening tools after a long winter in the garage, and get to work in your yard. The folks at the Office of Pipeline Safety are just as excited, but they remind you to take one extra step before you dig a hole for that sweet little maple sapling: Call 811.
 
woman digging in backyard

Photo: Call 811 at least two business days
before you plan to dig.

The service is called Gopher State One Call, and it’s a free, easy way to make sure you don’t disrupt any underground utilities (such as electric, gas or water lines) when you dig. Calling before you dig is actually required by Minnesota state law, and for good reason: Utility lines can run just inches below the surface, and hitting one can cause serious injury, not to mention service disruptions and repair costs.
 
Here’s how it works: Decide where you’re going to dig, then mark it with white stakes or spray paint (that way they won’t have to mark up your entire property). Then, at least two business days before you plan to dig, call 811 or visit www.gopherstateonecall.org and give them your dig information. They’ll want to know your name, phone number and street address, along with the dig location, nearest intersection, type of work and date and time you plan to start.
 
Any organization that has underground facilities near your dig site will see your information, at which point they’ll review the location of their utilities in relation to your dig site. If they find that they have utilities in or near your dig site, they’ll visit and place color-coded paint or flags marking the location of their utilities.
 
And in case you’re wondering if this extra step is truly necessary, consider this: Excavation-related damages in Minnesota have decreased by more than 70 percent since 1996. So before you start digging post holes for that new deck, give Gopher State One Call a buzz. They’ll help ensure that you can enjoy that new deck (or tree or garden or…) for years to come.
 

Two ways you can help stop unsafe drivers

 
March 28, 2016
 
Picture this: You’re carefully merging onto a highway, obeying the speed limit, when a car blows past you and cuts you off, narrowly avoiding a crash. As the car speeds away, you worry the driver will keep up this reckless behavior, possibly hurting or even killing someone in the process. What to do?
 
Minnesota license plate
​Photo: When reporting unsafe driving, the dispatcher
will ask for your location and the license plate number
of the vehicle in question.
The Minnesota State Patrol deals with situations like this every day, and fortunately, they have a system in place for dealing with them. They recommend that, if you see someone swerving, speeding or otherwise driving recklessly, you should call 911 if it is safe to do so.
 
The dispatcher will ask for your location and the license plate number of the vehicle in question, as well as any other details you can provide. The dispatcher will also help you assess what you should do while waiting for a State Trooper to arrive. Here’s a hint: never follow an unsafe driver unless the dispatcher says it is safe to do so.
 
You may wonder, if you don’t follow the dangerous driver, how will the State Patrol find the vehicle? It turns out that they often get multiple calls on the same vehicle—and don’t forget traffic cameras. They can help troopers piece together the vehicle’s speed, location, and direction so that it can be pulled over as soon as possible.
 
The State Patrol understands it’s not always safe to call 911 in the moment, which is why they’ve put together an online tool to report unsafe driving after the fact. As soon as you’re able to access the Internet (read: not while you’re driving), you can use the unsafe driving report tool to select the region you’re in, then fill in blanks about the incident date, time and location, as well as the vehicle’s make, model, color and license plate number and state. There’s room to add a description of the incident (the more specific the better), and then your name and contact information. If they need more information, someone from the State Patrol will follow up with you.
 
One thing to remember: A trooper can’t give a citation for any behavior they don’t witness. But the most important thing is that dangerous drivers are pulled over before they can cause any damage—and the Minnesota State Patrol appreciates your help!
 

Is there a teen driver in your house? Read this.

 
March 24, 2016
 
With the snow melting off the roads, your teen driver may be lobbying for some behind-the-wheel time. And although driving is a great skill for your teen to have (just think: your days as a taxi driver are numbered!), it can also put them in danger.
 
Did you know that traffic crashes are the second leading cause of teen deaths in Minnesota? It’s enough to make a parent want to never let their kid drive – but don’t despair, there are things you can do to help your teen become the best, safest driver possible.
 
The first almost goes without saying, but we’re saying it anyway because it’s so important: Be a good role model.
 
image of teens texting while driving
Photo: Try putting your phone into the glove compartment ​
while driving in the car with your kids.
Remember when they were learning to talk and you had to consciously avoid using bad words so that they didn’t copy you? Well, now’s the time for similar self-restraint: When you’re driving with your kids in the car, don’t use your phone to text or access the web. Not even at stoplights. In fact, try putting your phone into the glove compartment or a zippered pocket of your bag, so that you’re not even tempted.
 
Being a positive role model for your young driver also means always obeying the speed limit, requiring the use of seat belts, not giving in to road rage…well, you get the idea. Basically, be the kind of driver you want your kid to be.
 
While you’re at it, refresh your knowledge of the Minnesota Driver’s Manual so you can be sure you’re getting it right and are able to answer any questions your teen may have.
 
Once your teen has an instruction permit, it’s time to provide supervised driving experience. Lots of it. Don’t stop even after they get their provisional license, because the more supervised driving time a teen has, the safer driver her or she will be.
 
Start out in a large, empty parking lot, but as confidence builds, try unfamiliar roads and lots of different conditions, such as darkness, rain, and snow, and be as patient and positive as you can. Log your hours in the Supervised Driving Log in this brochure.
 
Lastly, let safety guide every decision you and your teen make about driving, whether it’s what car to buy (hint: what it looks like is not the most important thing) or when to leave. If it comes down to a contest between convenience and safety – say, your teen wants to drive to basketball practice by herself, but it’s icy, so you ride with her even though you have things to do at home — safety must win every time.
 
And while you’re discussing safety with your teen driver, take a moment to set reasonable rules and consequences: Are friends allowed in the car if you’re not there? How many? Is it okay to drive after dark? Involving your teen in the rule-making process may not sound fun, but it may make him or her more likely to honor the agreement you make.
 
Be sure to peruse the Teen Driving section of our website, where you’ll find lots of resources to help your teen become a safe, skilled driver.
 

Emergency Management Needs a New Home

March 21, 2016
 
State lawmakers are in the process of reviewing Governor Dayton’s Jobs Bill, a provision of which would invest $33 million to build a new State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to replace the outdated, obsolete one in downtown St. Paul. It’s an important project because Minnesotans depend on state resources to respond and recover when disaster strikes. And that means having a dependable SEOC where state agencies can come together to support local government and coordinate the state’s response.
 

Photo: State agencies work together in the SEOC to support local government and coordinate the state's response in an emergency. ​
 
 Our division of Homeland Security Emergency Management runs the SEOC, coordinating other agencies and getting help where it’s needed in the state. We produced a video that will give you a behind-the-scenes look at what happens when the SEOC is activated.

The current SEOC is too close to the state government headquarters, which makes it vulnerable in case of an attack or natural disaster. That’s why Department of Public Safety leaders hope to build a new one in Arden Hills at the old Army munitions site. It will be safer and more than twice as large as the current SEOC, but will require less money to operate. State-of-the-art features and new technology will give responding agencies and partners the new tools to react to an emergency effectively and efficiently. 

The SEOC’s most recent activation came in April 2015 during the avian influenza outbreak. It was also used twice in 2014 to respond to the propane shortage and the damage caused by severe storms, high winds and mudslides.

We hope that when a community needs state resources again, the SEOC will be able to respond from a brand-new headquarters where it can operate at maximum efficiency and effectiveness.


Heroin Is the Villain

 
March 17, 2016
 
A classical pianist working on his college degree. An avid outdoorsman who loved hockey. A cook who collected art. They sound like people you might like to be friends with. But they all recently died of heroin overdoses.
 
It’s so easy to think of drugs—and heroin in particular—as a big city problem, relegated to “those people” who were already long-time users.
 
But recent heroin deaths and overdoses in northern Minnesota are proving those assumptions wrong, and showing just how dangerous it is to think of it as someone else’s problem. Investigators are finding stark inconsistencies in the purity of heroin being sold today, which means that although today’s hit may get you high, tomorrow’s may kill you – and there’s no way to tell the difference. Worse, investigators are seeing more incidents where heroin is being laced with additional substances that make it even more deadly.
 
Recent statistics bear this out: In 2010, 4 percent of the clients of MN Adult & Teen Challenge a short- and long-term drug and alcohol addiction treatment program, were being treated for heroin addiction; today, that number has skyrocketed to 30 percent. But not everyone gets help. Heroine, possibly laced with other substances, is thus far responsible for more than a dozen overdoses and no fewer than seven deaths in Minnesota over the past few weeks, wreaking havoc in small communities like Cass Lake, Carlton and Walker.
 
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and its partners are treating these deaths as homicide investigations. And when they find the dealers who are distributing this deadly heroin, they intend to charge them with third-degree murder.
 
Another danger presented by drugs is ignorance. The people who have died were beloved by parents, children, family and friends, but it can be difficult to spot heroin use, especially because it’s not uncommon for addicts to appear to function normally. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation lists the following signs and symptoms of heroin use: euphoria, drowsiness, impaired mental functioning, slowed respiration, and constricted pupils. Signs of an overdose include shallow breathing, pinpoint pupils, convulsions, and coma.
 
So what can you do? If you believe someone you know is using heroin, call MN Adult & Teen Challenge at 612-FREEDOM or another treatment facility. If you suspect someone has overdosed, call 911 immediately. If you have information on the people involved in heroin trafficking in Minnesota, call your local law enforcement. And if you are using heroin, get the help you need before this drug takes your life.
 
We must work together to defeat this villain known as heroin.
 

Luck o’ the Irish? Not for Drunk Drivers

 
March 14, 2016
 
Remember when you were a kid and you carefully planned your St. Patrick’s Day outfit? It had to have easily visible green in it so you wouldn’t get pinched. You might be doing the same thing this week in preparation for going to a St. Paddy’s Day party at a friend’s house or your favorite Irish pub, airing out that leprechaun hat or “Kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirt.
 
image of many bottles of beer
​Photo: On St. Patrick’s Day, extra DWI enforcement
will be out on the roads in 25 counties.
But do you know what’s a terrible addition to a St. Paddy’s Day outfit? Handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit. Even worse: a coffin. Which is why you should carefully plan not only the green in your outfit, but also how much you’ll drink and how you and your friends will get home safely.
 
For example, it’s important to know what you’re drinking and the alcohol content. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) considers a 12-ounce beer (green or otherwise) that contains 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) to be a regular drink. But a typical craft beer is equivalent to drinking nearly two regular beers.
 
Timing is also critical. Brown University experts estimate that the liver can metabolize about one standard drink per hour—any more will be stored in your blood until it can be metabolized (hence the term “blood alcohol content”).
 
So if you’re planning to party, also plan a way to get home safely before you start drinking. Fortunately, you have a lot of options: designate a sober driver, call a cab, take public transportation (Metro Transit will be offering free rides on buses, light rail and Northstar from 6 p.m. – 3 a.m. that day), or just arrange to stay overnight at the location of the party. After all, crashing on a couch is much better than crashing in a car.
 
If your own safety and that of everyone else on the roads isn’t motivation enough, consider this: On St. Patrick’s Day, extra DWI enforcement will be out on the roads of Minnesota’s top 25 most dangerous drunk-driving counties. And one DWI arrest can cost as much as $20,000 when you factor in court costs, lawyer fees and increased insurance premiums. You can also lose your license for up to a year and face possible jail time.
 
So wear that green proudly and do your best leprechaun impression this St. Patrick’s Day, but remember: drinking and driving is the one sure way not to get the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
 

Delayed (Vacation) Gratification: Post When You Get Home

 
March 10, 2016
 
We get it: It’s been a long winter. The kids will be on break from school soon, you’ve been slaving away since the holidays, and everyone just needs to get away to someplace warm and fun.
 
​Photo: Thieves turn to social media like Facebook and
Twitter to find empty homes to rob.
And when you finally take that vacation you’ve worked so hard for, it’s tempting to post photos on social media and check in at the various hot spots you’re visiting. And for the most part, your friends and family will be following your experiences with eagerness and joy (and maybe just a teensy bit of jealousy).
 
But you know who else is looking for those photos—and for a much more unsavory purpose? Criminals. A recent study shows that 78% of ex-burglars believe current thieves turn to social media like Facebook and Twitter to find empty homes to rob. For example, some New Hampshire teens committed a string of burglaries by using Facebook to find homes whose owners were away on vacation.
 
This doesn’t mean you can’t brag about that once-in-a-lifetime adventure with your family; just try to hearken back to the old days when you had to wait to get all your photos developed before you could show them off to your friends.
 
And because criminals use Google Street View to case out potential targets, here are some other suggestions for making sure everything will be just as you left it when you return:
  • Tell a trusted neighbor when you’ll be gone. That same person may be willing to pick up newspapers and takeout menus left on the doorknob, as well as mail (if you don’t have the post office hold it). An overflowing mailbox is a sure indicator of an empty house.
  • Put your lights and a TV or radio on timers. If your house is completely dark at dusk, it can tip off potential burglars.
  • Ask a neighbor or friend to open and shut drapes or blinds daily. Anything to mimic your usual routine.
  • See if a neighbor can park a car in your driveway at times.
Taking the precaution of making your house appear occupied, combined with delaying the gratification of posting your location and vacation photos on social media, can help ensure that you can spend your post-vacation days getting rid of jet lag and enjoying your souvenirs rather than filling out police reports and alerting your insurance company. You’ll find it to be a much more pleasant homecoming!
 

New Batteries: The Makings of a Superhero

 
March 7, 2016
 
Wouldn’t it be great to be a superhero? Flying around saving people, cape fluttering majestically in the breeze? Despite the fact that no one outside a comic book will have that exact experience, you can still be a hero and save lives. All it takes is a handful of batteries and a little time.
 
person testing a smoke alarm
Photo: Replace batteries in all your smoke and carbon
monoxide alarms at the start of daylight saving time.
This Sunday is the start of daylight saving time, so you’ll likely be going around your house changing clocks. Why not stop by the store between now and then, grab a package of fresh batteries, and replace them in all your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms while you’re at it? Two birds, one stone.
 
It’s not a very exciting thing to do, but the alternative is injury or worse to you or your loved ones in the event of a fire or carbon monoxide leak. That’s the kind of excitement you don’t want. People in Minnesota die every year in fires because their smoke alarms weren’t working or had dead batteries. But just last week, a local family escaped their home unscathed because their working smoke alarm alerted them to a fire.
 
Experts say that, given the proliferation of light wood furniture and flammable synthetic materials in houses today, you have an estimated two minutes to escape your home. Many fires happen at night while the family is sleeping, and two minutes is a lot less time than your snooze button gives you to be awake, alert and out of bed. Which is why the harsh, high-pitched beeping of a smoke alarm is essential to survival.
 
So this Sunday, add the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to the clocks on your to-do list. And then, if the worst happens, you’ll get to be a superhero — even if you have to leave your cape behind.
 

Warm Up to Motorcycle Safety

 
March 3, 2016
 
If you’re a motorcyclist, chances are you’re pretty excited about this weekend’s weather forecast. After months in a cold garage, your two-wheeled beauty can finally get out on the open road for some fresh air and sunshine!
 
motorcyclist going through a motorcycle training course

​Photo: Hone those motorcycle riding skills by taking
a rider training course.

 

But before you take to the highway, consider dusting off your motorcycle skills in an open parking lot first. After all, riding a motorcycle isn’t necessarily like…well, like riding a bike: You can forget, and the consequences can be dangerous. In 2015, for example, 61 motorcyclists died, and the first happened in—you guessed it—mid-March.
 
And if you want help honing those skills, it never hurts to take a rider training course. Registration is now open, and most training sites hold their first sessions at the beginning of April. There’s something for everyone: beginners’ courses for new riders, intermediate courses for experienced riders and advanced or expert courses for the more seasoned enthusiast. You can check out all available motorcycle training courses on our website. (Most intermediate, advanced and expert courses start in May.)
 
As you know, safety isn’t just about your knowledge and skills; it’s about what’s out there on the roads. That’s why it’s important to be aware of some of the safety hazards spring can bring. Some examples of spring hazards are sand and gravel at intersections and turns, snow run-off that freezes overnight, and uneven pavement and potholes.
 
And although your safety also depends on other drivers, you can help by being as visible as possible to them. That means wearing full, brightly-colored protective gear—and don’t forget your DOT-approved helmet!
 
By following these safety tips, you can enjoy the gorgeous weather on your first motorcycle ride of the season and get safely home to tell everyone about it afterward.