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Cruisers, Crashes and Big Maroon Hats —

It's State Patrol Day at the State Fair

 
Posted Thursday August 27, 2015
 
Monday at the State Fair, inspect a hi-tech Minnesota State Patrol (MSP) cruiser, chat with Patrol officers and get close to some vintage law-enforcement vehicles, including the 1930-model Harley Davidson.
 
There’s much more, and it’s going to happen at Promo Place — we used to call it Machinery Hill — at the north end of the fairgrounds.
 
From 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., demonstrations will rotate through the State Patrol display.
 
state patrol day with old squad car and attendees
Photo: Get close to some vintage law-enforcement vehicles at the
Minnesota State Fair on Friday, Aug. 28.
 
 Every 30 minutes, watch a State Patrol K-9 handler and one of the 12 specially trained MSP dogs. The dogs are mostly Belgian Malinois — they look like small German Shepherds — but there are other breeds, as well, because certain characteristics are important to the jobs they do. It’s fascinating to watch these animals work.
 
Don’t miss the vehicle airbag demonstrations, either, because watching is the most comfortable way to find out how they work. You don’t want the first-hand experience, and after you watch, you’ll know why.
 
Troopers will be there all day to demonstrate the popular “Fatal Vision” goggles, too. Put these things on and get a “sobering view of what impairment can do.”  The goggles have special lenses that realistically simulate impairment. When you’re sober, these goggles make it perfectly clear why you shouldn’t drive when you’re not.
 
Have you ever seen a rollover crash up close? It’s not easy to imagine, but the MSP rollover simulator will give you a good reason to wear your seat belt — and their crash-reconstruction folks can explain to you how they figure out what happened, in what order, and often determine who’s at fault in a crash.
 
Take a look at the Radio Communication Van, talk with the Special Response Team and check out a State Patrol helicopter while you’re there…and take the kids. They’ll love the Batmobile.
The State Patrol Honor Guard will post colors during a ceremony at 10:20 a.m. near the band shell, and the 2 p.m. daily parade will include a brand new MSP squad car.
 
State Patrol Day is an opportunity to learn about MSP and to understand what our Troopers do. Keep in mind, they’re always looking for Trooper recruits, too — this year with a focus on making the MSP look like Minnesota, with greater diversity and more female Troopers.
 
You’re invited to spend the day with them at the State Fair on Monday and get the big picture on this impressive organization.

 

Big Shiny Trucks and Spotted Dogs! Men in Kilts, and Smoke and Flames!

It Must Be Fire Prevention Day at the State Fair
 
Posted August 24, 2015
 
Friday, Aug. 28 is a big day at the State Fair for fans of all things fire related.
 
It’s year 17 for Governor’s Fire Prevention Day, coordinated by the Governor’s Council on Fire Prevention and Control, and while events and demonstrations remain similar to previous years, it never gets old. Kids still love the Fire Escape House, adults still shudder at the explosive “Don’t pour water on a grease fire” demonstration, and audiences are still impressed with the Fire Explorer Challenge events at Carousel Park.
 
Photo: Students aged 15 to 20 test their skills in five events.
The Fire Explorer Challenge is a competition among students aged 15 to 20 who test their skills in five events: search and rescue, ladder raise, gear donning (the professional time limit is two minutes, but some of the Explorers can do it in less than a minute), spinal immobilization and cardiac arrest management. Their competitions and demos go on from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., with speeches at 11 by Lt. Governor Tina Smith, State Fire Marshal Bruce West and Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Mark Dunaski.  SFM West will preside over the award ceremony at 4:45 p.m.
 
The solemn flag raising ceremony is popular, too. Held at 10 a.m. near the Libby Conference Center, with seating for those who attend, the proceedings include a pipe-and-drum team, a color guard, some talented singers, and — of course — the requisite bagpipe performance.
 
The biggest attractions on Fire Prevention Day are in the “Hot Zone” located on Promo Place, at the north end of the fairgrounds, just east of the Pet Center.
 
The Hot Zone features fire trucks (antiques and shiny, modern ones) and trailers full of surprises. The kitchen fire demo, as mentioned, is a crowd-pleaser. The sprinkler trailer shows you how fast a residential sprinkler can knock down a fire, limiting damage to a single room — and you’ll find “Sprinkler Myths and Facts” in a booth next door. (Really, they don’t all go off at the same time.)
 
Play some games at the interactive displays, and find out what you know about pipelines and general fire safety. Learn about wildland fires, visit the 911 Tribute Booth, and get wise to the Arson Hotline program at the International Arson Investigators display.
 
While the kids burn off some energy in the Hopper House, you can check out the Homeland Security and Emergency Management booth to learn about Minnesota’s Wireless Alert System (get notices on your phone when the weather goes south or a train derails in your area) and pick up a free “Evacuation Kit” bag. It’s a backpack-style nylon bag just large enough to hold the things you’d need if you had to evacuate your neighborhood in an emergency.
 
Get a quick CPR refresher, talk to a fire extinguisher expert, and learn about home security systems. It’s all there, all day, and it’s all good for you.  So get yourself something deep-fried on a stick, and come on over. It’s Fire Prevention Day at the Great Minnesota Get Together!

 

Prepare to Become Aware: Extra DWI Enforcement Aug. 21 - Sept. 7

 
Posted August 20, 2015
 
Starting tomorrow and running through Labor Day, more than 300 law enforcement agencies across the state will participate in a DWI enforcement campaign on Minnesota roads. If you’re not already aware of the danger of driving impaired — and the hassle and expense of getting caught — chances are good you’ll have your eyes opened between now and then. The roads will be saturated with officers looking for saturated drivers.
 
smashed car that was in a crash
Photo: The DWI enforcement campaigns work;
they’re preventing needless traffic deaths.
Often during these campaigns, drivers ask, “Why doesn’t this level of enforcement take place year-round?” In fact, DWI is a priority for all law enforcement officers, all the time — but the special enforcement periods, using federal funds to pay overtime, focus additional attention on a specific behavior. In this case, it’s DWI — and it’s beneficial to be aware those officers are out there. Here’s why:
 
Nearly one out of four deaths on Minnesota roads is drunk-driving related. Last year, 88 real, live people died violently in drunk-driving crashes. They included people just like you, with friends and families, hopes and worries, driving along in the next lane. Like you, they assumed they were safe on the road as long as they controlled their own vehicles. But 88 of them are gone now because someone drank too much, decided to drive and didn’t get caught before somebody died. The DWI enforcement campaigns are about trying to save the next 88 lives.
 
Labor Day is the second deadliest major holiday on Minnesota roads. There’s a downward trend in the data; 17 percent of traffic deaths were related to drunk driving from 2010 through 2014, as compared to 27 percent from 2005 through 2009. The statisticians are giving us good news. The problem is this: it’s not just data. These are people’s lives. If impaired drivers were removed from the roads entirely, we’d have more living friends and fewer funerals. The DWI enforcement campaigns are about removing impaired drivers from the roads.
 
The arrest data is disturbing. In 2014, Minnesota law enforcement took 25,258 impaired drivers off the road. That’s 69 arrests per day, on average, including those made during enforcement campaigns. The average blood alcohol content in those arrests was .15; the legal limit is .08.   And one out of seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI on record.  So look around you when you’re driving, and consider those numbers. It quickly becomes clear that the DWI enforcement campaigns are about saving your life and the life of whoever is sitting next to you.
 
There are thousands of facts about traffic crashes in Minnesota Crash Facts, a publication of the DPS Office of Traffic Safety, and you can find more details there. For now, know this: These DWI enforcement campaigns work. They’re preventing needless traffic deaths, and you can help by taking a stand on this issue. Find a sober ride — every time, without fail. Require your party guests to bring a sober driver, and refuse to let anyone who has been drinking drive home. Minnesota law enforcement is trying to protect you, and when you cooperate, everybody wins.

 

Reduce The Risks  And The Worries  Of "Back-To-School"

 
Posted August 17, 2015
 
There are certain, undeniable truths in this world:
 
Two plus two = four.
E=MC2.
Parent minus child = anxiety.
 
A parent just can’t help it. If you’re not within a certain distance, you think about every bad thing that could happen without your protective presence. Increase the distance, and you increase the anxiety — which is why parents are as jittery about young adults starting college as the kids leaving home for the first time.
 
The Department of Public Safety can help, though — a little, at least. There are ways to mitigate some of the dangers, starting with kindergarten and continuing into campus life. Take a look at these sources for safety tips, and discuss the topics with your kids. It won’t make them like broccoli, but might help them make other good choices.
 
image of kids getting on a school bus
​Photo: If your child will be riding the bus for the first time, learn about school bus safety for kids.
 If your child will be riding the bus for the first time, learn about school bus safety for kids and drivers on the Minnesota State Patrol site, and get 16 Tips for a Safer Bus Ride from the National Safety Council (NSC). Your child might like the School Bus Safety Coloring Book, as well.
 
Are your kids riding their bikes or walking to school? Before they can spell “pedestrian,” they need to know how to be one. The NSC tip sheet is great, and DPS Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) advice covers walking and biking safety, along with instructions for motorists negotiating school zones.
 
And by the way, make sure that bike helmet fits properly. It takes just a minute to read the rules.
 
The DPS Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is as concerned about online safety as you are. DPS-BCA links to Netsmartz, a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to provide parents access to clear, commonsense videos on cell phones, cyberbullying, chatrooms, predators, and revealing too much information. Their Student Project Kit even helps your child teach peers about online safety.
 
Teens often begin driving to high school, presenting another thing for parents to worry about. There’s more to do than cross your fingers, though. Check the DPS-OTS page on Teen Driving issues. They’ll give you all the facts to justify your concerns, with good advice you can pass along. And visit the NSC again for tips on dealing with inexperienced drivers.
 
Then there’s college — and two more huge concerns for parents. DPS-OTS shares facts about underage drinking, and you may want to share them with your college-bound child. Their Crash Facts publication can help you show your student, by the numbers, why it’s essential to find a sober ride every time.
 
The DPS State Fire Marshal Division hopes you’ll talk about fire safety, too.  Every year, fire kills students on and off campus. Usually it’s because students simply don’t know how to survive. The National Fire Protection Association page on Campus and Dorm Fire Safety contains lifesaving basics, and U.S. Fire Administration statistics and advice cover on- and off-campus situations. That child who’s going away is no longer a child — but that’s all the more reason to work on adult behavior in an emergency.
 
When your child goes to school, you can’t be there. But you can teach them more about safety, so you can worry less. In fact, after the school supplies are on hand, the time you take to discuss these topics may be the best “back to school” investment you can make. Your student will be ready — and so will you.

 

Educators: Mine the DPS Site for Ideas and Resources

 
Posted August 13, 2015
 
It’s the middle of August, for Pete’s sake. Families are still at the lake. Nights are pleasantly warm. Tomatoes and cucumbers are still coming in, and the State Fair hasn’t even started. We don’t want to hear the “S” word!
 
Nonetheless, retailers are marking down school supplies and gushing about this year’s “back-to-school look.”  Parents are thinking about after-school care, transportation issues and whether last year’s athletic equipment still fits. And even as they harvest tomatoes, teachers are contemplating a new year, a new class, and ways to keep lessons fresh and interesting.
 
If you are a teacher, or know one who’s planning for fall, here’s a suggestion: Take a look at the Department of Public Safety website. There are DPS divisions that provide learning resources good from grade school through adulthood.
 
state fire marshal interactive games
Photo: State Fire Marshal Division
interactive games web page.
 The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is a good example. Known for Amber Alerts, crime labs and investigative services, BCA is also a huge promoter of online safety. Their Internet Crimes Against Children page is both enlightening and a little frightening. And it’s great fodder for teachers who want to help kids stay safe on the internet. In addition to BCA tips, there’s a link to Netsmartz  with a special section of video and print resources for educators.
 
Homeland Security and Emergency Management is all about preparation and prevention, and they have a passion for weather safety. They also have a special Weather Awareness page for kids and educators. In addition to colorful brochures and projects, there’s a simple Kid’s Phone List form any parent would love. And if you visit the HSEM State Fair booth Aug. 28, you can pick up a nylon “evacuation bag.” Designed like a backpack to hold things you’ll need if you’re forced to leave home immediately, it would make a good safety-lesson focus.
 
The State Fire Marshal Division loves kids and teachers, too — and they’ve made it easy to build a lesson around fire safety. The Education Material page contains too many resources, for too many age groups, to list — but they’re all separated by topic and grade level, so you’ll find something to like there. For a few minutes of online education try the Interactive Games. They cover winter and summer safety, arson awareness, and for older kids, there’s a “Jeopardy” style game about fire safety.
 
Educators may also like to peruse the “Youth Firesetter” page created especially for them.  Kids who set fires need help. Often a teacher is the first to see the problem, and links to the necessary resources are there.
 
Minnesota State Patrol troopers are the highly visible part of that operation, but there’s a lot of safety education going on behind their efforts. Check their site for information on school bus safety. For teachers, there are links to educational material and a variety of short, impressive videos on the DPS YouTube page, many of them targeting teen driving issues.
 
On a related note, the DPS Office of Traffic Safety provides plenty of material for older students to cull for writing material. Their annual Crash Facts publication contains some sobering statistics along with clear, understandable analyses of the types and causes of Minnesota traffic crashes. Stats are split out in a dozen ways, so no matter what you’re wondering about, the answer is probably there. High school students may be interested in teen driving info, too; there are lots of statistics and tips, along with FAQs and fact sheets — material for plenty of interesting reports.
 
There are email contacts on the website, and DPS wants to be your public safety resource. So look at the offerings and make use of them whenever you can. Here’s wishing you a safe and happy new school year.

 

After the Storm: How Minnesota Disaster Assistance Works

 
Posted August 10, 2015

Joe Kelly recently received a letter from Governor Dayton that made a huge difference in Martin County.
 
Kelly is the director of the DPS Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DPS-HSEM) division, and the letter said that the administration, based on documentation provided by DPS-HSEM, had decided that June 22 damage from thunderstorms and straight-line winds in southcentral Minnesota was “…of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant the use of the State Public Disaster Assistance fund, as described under Minn. Stat. §12B.”
 
The letter went on to designate Kelly the governor’s representative in the matter of getting funds distributed among the entities that suffered damage in the storm.
 
None of that (except, perhaps, the collective sigh of relief from Martin County) is out of the ordinary. Summer storms are commonplace in Minnesota, and the government often provides funding to repair public infrastructure and help communities get back on their feet. But this time, Governor Dayton was able to approve the first-ever use of the State Disaster Contingency Account without a major federal disaster declaration.
 
storm damage assessment
Photo: Minnesota disaster assistance includes repairs to publicly owned
utilities and debris removal for counties that meet the requirements.
The money will come from a fund designated by the state Legislature in 2014 to handle situations exactly like this one — where damage is not great enough to trigger a federal disaster declaration, but does amount to 50 percent of the federal requirements. Preliminary damage assessments in this case showed close to $60,000 in damages from the storm, and assistance will cover repairs to publicly owned utilities and take care of debris removal from public property in the towns of Ceylon, Fairmont, Sherburn and Welcome, with the state paying 75 percent of the cost and Martin County covering 25 percent.
 
The process works like this:
  • A storm or other natural disaster strikes, destroying property and public infrastructure.
  • The county government declares a local emergency, approximating the dollar amounts of damage, costs of debris removal and the extent of protective measures that need to be taken.
  • The county submits a request for a damage assessment by DPS-HSEM to be included in the declaration; the result determines their eligibility for state or federal aid.
  • DPS-HSEM reviews the county’s request and submits it to the governor’s office.
 
Historically, the costs of storm damage like that in Martin County were borne solely by city and county governments. In cases with greater destruction, the state Legislature would meet to make decisions on disaster assistance. Because so much of Minnesota’s storm damage takes place in the summertime, that meant calling a special session, which worked well enough for many years — but it wasn’t the most cost-effective or efficient way to handle the situation.
 
Judging from the way this latest funding request sailed along, the new Public Disaster Assistance Fund is going to be a winner for Martin County, for people affected by future disastrous storms, and for all our Minnesota taxpayers.

 

Enforcement Campaign and Speeder Survey Net 16,410 Tickets and 1,000 Excuses

 
Posted August 6, 2015
 
When you’re motoring down the highway and people around you are driving as if they’d never heard of common courtesy, much less a driver’s manual, chances are you have one of two reactions. First, you’d like to be able to make them stop. Second, you might like to ask them, “Why on earth are you driving like that?”
 
In July, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) did both of those things.
 
The Office of Traffic Safety coordinated a statewide speed-enforcement campaign from July 10 through 26, during which more than 300 law enforcement agencies put extra patrols on the road, and more than 16,000 people were stopped for speeding. And the DPS conducted a survey on Facebook to which more than 1,000 drivers responded.
 
Photo: More than 300 law enforcement agencies participated
in July’s enhanced speed campaign.
People who took the survey were given 10 options to click in response to the question, “What are the reasons you drive faster than the speed limit?” The largest group — over 30 percent— chose the “Other” category and provided their own explanations. We’ll get to those in a moment.
 
At 29 percent, “I am comfortable driving fast” came in second. Apparently, the comfort level of motorists sharing the highway was not an issue for these drivers.
 
The third most popular answer was provided by people who might be applauded for their honesty, if not their driving judgment. It was this: “It’s a habit.”
 
That means there’s no particular reason for behavior that’s considered responsible for 21 percent of the traffic deaths in this state over the last five years. It’s just a habit, like biting one’s fingernails. It’s a habit to which 105 deaths and 287 serious injuries are attributed every year, on average.
 
The “Other” category allowed respondents to record their own reasons for speeding, and the majority said they were keeping up with traffic. They mention being “pushed” by drivers who tailgate vehicles travelling at the speed limit. Some said they have to travel long distances — indicating that driving faster is a good idea when one has farther to go. Actually, traveling 10 miles at 75 mph versus 65 shaves off about one minute and 12 seconds — so the risk seems larger than the reward.
 
Speaking of risk, about 20 percent of respondents revealed a false perception of risk, choosing, “I’m not likely to have a crash” or “I’m unlikely to get a ticket.” That looks like an assumption that never having crashed or been ticketed affects the likelihood of those events happening in the future. Factoring in the other drivers one can’t control, there’s a pretty obvious flaw in that logic.
 
One final — and vital — observation: Many of the “Why I speed” responses indicated that drivers feel isolated when they drive.
• “I’m not paying attention.”
• “Speeding is not inherently dangerous.”
• “It’s a free country.”
• “I want to have fun.”
 
There are more like that, but you can see the implication: I’m entirely in control of what happens to me on the highway.
And that would be nice if it were true, but it rarely is. Usually, there are other people driving distracted, unaware of their speed, unaware of your presence, and expecting you to deal with their behavior. Single-vehicle crashes do occur, but they’re not the norm. You’re not alone out there.
 
The State Patrol and the Office of Traffic Safety are grateful for the participation and honesty of the people who took the survey; their input provides a glimpse inside a complicated problem.
 
They also encourage you to define your own reasons for exceeding speed limits on Minnesota roads, and consider how they might sound to someone mourning the victim of a high-speed crash.
 
There are few excuses that would stand up to that kind of grief.

 

Time to Evacuate? Time to Shelter?

Here’s How You’ll Know.

 
Posted August 3, 2015
 
When disaster strikes and it’s time to evacuate, seconds count. The sooner you know what’s going on, the better your chances of survival. Experts in the Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) division know this, and they support communication upgrades that save lives.
 
One of the newest tools in the public safety arsenal is a locally issued, wireless emergency alert (WEA) that will go to newer-model cell phones. It’s going to change the way you find out when, where, how and why evacuation — or some other emergency action — becomes necessary.
 
example of a wireless emergency alert message
​Photo: Example of a wireless emergency alert message.
These alerts are just one component of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) coordinated by Minnesota’s Statewide Emergency Communications Board. The IPAWS committee chair is Bloomington Fire Chief Ulie Seal, under whose leadership members from HSEM and the Emergency Communications Networks division, along with partners from county governments, the media, and the phone and cable companies, have updated our emergency-alert plan.
 
IPAWS is actually a national system created to provide the president of the United States the ability to alert and warn the whole nation. It’s the one used by the National Weather Service to issue warnings about tornadoes and severe-weather events. The state of Minnesota uses it for AMBER alerts; in February 2013 the first AMBER alert on the WEA system worked to quickly locate an infant kidnapped in Minneapolis. In the unlikely event of an incident at one of our two nuclear generating plants, a WEA would provide people with information on how to protect themselves.
 
Counties, larger cities and tribal nations may also become authorized users by meeting requirements and entering an agreement with FEMA. Authorized users can issue warnings in several categories:
  • Civil Danger Warning, which may include instructions to avoid an area
  • Evacuation Immediate
  • Shelter in Place Warning
  • Civil Emergency Message
 
A WEA must be used only to warn the public of an event that is urgent, severe and certain. Examples include a hazardous materials spill, a train derailment and fire, or a toxic-chemical spill.
 
A WEA will make your phone vibrate and send a tone — something like the one you hear on TV when there’s an emergency alert for weather conditions. It will be very important, should your phone “go off,” to pay attention and follow instructions. These warnings won’t go out unless it’s time for you to do something, so you’ll need to act on the advice you receive.
 
Instructions may be to evacuate the area, in which case there will be directions to take. (You’ll want to drive away from fumes following a chemical spill, for instance…not toward them.) You might be told to shelter in place, which means go inside, close the windows and doors, shut off the air conditioner, and follow other safety procedures. There might be something called a Civil Danger Warning, or a Civil Emergency Message. You might be told to boil your water before using it, or to avoid a certain, dangerous area in your town or county.
 
To date, half of Minnesota’s 87 counties are approved, or in the process of being approved, as local alerting points. These jurisdictions upgraded their local mass-notification systems with IPAWS software, and operators have been trained. The IPAWS committee augments their training with sessions at statewide conferences and regional meetings, and fact sheets distributed at oil-transportation safety classes.
 
A best-practices guide is being written, and a workshop developed to help locals learn to use this new tool and develop effective safety messages. Your fire chiefs, emergency managers and other community leaders may be attending the workshops.
 
This map shows which counties and cities are authorized to issue local wireless emergency alerts. Check out your county and pay attention, because under the worst circumstances, these alerts will save lives — and one of them may as well be yours.