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Blog Archive: June 2015

Let’s Celebrate with the Facts in Mind

Posted June 29, 2015
The Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) has some red-white-and-blue statistics for you. They’re Fourth-of-July crash statistics — not to put a damper on July 4 fun, but as a reminder. If we want the holiday to end happily, a dose of reality is in order.
This is why:
heavy traffic on Minnesota freeway
Photo: Independence Day is the second most lethal
holiday on our roads.​
OTS was created to reduce the carnage on our highways. Their statisticians contribute to that cause by looking at crash statistics from every angle. They study them up, down and sideways — age, gender, speed, alcohol, construction, distraction, day, night — any factor they can count, they consider. They look at deaths and injuries separately. They compare years to look at trends. And of course, major holidays are a focal point. They count the crashes, and the reasons for crashes, on Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. They even look at a few that are less widely celebrated, but lethal nonetheless: Super Bowl Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and Halloween.
Now, back to Independence Day.
From 2010 through 2014, says OTS, a total of 1,922 traffic fatalities occurred. (In statistical language, traffic “fatalities occur.”  It really means this: thousands of people lost a parent, a child or a friend who died violently and unnecessarily.)
Of those fatalities, 25 took place on July 4. Doesn’t sound like a large number, but that’s five human lives every year. And it makes Independence Day the second most lethal holiday on our roads, barely trailing Halloween.
The serious injury count looks even worse. July 4 is first in that category, with 91 of 332 serious injuries on major holidays over five years. Serious injuries are the life-threatening kinds that send people to emergency rooms. They cause a holiday to end very badly.
That’s reality. The idea that we can have a few beers, jump in the car and casually head for home after July 4 celebrations, without worrying about surviving, is simply not based in fact. There are important things to consider, and to put a point on this — here’s a list:
  • Find a sober driver. The problem with alcohol is that once you’re under the influence, you can’t make a logical decision about driving. So do it before you start. Take a cab, take a bus, or choose someone to be your safe driver. Then have a good time.
  • Pay attention. Put the cell phone down. Let someone else handle the CD. Distractions are moving up quickly on the list of reasons “fatalities occur.”
  • Wear a seatbelt. Insist that everyone in the car wears a seat belt. Half the people who died in July 4 crashes over the last five years were unbelted. That’s reality.
  • Slow down a bit. Close to a quarter of traffic deaths are related to speed. Perhaps it would help to look at it this way: It’s not a race. It’s a survival challenge.
With reality in mind, DPS wishes you a safe and memorable Fourth of July — one that ends happily!

4th of July Finger Tips

Posted June 25, 2015
Lots of people love fireworks, and that’s why Monday’s blog post acknowledged the fact that nobody likes a killjoy at fireworks time. We love the 4th of July because it’s fun.
And keeping all your body parts is fun, too. Not going to the emergency room is fun! And so are the fireworks infographics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). They’re colorful, cartoonish and informative. You could share these with your kids, and they’d pick up on the fireworks safety message quickly.
hand holding sparkler
​Photo: If it flies or explodes, it’s illegal in Minnesota.
 There’s a red-white-and-blue fellow — not too bright-looking, actually —modeling the “Most Injured Body Parts.”  Fingers are fireworks’ favorite targets. Then eyes and ears. Ouch. Things move south from there, and most of the injuries are burns.
A “firecracker” graph shows you who gets injured most often, by age. CPSC says that 40 percent of victims (of their own carelessness, actually) are 25-44 years old. Minnesota statistics from hospital ERs and burn wards say that 46 percent are people 0-19. That means a lot of unsupervised children are using fireworks — a subject we covered here Monday.
The “Injuries by Fireworks Type” infographic lists national stats on which explosives cause the most injuries. Not surprisingly, since they’re so often used by kids too young to understand the danger, sparklers come in at #1. The firecrackers, bottle rockets and other devices are there, too, so check out the numbers, and please remember — if it flies or explodes, it’s illegal in Minnesota.
CPSC has a great page on fireworks safety, with a perfect set of safety tips.  So does the Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division.  Here are the basics:
  • Make sure fireworks are legal before buying or using them.
  • Never allow young children to use fireworks. Sparklers burn hot enough to melt metals. They’ll also melt flip-flops, feet and fingers.
  • Have an adult supervise older children who handle fireworks.
  • Fireworks packaged in brown paper were probably made for professional displays. They can pose a significant danger to consumers.
  • Use a bucket of water for the spent sparklers, and keep a garden hose handy.
  • Never try to relight a dud. Just don’t do it. Soak it with water and throw it away.
  • Never ignite fireworks in metal or glass containers.
  • Douse used fireworks with plenty of water before discarding them.
The fundamental thing is this: Respect these devices. They’re explosives. So before you start to party in the next few days, review this list and remember this word: “Ouch!

Up in Smoke: 10 Years, $3.4 Million in Fireworks Damage

Posted June 22, 2015
That headline refers to fireworks damage in Minnesota alone. Nationwide, the numbers are much worse. That property destruction, and the nearly 700 people injured badly enough to be included in hospital statistics, comprise the bad news about fireworks. They’re dangerous.
woman holding sparkler
​Photo: Personal fireworks are a July 4 tradition but they’re dangerous.
Using fireworks safely requires respect for the power of fire.
But nobody likes a killjoy at fireworks time. Personal fireworks are a July 4 tradition  and people expect to enjoy them without being grumbled at, so this will be short and sweet.
Just as you need to know how a car works to drive without hurting yourself, you need to know a couple of things about fireworks to use them without ending up in the hospital or turning a child into a burn statistic.
Here’s a quick review:
1. In Minnesota, if it flies or explodes, it’s illegal. The statute contains details, but that’s the gist of the law. Every year, police reports are filed and people are fined.
2. Setting off personal fireworks over the lake or wetting down the grass doesn’t change the law or make you safer. The fish don’t like it, the neighbors don’t like it, and sparks on land can smolder for hours before bursting into flames.
3. Even a sparkler — that pretty little thing with such a cute name — is, in fact, a metal wire covered with explosives. The burning tip exceeds 1,200 degrees. Logic should prevent a person from handing something like that to a barefoot 5-year-old.
4. Children are the primary victims of fireworks accidents. In Minnesota, since 2005, more than 300 kids have been injured, and these numbers come from hospitals all over the state. They don’t include the injuries treated at home. Twenty percent of those children were nine or younger…victims, basically, of adult carelessness. About half are under 19, and three-quarters are male. No surprises there — but nothing that isn’t preventable, either.
5. The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to let the professionals do it for you. There are several online lists of great places in Minnesota to watch professional fireworks shows.
Using fireworks safely requires respect for the power of fire. We tend to be complacent about things we’re familiar with; we let the safety details slide. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Boating on a windy day. Even crossing busy streets. But fire has no respect for you. It’s aggressive, it’s opportunistic, and it wants to spread and grow — so respect its potential for disaster.
Being a little afraid…call it hyper-alert…is okay.
As always, the State Fire Marshal Division will be collecting data on fireworks damage and injuries from June 22 through July 15. Please do everything you can to avoid being included in those statistics.

Tornado Season Is Here — Take a Look, Take a Lesson

Posted June 18, 2015

The Minnesota DNR has been tracking tornado activity in this state since about 1950, and according to their records, June is a good time to review your emergency plans.
Their “average number of tornadoes-per-month” chart covers March through November over a period of 60 years — and that number peaks in June with 9.9 violent storms, on average. July comes in second, at 6.8 per month, and May has averaged 4 tornadoes. The other months fall away rapidly, ending with .02 in November.
Damage on home of Beth and Jeff Zeller Albert Lea
​The home of Beth and Jeff Zeller in Albert Lea, Minn., was heavily damaged during storms which yielded multiple tornadoes
in the state on Thursday, June 17, 2010. They own a hog farm
about 10 miles west of Albert Lea.
Photo by Jeffrey Thompson / Minnesota Public Radio
Full MPR photo gallery.
Wadena-Deer Creek High School tornado damage
Wadena-Deer Creek High School was heavily damaged
Friday, June 18, 2010 after a tornado struck the community on Thursday. The tornado that tore through Wadena was one of
more than 30 twisters that hit Minnesota on Thursday.
Photo by Jeffrey Thompson / Minnesota Public Radio
In 2010, when113 tornadoes struck Minnesota, our “frozen tundra” beat tornado-prone Texas; they had 107 twisters that year.  Seventy-one of our tornadoes occurred in June, and 48 of them on June 17 — beating the old one-day record of 27 on June 16, 1992.
A map of tornado numbers by county reveals the most frequent tornado locations, but does nothing to explain those phenomena. These violent storms strike anywhere, with no particular pattern. And they don’t spare cities, as some people believe they do. The seven-county metro area suffered 144 tornadoes from 1950 through 2010.
That’s a stack of numbers, but it’s just a fraction of the data available. Smithsonian Magazine provides an interactive map of every U.S. tornado since 1980, where you can explore the details on each storm. A look at the national map makes the nickname “Tornado Alley” easy to understand, and you’ll see that in Minnesota, you’re right on the northern edge of that well-known, stormy section of the country.
That fact brings us back to the question of readiness. The data should convince you that you’re vulnerable, so let’s decide what to do about it.
Consider first how you’re going to become aware of a tornado threat. There are Minnesota summers when the sky is greenish for days, the air pressure so low it’s hard to breathe, and tornado watches are commonplace — and nothing happens. So when it does happen, how will you know?
The Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) division provides a list of ways to receive electronic, personal weather alerts. Most TV stations,, the National Weather Service and others provide these services; they’re free and all you have to do is sign up. If there’s a tornado warning, you’ll know almost immediately.
The next question is this: What’s the best way to react?
You’ve seen pictures of what a tornado can do if it merely touches down for a moment. Some of them stay on the ground for miles. If you’re not sure what to do when tornadoes appear, and you still believe a highway overpass might protect you, your odds of injury or death may be higher than you think. It’s time to make a plan.
And again, HSEM comes through. There is a practical list of things to consider, and it lives on the HSEM website. There is even a printable fact sheet you can discuss with family and friends, or distribute at work, school or social clubs.
It’s June, and in our state that means tornadoes; it’s a fact of life for which we must prepare in order to protect ourselves. The good news is that numbers of tornado-related deaths and injuries is going down. Early warnings and better awareness of survival techniques are being credited for that, and you can be part of the trend.
Just take a look, take a lesson and be ready. Our long-awaited summer has arrived!

Smart Parenting: Teach Them to Safely Navigate the ‘Net

Posted June 15, 2015
Summer time is free time for kids — and a good time to talk to them about internet use. That’s not because the chores aren’t getting done. It’s more serious than that.
person typing on a computer keyboard
Photo: ​Help your children think critically about
interacting with others online.
There is an organization in the U.S. called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Their internet address is “,” and they run an entire, separate website about internet safety. The fact that this group, with that name, who chose “missing kids” for their web address, is concerned enough about online activity to dedicate a website to it should set off alarms in parents’ heads. 
Fortunately, there is also a state agency — the DPS Bureau of Criminal Apprehension — that houses the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. That’s a group of police investigators and computer forensic experts that investigates people who exploit children on the internet. They know what can happen when children are too trusting online and they encourage parents to be proactive.
Most adults are aware there’s internet content unsuitable for kids, and that bullying and stalking take place online. But children also disappear, and their innocent curiosity can make them victims of cyber-sexual predators who turn out to be very real, and very threatening. This is not a small problem.
Nor is it reason to panic. But just as you teach your kids to cross at the corner, eat their vegetables and Say No to Drugs, it has become important to teach them internet safety. Whether they’re networking, playing games or using other apps, there are practical guidelines that work for parents:
  • Keep the computer in a high-traffic area. If you can see what your kids are doing, you’re more likely to find a conversation-starter. And they’re more likely to cooperate.
  • Establish limits on which sites they can use, and for how long. Use your browser history to track this.
  • Know who your kids connect with online. Set up rules for networking, messaging, email, gaming and webcams.
  • Remind them not to share their real name, age, school, hometown or any other information that could help someone locate them… and explain that once their information is online, they can’t take it back. It can go anywhere.
Parents can’t stay up-to-speed on all the apps, games, websites and cell phone functions, but they can help their children think critically about interacting with others online. They can brainstorm screen names and email addresses that don’t give away personal info.  They can learn the popular acronyms kids use and have lively, non-threatening discussions about what family members are doing online — what they see, what they like, and what they find disturbing. They can find tip sheets to review, and they can discuss internet safety with other parents.
You might feel like a helicopter parent when you start paying close attention. The Internet Police routine is seldom well-received. But kids who become comfortable discussing online activity in general may also keep you clued-in if someone asks for personal information or makes an inappropriate suggestion, becomes too friendly or shows up where they aren’t welcome. That’s what you want to know — that your children can distinguish between safe and unsafe behavior when they’re online as well as they can when they’re crossing the street.
Have a happy and cyber-safe summer.

Is the State Patrol Looking for You?

Posted June 11, 2015
The Minnesota State Patrol (MSP) may be looking for you — but don’t be concerned. They’ve issued an invitation, and you could be just the person they want to show up.
Last week MSP announced the 2015 LETO program, and the reaction has been strong and positive. You might consider joining the people who have responded, because you can’t have that hat without tossing yours in the ring.
Troopers in training scenario doing push-ups

Photo: Participants in the Law Enforcement
Training Opportunity (LETO) program.
LETO is a Law Enforcement Training Opportunity that allows people with no law enforcement background to apply for trooper positions, receive training with compensation, and join the State Patrol. It could be your ticket to a brand new career — one you thought was not available to people with degrees in science, education, sociology or whatever it says on your diploma.
But it is available, because the MSP wants troopers to be like the people they serve. They want folks with 2-year and 4-year degrees, and people who speak more than one language. They want men and women of any appropriate age. They want people with various knowledge and skills, from cultural backgrounds that reflect all Minnesotans.
So, as Herb Brooks supposedly told his 1981 hockey team, “This is your time!”  Or it could be. None of the applicants have law enforcement experience, and they all have to undergo screening and background checks, complete physical training and pass the same exams.
When MSP opened their Facebook account to take questions, the people who showed up had concerns just like yours. Here are some paraphrased examples:
Can I be a single parent and do a trooper’s job?  Several state troopers are single parents, raising their children and working our highways. Some are women; some are men.  They attend kids’ events and family functions as often as any working parent.
How long is Academy training, and do the trainees commute?  The academy portion of the training is 16 weeks, from late January through mid-May, 2016.  It’s a weekday residential experience; trainees report Sunday evenings and they’re released on Fridays.
Do I need the degree? What about 62 college credits? Yes, you need that AA, BA or BS from a regionally accredited college. Look at your options. Many colleges will combine college credits with credit-for-experience and create a pathway to a degree.
I’m 48 years old, with a 2007 degree. Any chance for me?
(That one got a one-word answer.) Yes!
Can veterans apply? What’s the cut-off for disability rating?  Vets are encouraged to apply. Disabilities are evaluated by a medical professional.
What’s it like doing your first solo patrol? You’ll have 16 weeks of academy training under your belt, and 12 weeks of field training with an experienced officer. Most troopers find their first solo shift rewarding and exciting.
You can find the rest of these conversations on the MSP Facebook site, or simply go to the application site and try your hand at this. If you run into questions, there are answers to many of them on the MSP page, “Become a Trooper.”
And remember that the traditional hiring program opens June 29. If you have a law enforcement degree or peace officer experience, that’s your time to apply for a trooper position.
Either way, the MSP might be looking for you. Maybe it’s time to turn yourself in!

EMAC Can Mean “Minnesota to the Rescue” — or “Rescue Minnesota!”

Posted June 8, 2015
If you’ve ever participated in emergency response as a professional or a volunteer, you may have heard this expression:  “A disaster response is not the time to start handing out business cards.”
And even if you haven’t heard it before, it makes sense. When things are blowing up, falling down, burning or flooding, nobody has time to meet, explain or make up rules. Relationships and procedures that make a response work smoothly must already be in place — and that’s why we have EMAC.
image of hugo minnesota tornado damage in 2008
​ Photo: Tornado damage in Hugo, Minn. (2008).
EMAC stands for Emergency Management Assistance Compact. It’s a mutual aid agreement — a partnership, really — among all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EMAC allows states and territories to help each other respond to emergencies without worrying about things like who will pay for what, how to interact, and who’s in charge.
The fundamental idea started small in the 1950s, as an agreement among southeastern states with serious hurricane issues, and became official nationwide in 1996 when the U.S. Congress turned a good idea into federal law.
Minnesota responders participated when a call went out for help, and our own legislature signed on officially in 1998, creating Minnesota’s Interstate Emergency Management Assistance Compact statute.
The mutual aid agreement model is familiar to most responders. Firefighters, for instance, have long understood the importance of cooperation. It’s a rare small-town fire department that can buy, maintain and insure enough trucks or recruit and train enough firefighters to defeat a major fire. That’s why they forge partnerships with nearby departments and count on each other’s assistance when a fire is too big to handle alone. EMAC is modeled after that same principle — that someone with the right skills and the right “stuff” will be there to help when they’re called.
The value of these agreements became very clear after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita decimated parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas in 2005. Minnesotans were there as part of a response that was 66,000 people strong — all disaster-relief specialists who traveled from states across the country with equipment and other resources worth more than $830 million. That is what the situation required, and that’s who showed up because EMAC made it easy.
Minnesota people and resources have been dispatched to disasters in Iowa (2008), North Dakota (2009, 2010, 2011), South Dakota (2011), and in Massachusetts and New York (2011, 2012).  Our state received help from Michigan and Arizona during Red River floods in 2008 and 2010.
So there it is — an idea home-grown, fleshed out, refined over time, placed into law and proven to work.  Our EMAC agreements don’t require anyone to do anything, nor do they make it possible for states to self-deploy (show up without being invited.)  But they do make it quick and easy to send disaster aid upon request. And the agreement is legally binding; when requests for help go out, EMAC makes the requesting state responsible for reimbursing the responding states’ expenses.  Agreements are consistent across the nation, so everyone knows what to expect, and nobody is handing out business cards, asking questions or explaining themselves. Time and energy, along with talent and resources, are all going into saving lives and restoring order.
There’s more information online about EMAC, including a guide to the way your specific profession or volunteer passion might be involved. The categories include things like animal health, haz-mats, public health, telecommunications, public works and more.
Visit the site, and you’ll feel good about the EMAC assurance that when disaster strikes, no matter where it is in the U.S. or its territories, somebody will always have your back.

You Want That Hat? Here's Your Chance.

Posted June 4, 2015
Here’s the situation: You have a two-year or four-year college degree in something. Anything. You’re not particularly thrilled about your career prospects at this point, and you’ve begun to wonder, in recent years, whether you might like to be a State Trooper. You just need more information. Just an opportunity. An opening.

Photo: Participants in the Law Enforcement
Training Opportunity (LETO) program.
Well, there’s a door standing wide open right now, and it opens less than once a year. It’s called the LETO program — that stands for Law Enforcement Training Opportunity. It means that people with no formal law-enforcement education may apply to join the Minnesota State Patrol, get the training they need at no cost to them, and begin a brand new career.
MSP Lieutenant Tiffany Nielson describes the 2015 LETO program as an effort to recruit high-quality, motivated individuals who reflect the people they serve. “We want the faces of the Minnesota State Patrol to look like the faces of Minnesotans,” she says. “This year is about inclusivity. We need men, women, and people of all races and backgrounds. We need people with integrity and intelligence; people who will be proud to wear the uniform and grateful to be of service to others.”
LETO applicants can apply online until 4 p.m. on June 16.  Applicants need a two- or four-year degree in any discipline, from any regionally accredited college or university. After screening, testing and background checks, those who are hired will receive all required training to become licensed Minnesota peace officers.
LETO Trooper candidates will begin training Oct. 12 at the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Education Center in Brooklyn Park. Training runs Monday–Friday through Jan. 21, 2016. Immediately following pre-academy training, candidates enter the 16-week Minnesota State Patrol Training Academy program on Jan. 24.
The traditional hiring program opens on June 29. It’s for those with degrees in law enforcement who will be POST-license eligible by Jan. 22, 2016. Traditional applicants can apply online from June 29 through July 10. If hired, the traditional candidate will enter the MSP Training Academy on Jan. 24, 2016. Upon successful completion of the Academy, candidates graduate May 17, 2016.
There’s a lot more information on the MSP website about the hiring process, requirements, tests and training, including the facts on compensation during training.  If you’re interested in an outstanding law enforcement career opportunity, browse around. You’ll find that a State Trooper career can extend far beyond the highway. Troopers take to the sky on flight patrols. They perform search-and-rescue missions, deliver life-saving blood and organ donations, and move up in rank and position as knowledge, skill and dedication move them forward. The Minnesota State Patrol is full of good people and great opportunities.
And for a road trooper, the office view is 360 degrees. Not bad.

Carrying Motorcycle Passengers Safely: Why "Hold On Tight" Won't Cut It

Posted June 1, 2015
Anytime you operate a vehicle on public roadways, two types of laws apply. The law-of-the-land is imposed by states and municipalities to keep travelers safe. Then there are laws of common sense — the things you do because you value your life and those of your passengers.
Photo: The Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center rider training program offers Minnesota riders affordable, high-quality professional training and education.
When you’re riding a motorcycle with a passenger onboard, you need both kinds of laws on your side. You’re the second-most vulnerable person on the road at that point (barring the presence of a bicyclist) because your passenger is the most vulnerable. You, at least, have control of the vehicle. Your passenger does not. You have some experience riding; perhaps you’ve taken riding classes to become even more skilled. In many cases, though, the passenger has no riding experience. And “hang on tight” doesn’t keep anyone alive. It’s up to the motorcycle operator to do that.
A passenger on a motorcycle changes the way the bike feels and responds, so keeping yourself and your passenger safe requires attention to laws and common-sense principles, too.
First, the law: A seat and footrests for a motorcycle passenger are required in Minnesota. Small children are required by law to be able to reach both footrests with their feet while seated on the passenger seat. Assuming those are in place, common sense tells you to adjust the tire pressure and suspension to accommodate additional weight, and readjust your mirrors to be sure you have a complete field of vision behind you. 
Regarding protective gear: The law requires passengers under 18 to wear a DOT-approved helmet. Common sense dictates that anyone riding a motorcycle should wear a helmet — and your passenger should have eye protection, boots, gloves, long pants and high-visibility jacket, as well.
Your bike will handle differently: Acceleration, cornering and braking will require slightly different input, so if you’re not accustomed to having someone on the back, find a place to practice a few maneuvers before setting out. You’ll want to take corners and bumps more slowly than usual, maintain a longer space between you and other vehicles, and count on this — it will take you considerably longer to stop the motorcycle with someone on the back.
Ask your passenger to:
  • Sit forward as far as possible without impeding your movement.
  • Hold firmly to your waist or hips, and tighten the hold during acceleration or on rough pavement.
  • Keep both feet on the pegs at all times — including stops.
  • Keep legs away from the muffler(s).
  • Remain directly behind you, lean with you and look over your shoulder during turns.
  • Avoid talking or moving around while the bike is in motion.
Experienced riders say you should start the engine before your passenger gets on the bike, and apply the front brake as your passenger gets on or off.
Common sense should tell you this, too: If you want your brand-new passenger to get on the bike with you again, a smooth, relaxed ride with no surprises will do the trick. If you train yourself to provide that kind of experience, every ride will be safer and more enjoyable for both of you.