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Blog Archive: April 2016

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’s “Responding to Bullying” page and Committee for Children’s bullying prevention resources and articles.