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Blog Archive: July 2016

July 28: Give me shelter: FEMA funds for a Boy Scout camp
July 25: In case of fire: Make hotel safety a priority when planning your next vacation
July 21: Bouncing back: State and federal disaster assistance
July 18: Up in flames: The dangers of careless smoking
July 14: Going wireless in an emergency: A new kind of superhighway
July 11: We feel the need…for speed limit enforcement

July 7: The people behind the (crash) facts


Give me shelter: FEMA funds for a Boy Scout camp

Posted July 28, 2016

Even if you weren’t a Boy or Girl Scout, perhaps you or your children have still experienced the same kind of camp: Venturing out into the wilderness, learning to make a fire and cook over it, constructing a shelter, sleeping under the stars. It can be one of the most precious memories of childhood – but if severe weather hits, it can turn to disaster and even tragedy.

A Boy Scout camper was rescued following a severe storm in the Boundary Waters this month.
​Photo: A Boy Scout camper was rescued following a severe storm in the
Boundary Waters this month. A similar storm in Iowa in 2008 prompted
Hubbard County to apply for a FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant to build
safe rooms at Camp Wilderness Boy Scout Camp.

For example, one Texas Boy Scout troop just lost a 13-year-old camper and an adult volunteer in the Boundary Waters when a wind storm knocked down trees on July 20. And in 2008, a tornado tore through an Iowa Boy Scout camp and left four dead and 48 injured. NBC News later reported that “the meeting room where the scouts had sought shelter was a pile of cinderblocks and chimney bricks.”

Tragedies like the deadly 2008 tornado prompted Hubbard County and Minnesota’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) division to team up in an effort to keep scouts safe by applying for a grant from FEMA on behalf of Hubbard County. Approved in June of this year, the $1,071,593 Hazard Mitigation Grant from FEMA will allow Hubbard County to build two safe rooms at Camp Wilderness Boy Scout Camp.

The safe rooms, which will be able to withstand severe weather conditions as intense as a tornado, will provide shelter to otherwise vulnerable campers in a remote area. When the camp approached HSEM with the idea over a year ago, HSEM teams visited the camp to educate their leaders about installing safe rooms and helped them through the application process. The FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant will cover 75 percent of the safe rooms’ building cost; the Boy Scouts of America Northern Lights Council will contribute the rest. Construction of the safe rooms could begin within two years, depending on the planning process and weather.”

“Boy Scouts visiting Camp Wilderness will be safer when severe weather hits, thanks to a local, state, and federal partnership,” said Minnesota HSEM Director Joe Kelly.  “Safe rooms are one way communities across the state are reducing the risk that comes with disasters. These lifesaving projects are possible when we combine resources and work together, and we encourage more cities and counties to apply for grants that will help them protect their residents.”

HSEM and FEMA grant programs are aimed at reducing risks to people and property. If more such camps apply for them, stories of injuries and deaths that occur there due to severe weather should become more and more rare, allowing campers to enjoy the experience of learning about the wilderness for years to come.


In case of fire: Make hotel safety a priority when planning your next vacation

Posted July 25, 2016

When going on vacation, a lot of effort goes into planning the activities, the budget and the hotel that best fits your needs. But how often do you consider a hotel’s safety before choosing to stay there? Is the building up to code? Does it have fire sprinklers? It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of having time off with your loved ones, but make sure your family’s safety comes first.

Inspector Beeson checks out cords in the kitchen area of an Oak Park Heights, Minn., hotel.
Photo: SFMD Inspector Dan Beeson checks out cords in the
kitchen area of an Oak Park Heights, Minn., hotel.

State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) inspectors conduct safety inspections of hotels statewide at least once every three years. Last year, SFMD inspectors conducted 328 initial fire safety inspections and 312 follow-up inspections, issuing nearly 1,300 fire safety violations. Those numbers demonstrate the importance of taking steps to keep your family safe while on vacation .

Tips for a safe stay
1. Stay at hotels that are up-to-date and in good condition. A hotel in poor condition can mean less than acceptable fire safety procedures.
2. Make sure to check the SFMD website for a list of hotels with full sprinklers. Believe it or not, many hotels do not have fire sprinklers. 
3. When the smoke alarm and fire alarm system says go, go! Be the person people can count on to make a quick and smart decision in emergencies, even if you are enjoying your time off.
4. Make sure the smoke detector is in order, know your exits, and have a safe place planned for your family to meet in case of an emergency.
5. Be careful with candles, curling irons or any cooking appliances. Turn off hotel coffee pots and unplug anything not in use.
6. In a fire emergency, do not go to the elevators since they will be in recall mode. Go directly to a stairwell to safely exit the hotel. If you have mobility limitations, ask for a ground floor room or lower level room.

Vacations are meant for relaxing, but you can only do that when you know you and your family are safe. Find a hotel you can trust and be aware of your surroundings before settling in so you can enjoy every last minute of family fun.


Bouncing back: State and federal disaster assistance

July 21, 2016

Even if you’ve never experienced it in person, you’ve certainly seen it on the news: Disastrous flooding that leaves roads and buildings damaged or destroyed. And although the words “disaster declaration,” “emergency declaration” and “aid” get used quite a bit, you may wonder what they really mean.

Blue Earth County storm damage from June 2016 storms
​Photo: Blue Earth County has requested state disaster assistance
to repair flooded and washed out roads following June storms.
If your community experiences a flood or any other severe weather damage, your county and city emergency management offices will spend the hours, days and weeks after the storm documenting all the damages. They’ll consider the following in their Initial Damage Assessment:
  • Damages to public infrastructure (such as roads, bridges, and electrical systems).
  • Damages to public property (such as government buildings, police stations, and schools).

Most insurance policies cover damages to private property, except in extremely rare cases where the damage affects a large number of properties or surpasses a certain threshold. In that case, private homeowners or business owners may be able to receive aid for uninsured losses. This is why it is important for property owners to be properly insured.

Once local officials have a sense of the damage to public property, three things can happen. If the damage does not surpass the per-capita limit for a county, local (city and county) government is required to fund the repair and replacement of damaged structure and infrastructure.

If the damage does surpass the county per-capita limit, the state steps in. In 2014, Governor Dayton signed legislation establishing Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account to help communities after a natural disaster.

But if the public infrastructure damage exceeds $7.4 million for the entire state, the governor and then the president declare it a disaster, which allows the state to get federal assistance from FEMA.

Fortunately, cities and counties don’t have to wait for state aid to start repairs on the public infrastructure. Once they send in their Initial Damage Assessment, they can get started, because the state will only pay for work that is completed. Teams from the state will then visit the site of the disaster to confirm the damages and repairs.

So remember, if the worst happens, there are mechanisms in place to help your community recover from a disaster and replace the infrastructure you depend on every day.


Up in flames: The dangers of careless smoking

July 18, 2016

2.	Investigators believe someone smoking in bed caused this fatal 2014 in Redby, Minn.
Photo: Investigators believe someone smoking in bed caused
this fatal 2014 fire in Redby, Minn. ​

Have you ever hosted a party where there were smokers? Or are you a smoker yourself? Imagine yourself or one of your guests wandering out to your back deck into a beautiful summer night to enjoy a final cigarette. You’re ready to extinguish it and turn in for the night when you realize someone moved the ashtray. You’re wondering what to do with the still-smoldering cigarette butt when your eyes light on the potted plant on the deck near you. “It’s not as if it’s dry leaves or anything. And dirt is like sand,” you think to yourself as you toss the butt in, “So it should be fine.”

And the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s State Fire Marshal Division (DPS-SFMD) really hopes it will be. Because all too often, it’s not. In 2015, for example, careless smoking was the cause of nine of the 57 fire deaths in Minnesota—that’s 16 percent! Not to mention that it was the No. 1 cause of fatal fires and caused 153 residential fires.

How? Because so much of what we think of as “fire safe” simply isn’t. Take that potted plant on your deck, for example. Sure, it has dirt in it…and plenty of other organic (and therefore extremely flammable) materials, such as leaves and, yes, even the live plant itself. And no, it may not flare up right away, but given enough time—and some nearby fuel, such as the wood your deck is made from—its smolder can turn into an all-out blaze while you drift contentedly off to sleep.

So how to you avoid a cigarette-related conflagration that could threaten the lives of you and your family? There are a few easy precautions to remember:

  • Smoke only outdoors.
  • Use a deep, sturdy ashtray, and make sure it’s not near anything that can burn.
  • Never discard cigarettes into any sort of vegetation, alive or dead.
  • Douse butts and ashes in water or sand before throwing away.

If you take the right precautions when you or a guest smoke a cigarette, it’s a lot easier to rest assured that that orange glow in the evening sky is the sunset and not, say, your house burning down because of a carelessly discarded cigarette.


Going wireless in an emergency: A new kind of superhighway

July 14, 2016

We’ve all experienced it: sitting on a packed freeway during rush hour and suddenly hearing sirens. Watching a vehicle full of first responders inch its way slowly through the traffic jam while you think, “I hope the person they’re going to save doesn’t die before they get there!”

wiring for broadband
​Photo: DPS-ECN is leading the effort to provide wireless broadband
to Minnesota public safety officials.

Interestingly enough, people at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Emergency Communication Networks (DPS-ECN) are applying this same concern to a wireless broadband network. This week, a five-person team from Minnesota joined similar teams from Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan, along with representatives from FirstNet, to talk about how they’re going to manage broadband traffic for first responders (in case you’re wondering, FirstNet is a first responder network authority that has been obligated by Congress to take all actions necessary to ensure the building, deployment and operation of the nationwide public safety broadband network).

To continue the highway metaphor, think of all the things you use the internet for: sending photos of your kids to their grandparents. Watching your favorite shows. Working. Maybe you ask your refrigerator to send you a photo of its interior so you know what to buy at the grocery store, or your dryer pings you when it’s finished drying your clothes. And of course, fire, law enforcement and emergency services now use internet in the field, and will only continue to do more—to download maps or plans of burning buildings, to text one another or dispatch to check in, or to send video of an active scene to a command post, for example.

And that’s where FirstNet comes in. When there is a major threat to public safety, FirstNet will help prioritize internet traffic based on role (are you a first responder? Are fire services needed more than law enforcement?), emergency, and type of use. Most of the time, the public’s internet speed would merely slow down (to allow more and faster bandwidth to the first responders who need it), but if absolutely necessary, it might temporarily stop altogether.

During this week’s meeting, states within FEMA Region V will present a “wish list” of ways they would like FirstNet to work for their specific needs. FirstNet will use that feedback to create a framework of operation once the network is finally launched here. A contract for providers will be awarded in November, and after that, the new superhighway can begin!


We feel the need…for speed limit enforcement

July 11, 2016
It’s easy to do, especially on these idyllic summer days when the roads are dry as a bone and you have the highway almost all to yourself. But speeding can still be deadly, and at the end of the day, it simply isn’t worth it.
driver with hands on steering wheel of car
Photo: The potential for a crash is higher when speeding. And a crash may
result in severe injuries and death. Slow down and obey the speed limit.​
Are you late for work? Leave earlier. (You’re not much good to your boss if you’re hurt or killed in a traffic crash anyway, are you?) Is the traffic around you going above the limit? Get in the right-hand lane. Is it a beautiful day? Slow down and enjoy it. There are a million excuses for speeding—and there are just as many good reasons not to.
And if nothing else motivates you, perhaps money will: Between July 8 and 22, more than 300 law enforcement agencies around the state will be working overtime to provide extra enforcement of Minnesota’s speed limits. The costs of speeding violations vary by county, but your wallet will generally be more than $110 lighter just for driving 10 mph over the speed limit—and that doubles at 20 mph over the limit. (Going 100 mph or more? Say goodbye to your license for six months.)
No matter how good a driver you are, the laws of physics still stand. Which means that the faster you drive, the more likely you are to lose control of the vehicle. Stopping distances increase, and you have less time to respond to anything—which means it’s harder to avoid a crash. Not to mention that the severity of any resulting crash is increased, which ups the potential for severe injuries and death.
It’s not all gloom and doom, though, because the general public seems to be getting the message: Speed-related fatal crashes have dropped 48 percent over the last ten years! So be part of the solution: Slow down, and if you’re not the driver, speak up and tell him or her to obey the speed limit.
The best part will be arriving at your destination without incident.

The people behind the (crash) facts

July 7, 2016
When you see drivers texting or surfing on their phones, do you get angry? Most people do, and with good reason. Twenty-one percent more people died in distracted driving-related crashes last year than in 2014. And considering that even one is too many, it’s time to put the phone and other distractions away when behind the wheel.
Photo: The vast majority of crashes are preventable.
It’s time to put the phone and other distractions away
when behind the wheel.
Traffic fatalities in general were up last year, too, jumping from 361 in 2014 to 411 in 2015. That’s a 14 percent increase. These numbers come from the 2015 edition of Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts, which was released last week. It’s published annually by our Office of Traffic Safety.
The idea behind the report is to study the numbers—which detail everything from number of crashes to where and how they occurred—and use them to inform future traffic safety initiatives and other measures that will lead to safer roads.
When we at the Department of Public Safety (DPS) see these numbers, though, we always remember that they’re more than that. As our Commissioner Mona Dohman said in a recent press release, “The data mean more than numbers. They represent mothers, fathers, children and loved ones, some of whom will never come home.” Many of us who work for DPS have friends or family members who have been hurt or killed in car crashes, so this issue is very personal to us.
And given that the vast majority of crashes are preventable, we know we can do something to stop them—and we work every day to do just that. Factors like speed, lack of seat belt, distraction, and drunk driving are all controllable by the driver. We just have to do it.
So buckle up, slow down, put the phone away, and, if you’ve been drinking, find a sober ride. Don’t do it for us. Do it for the people you love.