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Blog Archive: March 2016

We Dig Calling 811

 
March 31, 2016
 
It’s coming soon: that perfect, sunny weekend day when you magically have time to pick up seeds and bedding plants, dust off your gardening tools after a long winter in the garage, and get to work in your yard. The folks at the Office of Pipeline Safety are just as excited, but they remind you to take one extra step before you dig a hole for that sweet little maple sapling: Call 811.
 
woman digging in backyard
Photo: Call 811 at least two business days
before you plan to dig.
The service is called Gopher State One Call, and it’s a free, easy way to make sure you don’t disrupt any underground utilities (such as electric, gas or water lines) when you dig. Calling before you dig is actually required by Minnesota state law, and for good reason: Utility lines can run just inches below the surface, and hitting one can cause serious injury, not to mention service disruptions and repair costs.
 
Here’s how it works: Decide where you’re going to dig, then mark it with white stakes or spray paint (that way they won’t have to mark up your entire property). Then, at least two business days before you plan to dig, call 811 or visit www.gopherstateonecall.org and give them your dig information. They’ll want to know your name, phone number and street address, along with the dig location, nearest intersection, type of work and date and time you plan to start.
 
Any organization that has underground facilities near your dig site will see your information, at which point they’ll review the location of their utilities in relation to your dig site. If they find that they have utilities in or near your dig site, they’ll visit and place color-coded paint or flags marking the location of their utilities.
 
And in case you’re wondering if this extra step is truly necessary, consider this: Excavation-related damages in Minnesota have decreased by more than 70 percent since 1996. So before you start digging post holes for that new deck, give Gopher State One Call a buzz. They’ll help ensure that you can enjoy that new deck (or tree or garden or…) for years to come.
 

Two ways you can help stop unsafe drivers

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

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

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

Emergency Management Needs a New Home

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

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

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

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

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


Heroin Is the Villain

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

Luck o’ the Irish? Not for Drunk Drivers

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

Delayed (Vacation) Gratification: Post When You Get Home

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

New Batteries: The Makings of a Superhero

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

Warm Up to Motorcycle Safety

 
March 3, 2016
 
If you’re a motorcyclist, chances are you’re pretty excited about this weekend’s weather forecast. After months in a cold garage, your two-wheeled beauty can finally get out on the open road for some fresh air and sunshine!
 
motorcyclist going through a motorcycle training course
​Photo: Hone those motorcycle riding skills by taking
a rider training course.
 
But before you take to the highway, consider dusting off your motorcycle skills in an open parking lot first. After all, riding a motorcycle isn’t necessarily like…well, like riding a bike: You can forget, and the consequences can be dangerous. In 2015, for example, 61 motorcyclists died, and the first happened in—you guessed it—mid-March.
 
And if you want help honing those skills, it never hurts to take a rider training course. Registration is now open, and most training sites hold their first sessions at the beginning of April. There’s something for everyone: beginners’ courses for new riders, intermediate courses for experienced riders and advanced or expert courses for the more seasoned enthusiast. You can check out all available motorcycle training courses on our website. (Most intermediate, advanced and expert courses start in May.)
 
As you know, safety isn’t just about your knowledge and skills; it’s about what’s out there on the roads. That’s why it’s important to be aware of some of the safety hazards spring can bring. Some examples of spring hazards are sand and gravel at intersections and turns, snow run-off that freezes overnight, and uneven pavement and potholes.
 
And although your safety also depends on other drivers, you can help by being as visible as possible to them. That means wearing full, brightly-colored protective gear—and don’t forget your DOT-approved helmet!
 
By following these safety tips, you can enjoy the gorgeous weather on your first motorcycle ride of the season and get safely home to tell everyone about it afterward.