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Blog Archive: October 2016

Oct. 31: There's no trick to Halloween safety​

Oct. 27: You are not alone: Domestic Violence Awareness Month​​

Oct. 24: Motorcycle season isn't over yet! Tips for riding safely this fall

Oct 20: Unbelted heartbreak: A grieving mother's plea to always buckle up

Oct 17: From car seat to driver's seat: National Teen Driver Safety Week

Oct. 13: Practicing cyber security for your safety

Oct. 10: A champion for community wildfire safety

Oct. 6: Safe driving is good business

Oct. 3: Smoke alarms: What you don't know can hurt you

There's no trick to Halloween safety

Photo: Trick-or-treating can be fun and safe for everyone by following ​​these simple tips. 

Oct. 31

Few things are more f
un than donning a costume (or helping your kids into theirs) and going from house to house, getting free candy. But trick-or-treating can be dangerous, too – so whether you're on foot or in a car, there are a few safety tips you and your kids should remember this Halloween.


Believe it or not, Halloween is tied with the Fourth of July as the holiday with the most drunk driving fatalities over the past five years in Minnesota. So if you're at a party or out with friends, be sure to arrange for a sober ride ahead of time. Be sure to reduce your speed in areas where children are expected to be out and about. Treat every corner as a crosswalk and look carefully for pedestrians.And as always, put away your phone and other distractions. Concentrate on your driving.


If your child's costume isn't brightly colored, add some reflectors or carry a flashlight. Talk to your children about crossing only at corners, never in the middle of the block – even in residential areas. Whenever possible, use crosswalks and traffic lights. Also instruct them never to dart out into the street – be sure to look three times before crossing. A 5-year-old trick-or-treater was killed in Minneapolis last year when he was hit by a car while crossing a parkway. 

By following these tips and remaining aware and alert, you can assure that you, your friends, and your children have a fun and safe Halloween.

You are not alone: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Oct. 27

Imagine being backed into a corner in your own house, a gun pointed at you, your children sleeping upstairs. Imagine how afraid and alone you'd feel—especially if the person holding the gun were your spouse. 
​Photo: Amy is a domestic violence survivor who got help from the Crime Victims Reparations Program, which she describes as "life-saving."

That was where Amy Burkheiser-Christiansen found herself in November of 2010. She and her husband had been separated after 20 years of marriage because of his drinking problem. He agreed to marriage counseling but showed up to their first session intoxicated. Amy found a new place for herself and their three children to live, and even gave her husband a ride to treatment.

It was after he got out that he showed up at her house, once again drunk. Amy managed to get rid of him and go upstairs to bed, but 20 minutes later, he was banging on the door, brandishing a gun and threatening to shoot if she didn't let him in. And that was when he backed her into a corner and told her of his plans to kill her, the kids, and himself. 

Amy's daughter woke up and came downstairs. She talked her dad into emptying the gun—he had a bullet in it for each of them—and giving it to her.  Amy had managed to make it into the kitchen to call 911. When he heard her talking, her husband asked her what she was doing. The 911 operator asked to speak to him and managed to convince him to leave the house, where the police were waiting for him.

The next morning, Amy got a call from Crime Victim Witness Advocate Mary Waldkirch who worked for the Victim Witness Services Division in the Washington County Attorney's Office. Mary walked Amy through the steps of getting a restraining order so she and the children would be protected — her husband was only being held overnight. Mary also encouraged Amy to apply for reparations from the state's Crime Victims Reparations Program​ — and that made all the difference in the world. 

Amy says of the assistance she received from the state: "It was absolutely life-saving. I could put one foot in front of the other and eat and sleep and do what I needed to do." When asked what she would want people in similar situations to know, Amy says, "Your situation is not as odd or shameful or hopeless as you think. It happens. It's unfortunately not as rare as you might think, and you're not a failure. It happens enough that there are resources and people out there prepared to help you get through this. Even if you have no family and friends, there are people out there ready to walk this walk with you."

These days, says Amy, "Life is pretty darn amazing. I'm remarried. I've got a wonderful husband who didn't run the other way and is wonderfully supportive. I've got a new job. Everything I had put in place as a foundation was kind of taken away. But what you find out is that there's a new normal. And that normal can be even better. You don't have to just survive this—you can thrive. There is life after this."

Motorcycle season isn't over yet! Tips for riding safely this fall

Oct. 24

Everyone has a different favorite thing about fall. For you, maybe it's the crunch of the leaves or a trip to the pumpkin patch with your kids. But if you're a motorcycle rider, your favorite thing about fall is very likely long rides through the countryside looking at the gorgeous leaves. 
Photo​​: ​Minnesota's beautiful fall is a great time to ride your motorcycle, but don't forget these safety tips.
As the weather gets cooler, though, it's easy for other drivers to forget that motorcycles are still on the road. Many of them associate motorcycles with summer. So be sure to wear your reflective, protective gear to remind drivers that you're still around. And don't forget that helmet – if the worst happens, it can be the difference between life and death.

So far in 2016, well over half of the 52 motorcyclists killed weren't wearing helmets – 30 of them, to be exact, according to preliminary reports. And 31 of the crashes involved another vehicle, which is another great reason to make sure you can be seen.

Only one motorcycle crash so far this year was a result of a collision with a deer, but this is just the time of year when you need to be the most vigilant about wildlife. Deer can dart in front of you in a matter of seconds. If it happens to you, use both your front and rear brakes to slow and stop. If you don't have time to stop, aim to swerve behind the deer (as it will likely move forward) if you have enough pavement to execute the swerve and stay on the roadway. 

So if your favorite thing about fall is the extra time Mother Nature allows you on your bike, you're not alone—just make sure you take the necessary precautions and ride safely. That way you can tell your family and friends all about it when you get home.

Unbelted heartbreak: A grieving mother's plea to always buckle up

Oct. 20
Even after they become teenagers, you know your children best. You know their habits, their fears, and their quirks. Which is why, when Heather Bednarek was told her 16-year-old son Marcus had been killed in a traffic crash without his seat belt on, her first thought was, "You have the wrong person. 'Cause he didn't go anywhere without his seatbelt."
16-year-old son Marcus had been killed in a traffic crash
Photo: Watch as Heather Bednarek tells more about her son Marcus, the crash that took his life, and how a seat belt could have made a difference.
When Marcus was little, he saw the "Click It or Ticket" ad campaign on TV, and it clearly made an impression. Anytime they got in the car, before the doors were even closed, Marcus would pipe up, "Click it or ticket! Click it or ticket!" After the crash, Marcus's friends made it a point to tell Heather that he wouldn't let them start the car until everyone had a seat belt on. When a friend in the back seat took her seat belt off to pick something up off the floor, Marcus made the driver pull over until she put it back on.
To this day, Heather doesn't know — no one knows – why Marcus didn't have his seat belt on. The theory was that he dropped something on the floor and had to take his seat belt off briefly to reach for it. The crash took place "about two, maybe three miles from home. It was a straight county highway, wide open, no major distractions, no curve." Heather asked the doctors if the outcome would have been different if Marcus had had his seatbelt on, but they couldn't answer. They did think it might have improved his chances of surviving.
Heather herself knows the pain of losing Marcus will never go away. "I don't think you ever recover. I think you cope every day." But knowing Marcus's story could spare someone else's life gives her hope.
"I want people to look at his memorial at the school and remember what a happy, neat guy he was. And that one second changed his life. And everybody that knew him. That second did change thousands of lives. There is nothing – nothing -- that could be happening in that vehicle that is more important than your life. And that split second where he chose to remove his seatbelt…this is our outcome. And if sharing our story, someone somewhere hears it, then that makes it easier to get through each day: that we've saved someone else's family from having to live this tragedy."
As Marcus learned at an early age, Minnesota law requires all motorists to buckle up or be seated in the correct child restraint. More than 300 law enforcement agencies across the state will be participating in the statewide Click It or Ticket campaign through Oct. 30.

From car seat to driver's seat: National Teen Driver Safety Week

Oct. 17
It may seem like a cultural cliché, but only because it's true: One moment you're buckling your infant into a car seat; the next moment you're watching that same child—now a teenager—climb behind the wheel and drive the car herself. Where does the time go?
Post it note graphic with message about removing distractors like a cell phone before driving.
​Photo: Posting notes like this in the car can help remind 
your teen driver of the safe driving contract you agree to.
And more importantly, how do you make sure they're safe when they're driving on their own? Considering that traffic crashes are the second leading killer of 16- and 17-year-olds behind suicide, it's a very real concern. After all, the statistics show that driving safely can be a challenge even for adults; add the inexperience and risk-taking behavior of the typical teen into the mix, and you have a challenge.
But that challenge is not impossible to overcome. National Teen Driver Safety Week, which is October 16-22 this year, is a great time to start conversations and habits with your teen that can last a lifetime.
For example, it's important to make sure your teen gets experience driving on lots of types of roads — from freeways to urban neighborhoods to unpaved country roads — and in a lot of different conditions, such as darkness, rain, and snow. Make sure you're in the car supervising as much as possible. A driving skills checklist can help you make sure you're covering all the bases — you find one in The Parent's Supervised Driving Program (if you don't want to download the PDF, you can pick it up in booklet form at any Minnesota DVS exam office location).
Make sure your teen driver is very clear on what is expected, both by the law and by you. Set specific limits on when passengers are and aren't allowed in the car (and how many), driving at night, and where the cell phone goes in the car to reduce the temptation to use it, then take the time to write them down in a contract that you both sign.
Also be aware that Minnesota has an enhanced graduated driver's license law. It requires all driver education programs to offer parent awareness classes and requires teens to complete 50 hours of practice driving with you or another parent or guardian before licensure, 15 of which must be at night (although if you complete the 90-minute parent awareness class, your teen's required practice hours get reduced to 40). During the practice hours, you must complete a supervised driving log. Your teen then submits the driving log, signed by you, when taking the provisional driver license road test.
So don't worry that that teen who used to be your baby is driving—if you work together to take the necessary steps to stay safe, your teen can become a safe, responsible driver.
Photo: Posting notes like this in the car can help remind your teen driver of the safe driving contract you agree to.

Practicing cyber security for your safety

Oct. 13
fingers typing on a computer keyboard
Photo: Protect your personal information by creating a 
different password for each of your online accounts.
It's easy to think that identity theft and other cyber security breach issues are the stuff of Hollywood movies. But the Identity Theft Resource Center reports that such problems are all too common. In 2016 alone, there have been 725 data breaches to date of financial, business, educational, government, and healthcare industry systems resulting in a staggering 29,199,068 records exposed.
Considering it's possible that your personal information is vulnerable to a data breach, it's vital to practice cyber security any time you interact with the internet. The average person has 26 password-protected accounts, and experts suggest having a different password for each of them.
There are a few other things you can do to make sure your passwords—and the information they protect—are safe:
  • You know the security questions websites offer as an extra layer when you log in? Use them, and change them regularly. There are often several to choose from, and some even allow you to write your own. That way, if a hacker learns your mother's maiden name or the city where you honeymooned, all is not lost.
  • Use anti-virus software. Trade publications such as PC World and PC Magazine often list reviews of the best ones.
  • Download updates to your devices' operating system and apps, as these often help close existing security loopholes.
  • It might go without saying, but only allow people you know well and trust use your phone, tablet, or computer. A practiced hacker can get a lot of information in a short amount of time.
  • Again, it may seem obvious, but when you're out and about, keep you mobile devices on you at all times. It's tempting to just rest your phone on the table at the coffee shop or library, or on the seat beside you on the bus or train, but all it takes is for your attention to be diverted for a moment for a thief or hacker to pick it up.
  • Set up the lock screen on all your devices. If they have biometric access (such as using your fingerprint to access your phone), use it. And don't use obvious passwords to unlock the screen, such as your or your kids' birthdates.
Lastly, use Minnesota IT Services as a resource for the latest ways to keep yourself and your information safe online. And because October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, there's no time like the present.

A champion for community wildfire safety

Oct. 10
When you think about wildfires, you probably conjure up images of vast forestlands or national parks being chewed up by raging flames. You think about park and forest rangers cutting back flammable brush and debris in an attempt to prevent or mitigate a wildfire. Which is why it may be surprising to learn that private citizens can make just as profound a contribution to wildfire prevention.
​Photo: Ely residents watch a Firewise demonstration for clearing 
their land of debris that could serve as fuel for a wildfire.
Take the small Minnesota community of Ely. It's a very rural, wooded area, and many of its residents have large properties and are separated from their neighbors by acres of land. This makes it ripe for wildfires, and it has in fact been home to several very damaging ones over the years, such as the 2011 Pagami Creek Fire, which consumed 93,000 acres.
But for the past three years, Ely resident Gloria Erickson has worked with state, county, and city agencies to bring the National Fire Protection Agency's Firewise programto her community. With the help of local fire departments and forest rangers, Erickson identified high-risk areas and helped her fellow citizens learn to take responsibility for their own land to be as prepared for and protected from wildfires as possible.
Using grants from Dovetail Partners, a Minneapolis nonprofit that provides information about the impacts of environmental decisions, Erickson started outreach to road associations: groups of homeowners who lived along the same long, winding rural roads. She sent letters to the homeowners asking three things:
1. Would they be willing to undergo a Firewise evaluation of their property? (If so, an expert would come identify the vegetation on their property that could be potential fuel for a fire.) 
2. Would they be willing to observe a Firewise demonstration in the spring? (One of their fellow road association members would invite neighbors over to watch an expert walk through the property to demonstrate how to cut back and remove potential fire fuels.) 
3. Would they be willing to participate in removing any potential wildfire fuel from their property? (Homeowners remove the debris and place it at the road. Volunteers come and pick it up, haul it away and mulch it.)
The first year, two road associations participated in the program. The second year, four participated, with more than 250 residents taking part. Volunteers logged more than 1,500 hours hauling away more than 4,000 pounds of debris. This year, five road associations participated (Erickson doesn't yet have this year's numbers, as the program is still going on).
Erickson's hard work has not gone unnoticed. A district ranger for Superior National Forest nominated her for FEMA's 2016 Individual and Community Preparedness Awards, and it worked: Erickson won an honorable mention as a Community Preparedness Champion. But the real reward has been knowing that her hard work is helping her Ely friends and neighbors be safer and more prepared for wildfires.

Safe driving is good business

Oct. 6
If you're a business owner or manager, you spend a lot of time thinking about the bottom line and all the things that contribute to it: hours worked, cost of goods sold, quality of service, customer satisfaction. It's what good businesspeople do. Which is why you probably also think about your employees' safety, both on and off the job.
Because nearly 1.6 million days are lost from work due to traffic crashes — 90 percent of which occur off-the-job ¬– it's in a business's best interests for all involved to take a good hard look at what they do behind the wheel. Given that traffic crashes cost employers $47 billion dollars in 2013 – almost half of which was for off-the-job crashes – it's clear that safe driving can have a very real effect on the bottom line.
Beyond the bottom line, though, you care about your employees. No one wants to see them injured or killed in a crash, whether they're driving on behalf of the company or not. And even though it's easy to feel you have no control over whether you'll get in a crash or not, the fact is that 94 percent of all traffic crashes are the result of driver behavior. So the safer you drive, the safer you'll be.
That's why the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) established Drive Safely Work Week. They set aside October 3-7, 2016 as a time for organizations to help their employees focus on safe driving habits, such as driving sober, pulling over when drowsy, eliminating distractions, and obeying speed limits. The theme is "Your decisions drive your safety," which pretty much sums it up.
Employers here in the state of Minnesota get it, too: This year over 30 of them joined us and statewide law enforcement here at the Department of Public Safety to call for all employees and all drivers to choose safety over texting and to eliminate distracted driving. They understand that employees are the most valuable asset of any organization and the choices they make commuting for work or driving for their job impacts their lives, their families, their coworkers and their employers.
Should you wish to share the campaign with your employees (and no, you don't have to wait for the 2017 Drive Safely Work Week!), you can find all kinds of resources on the NETS website. And here's a great reason why you should: Employers can reach nearly half of the US population. Which means you can have a huge influence on everyone's safety. And of course, you'll find that when your employees are safe, your bottom line will benefit.
Banner ad for safe driving 

Smoke alarms: What you don't know can hurt you

Oct. 3
View the full size of this infographic.
We get it: There are probably at least 10 things you'd rather do besides checking the date on the back of your smoke alarm. Why should you be up on that ladder fiddling with that little plastic disk when you could be watching the game or tossing a ball around in the backyard with the kids?
The main reason is that the little plastic disk in question, when it's working properly, can cut your and your family's risk of dying in a home fire by half. That's right: half.
If you didn't know that, it may help to know you're not alone. Despite the fact that half of Americans have three or more smoke alarms in their home, there are a lot of things they don't know about them. For example, according to a survey by the National Fire Protection Association:
  • Almost 1 in 5 of those who have smoke alarms don't know how old they are.
  • Almost 1 in 5 of those who have smoke alarms say their oldest one is over 10 years old.
  • Ninety percent of Americans don't know how often to replace smoke alarms (for the record, it's every 10 years).
The point is that, although smoke alarms are great, they'll do you no good whatsoever if they don't work. In fact, this year alone, three Minnesotans have died in home fires where smoke alarms weren't working. And perhaps the most tragic kind of death is a preventable one.
So next week—which Gov. Mark Dayton has proclaimed Fire Prevention Week—take the time to check the date on the back of your smoke alarms and replace them if they're more than 10 years old. It may not be fun or exciting, but it's far better than losing your house or, worse, someone you love to a preventable fire.