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Blog Archive: September 2016


A hole in one for safety

Sept. 29, 2016
If you attend outdoor spectator sporting events, you probably do it for one reason: fun! There’s nothing like being out in the fresh air and watching extraordinary athletes do what they’re best at, is there? So the last thing you want to think about is whether or not you’re safe. Fortunately, that’s what we’re here for, and this week’s Ryder Cup golf championship is no exception.


Photo: This year's Ryder Cup is taking place in Chaska,
where several agencies, including the Department of
Public Safety, are poised to keep the golfers
and spectators safe.​




With an alternating venue between Europe and the U.S., the Ryder Cup is currently taking place at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska. Twelve of the United States’ best professional golfers are competing against Europe’s 12 best. Hazeltine is expecting about 250,000 people to attend in total, which means security is challenging.
We at the Department of Public Safety (DPS) are in contact with Ryder Cup officials to help monitor safety and security issues and concerns and respond appropriately. The State Patrol is helping with law enforcement and traffic control (the only transportation allowed in or out of the perimeter around Hazeltine is pre-approved buses; no one is permitted to drive or even bike or walk to and from the golf course). Our Homeland Security Emergency Management Division will have representatives at the Hazeltine mobile command post all week providing logistics and operations support so that, if something were to happen, all law enforcement agencies involved can respond effectively and efficiently to the immediate threat.
For example, if a security issue forces the evacuation of the golf course, HSEM would help with incident command duties while law enforcement was dealing with the initial issue at hand.  HSEM would also then step in to plan next steps for response and recovery. And HSEM would be ready to activate the State Emergency Operations Center if it were needed during an incident. You can think of HSEM as the helping hand to all the local agencies and organizations involved in Ryder Cup safety.
So if you’re enjoying watching some really good golf at the Hazeltine National Golf Club this week, know that many agencies, including DPS, have planned for and are thinking about your safety.

This is not a test: Wireless emergency alerts help keep you safe in an emergency

Sept. 26
We’ve all been there before. Maybe you’re at work, or driving the kids to an activity, or sitting at home with family when your cell phone sounds a loud alarm. It startles you. You weren’t expecting to have it jolt you from the task at hand, but a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) is supposed to do just that. It’s designed to make you take notice of an emergency happening at that very moment.
person using a smartphone
​Photo: A Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) will
notify you of threats such as an incident
at a nuclear generating plant.
In Minnesota, cell phone users heard the alarm go off for an Amber Alert in August when Alayna Ertl was abducted from her home in Meeker County. This past February, people in Martin County received a WEA, asking drivers to stay off of closed roads during a snow storm. On Sept. 18 and 19, New York cell phone users received three different WEAs for a different reason. The first two notifications alerted a Manhattan neighborhood to the discovery and the recovery of a suspicious package, which was later determined to be a bomb. A third WEA served as a wanted message, identifying a 28-year-old man who was later arrested and charged with placing bombs in both New York and New Jersey.
The message was simple: “WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen.” It’s believed to be the first time that the nationwide WEA system was deployed as an electronic “wanted poster” of sorts. The message asked the public to be on the lookout for the suspect; a man who authorities determined to be extremely dangerous.
WEA messages are deployed through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which allows federal, state and local authorities to alert citizens to threats. The system is unique in that authorities can geo-target specific areas where the danger level is at its highest. While its most common uses are for abducted children and severe weather, Minnesota authorities could also potentially use it in the event of an incident at one of the state’s two nuclear generating plants. The national system also has an option for a presidential alert, which has never been used. Cell phone users can change their settings to opt out of receiving all but the presidential alerts.
More than half of Minnesota’s 87 counties have signed on to IPAWS. Authorities in those counties have the capability of sending out similar messages in the event of a public threat. Minnesota’s Emergency Alert System Statewide Plan details who can create WEA messages and under what circumstances they can be distributed. In addition to Wireless Emergency Alerts, IPAWS also uses these communication tools:
  • Outdoor warning sirens
  • Emergency telephone notifications
  • NOAA weather radios, social media and digital billboards
  • TV or radio emergency alerts
Today, WEA messages are limited to 90 characters. Pictures and other multimedia items cannot be included in the alerts. This is why authorities in New York and elsewhere place a strong emphasis in working with the media to distribute pictures when necessary. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is examining a 360 character limit on WEAs, which would allow authorities to be more detailed in their messaging, although an implementation timeline has not yet been determined.

Campus fire safety: Does your dorm or off-campus housing pass the test?

Sept. 22
Pop quiz: What put college students’ lives in danger more than 370 times since 2006 and caused thousands of dollars in damage at dorms and sorority and fraternity houses statewide?
This video and State Fire Marshal Bruce West are the best Cliff's Notes for that question.
students in a dorm room
Photo: Study up on fire prevention and safety. It could save your life.
But if you’re the impatient type, here’s the answer: Fires. Cooking fires, to be more specific.
If you’re back at school odds are you haven’t given much thought to whether your dorm or off-campus housing is safe from fire. But you should. It could save your life.
You may already be up to their eyeballs in chemistry, philosophy or some other homework. Lucky you. But taking a few moments to study up on some basic campus fire safety and prevention tips is worth your time.
Parents, listen up. If you know your student won’t make fire prevention and safety a priority, help them make sure their home away from home is as safe as possible. Here are some easy tips that every parent and student should consider:
  • Make sure there is a smoke alarm in every bedroom and on every level of the house if you live off campus.
  • Clean up immediately after parties and take trash outside. Why? Smokers sometimes discard cigarettes in not-so-safe places. You’ll want to find those butts before they cause a problem.
  • Is your dorm equipped with an automatic fire-sprinkler system? Find out.
  • Know two escape routes out of your dorm or off-campus residence. Practice using that route when you are awake and not impaired.
  • Take every fire alarm seriously. If an alarm sounds, get out. Don’t worry about grabbing your personal belongings.
There are many causes of campus fires, but most are due to a lack of knowledge about fire safety and prevention. Alcohol also plays a role. Check out this tip sheet and educate yourself about the dangers of fire and your role in creating a fire-safe environment.
The best way to ace any test is to study up. Same goes with fire prevention and safety. Learn what you can now so you’re ready at a moment’s notice.

Child Passenger Safety Week: All safe, all the time

Sept. 19
Imagine that you have four children. Now imagine yourself saying to your spouse, “Whenever we drive anywhere, let’s only buckle one of them in. The other three don’t need to be safe.” Ridiculous, right? No matter how many children you have, you want all of them to be safe all the time.
child fastening his seat belt in a car
Photo: Make sure your child is properly buckled up; three out of
every four child safety seats are used incorrectly.
Unfortunately, here in Minnesota, three out of every four child safety seats are used incorrectly. So even though parents think they’re buckling their child into a nice safe seat, they may be securing the child improperly or they may be using the wrong type of restraint for the child’s age and size. And although that’s not quite the same as not buckling them in at all, the fact is that incorrect restraint use or improper fit can contribute to serious injury, ejection, and or death in traffic crashes. In other words, the wrong type or use of restraint can be just as dangerous as none at all.
Child Passenger Safety Week is this week, September 18-24. It’s a good opportunity to check on the child restraints you use in your vehicle, make sure they’re suited to your child, and make sure you’re using them properly.
For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents keep children in rear-facing car seats until age two or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. What’s more, Minnesota  law requires children to be in a car seat or booster seat until they reach age 8 or 4 feet 9 inches tall, whichever comes first — but experts recommend that the child stays in each seat or position as long as possible. The point of booster seats is to raise children up so that the shoulder belt goes over their shoulder rather than their neck, and the lap belt goes over their hips and not their abdomen. Another way to tell if a child is ready to ride with a seatbelt alone is if they can sit with their back against the seat back with their knees bent over the seat’s edge and their feet touching the floor.
As a general rule, the progression should be as follows:
• Rear-facing child seat until age 2.
• Forward-facing child seat until age 4 (or until they reach the maximum weight limit for the seat).
• Booster seat until 4 foot 9 inches tall or 8 years old.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, proper child restraint use works. In the past five years here in Minnesota, 14,318 children ages 0 to 7 were involved in traffic crashes while properly restrained. Of those, 86 percent were not injured at all, and another 12 percent sustained only minor injuries. What a great reason to make sure you’re using the right kind of restraints, and using them properly!
For more information on child passenger safety, including instructional videos on installing car seats, and car seat clinics in your area that can check to make sure yours is installed properly, visit

Not my kid: How to recognize signs of drug use

Sept. 15
Think about the things you and your kids use every day: keychains. Pop cans. Lip balm. Perfectly innocent, commonplace things…until they’re used to conceal drugs or drug paraphernalia.
video about drugs and your kids
Photo: There are many places in a typical teen’s room where drugs and
drug paraphernalia can be hidden. Learn more in our latest video.​
Just as you may not instinctively understand the technology and social platforms your teenage kid takes for granted, you may not recognize things they and their peers use to conceal drugs. After all, drugs themselves – along with the terminology and paraphernalia that goes with them – have changed quite a bit in the last 20 years. That’s why we here at the Department of Public Safety (DPS) made a video called “Drugs and Your Kids: Learning to Recognize the Signs.”
Laura Jackson, a Washington County sheriff’s deputy, takes us through a typical teen’s room. Alongside the photos, trophies, books and electronics you’d expect are a few things that aren’t what they seem. There’s a little silicon pot that looks as if it holds lip gloss — but is made to contain sticky marijuana wax. Then there’s a handheld game console that opens up to reveal, not buttons and screens, but a tiny scale for weighing drugs. And an ordinary-looking zippered coin purse doesn’t hold dimes and quarters—it holds a heroin spoon and mirror. “Don’t skip over something just because you think you know what’s in it,” Jackson advises.
Jackson also shares tips for getting rid of unwanted prescription medications and how to spot signs of drug transactions in text messages.
 Later, we get to visit a crime lab with Jeff Hansen, a deputy superintendent in charge of investigations with DPS’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Hansen walks us through the various types of illicit drugs available on the streets today, from Molly and meth to brightly-colored packets of synthetic drugs, which are often touted as a “legal form” of LSD (hint: they’re not). 
Does this mean we should assume our kids are using drugs? Of course not. But, as DPS Commissioner Mona Dohman says, “We know that good kids can make poor decisions.” It’s up to us as parents to guide them in the right direction – and that includes both sitting down with them to have conversations about the dangers of drug use and knowing what danger signs to keep a lookout for. This video can help.

Strings attached (the good kind): Federal audits for pipeline safety

Sept. 12
When your father told you “there’s no free lunch,” he wasn’t wrong. Most things – especially government funding for safety programs – come with strings attached. But when those strings motivate everyone to do their jobs better, they aren’t so bad.
image of pip
Photo: Federal officials recently wrapped up their audit of
the DPS Office of Pipeline Safety. Part of the audit included
tagging along to inspections like this one.
Take, for example, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA. They’re the federal entity that funds about 80 percent of the pipeline safety work performed by our Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety (MNOPS). This funding comes in the form of pipeline safety grants, for which MNOPS has to apply to PHMSA annually (the 2017 applications are due at the end of September). And along with the grant money comes a lot of federal guidelines around procedures for inspections, investigations, and inspector training.
Once a year, PHMSA sends a team to make sure MNOPS is in compliance with those guidelines. They conduct a two-week audit that looks at natural gas pipeline inspections and hazardous liquid pipeline inspections. They look at procedures, investigations, and enforcement; training; and MNOPS’s documentation of their own work. Then they go out into the field to observe the inspectors as they do their work.
The results of the audit are assigned a point total for each program. If the audit were to uncover any issues or noncompliance with federal guidelines, MNOPS would have to either make changes in the way they run their pipeline safety program or risk losing some of their funding. Also, the results of each audit are made public on PHMSA’s website.
And if you’re wondering how MNOPS did on this year’s audit, don’t worry: They got a score of 100 percent. That lunch may not be free, but it’s awfully tasty nonetheless. Because you can rest assured that the state agency that regulates natural gas, propane and hazardous liquid pipeline operators in our state isn’t just going through the motions. They take your safety seriously and go above and beyond when it comes to inspections, enforcement, investigations and education.

The ripple effect, part 2: The high price of driving drunk

Sept. 8


​Photo: Replacing this car was just the beginning of the monetary, physical and emotional costs to Mark Engen, his family and his community after his crash with someone who chose to drive drunk.

When Heather Hahn enumerates the costs associated with her stepfather’s injuries — sustained at the hands of a drunk driver on St. Patrick’s Day 2013 – it starts to sound a bit on the surreal side.

They’re numbers one associates with really nice houses. Cars. Annual salaries. But for Mark Engen, they’re the price tags on his physical therapy ($15,000), flight to Hennepin County Medical Center ($16,500), Grand Forks hospital bill ($54,000), and Hennepin County Medical Center bill ($400,000).

Those numbers don’t include medical transport, specialized handicap equipment, or medications. And although these costs didn’t fall solely to Mark and his family, they took a toll on insurance companies, medical facilities, and taxpayers.

Then there’s the time it has cost.

Mark spent half of 2013 in one hospital setting or another. He was laid up for two entire summers. And even when he was finally well enough to be at home in Warroad, he still had doctors’ appointments in the Twin Cities for two years, which is a seven-hour drive one way.  Add to that the fact that Mark’s pain sometimes required them to stop for the night rather than make the whole trip in one day, and you have a staggering time commitment.

Next is the toll this crash has taken on Mark’s freedom.

He could not walk on both feet until 2015, and even now he walks gingerly with a cane. He has metal in his legs and face, which means that he has to carry a letter to get through security whenever he flies, and falling would be disastrous—which means he can never again live in Minnesota in the winter because of the danger of slipping on ice. The metal also means extremes of heat and cold are extremely uncomfortable. Mark can’t carry his grandchildren — he has to sit down to hold them — and his and his wife’s dreams of camping and other travel in retirement have been exchanged for much more sedentary activities they can do together.

Despite everything this DUI crash has cost Mark, Heather, and their family, Heather hopes there will be benefits from it as well. Heather speaks at DWI clinics and Toward Zero Deaths conferences in hopes of preventing other families from bearing similar burdens. She advises those in similar circumstances to ask for help right away from such entities as Minnesota Crime Victims and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and not to panic when the medical bills come because it takes a long time for insurance to process them.

As you can imagine, a lot of people have asked Heather what she would say to someone who was drunk and about to get behind the wheel. Her answer has changed a bit over the years. At first, she says, she would have freaked out at them, called the police immediately, or both. Now, however, she says she tries not to be so judgmental. “They’re just normal people like any of us, who have made bad choices. The best thing you can do is offer a ride.”

But she does still have two questions for potential drunk drivers, and they both revolve around – you guessed it – cost: “Is it worth it? Why don’t you just write me a check for ten thousand dollars?”



The ripple effect: How one DWI crash creates years of consequences 

Sept. 1

Imagine a typical Sunday with your family. Maybe you just arrived home from church. Perhaps you’ll get a little cleaning done. But just as 

​​​Photo: The driver and passengers of the car that hit Mark Engen
in 2013 had stopped at a liquor store not long before the crash
to purchase more alcohol.

you put on the yellow rubber dish gloves, the phone rings. That’s when you learn your stepfather had to be cut out of his car with the Jaws of Life after a drunk driver hit him. After that, there’s no such thing as a typical day anymore.

That’s how it went down for Heather Hahn on St. Patrick’s Day 2013. Her stepfather, Mark Engen, was on the way to the airport in Grand Forks to pick up her mother. At 2:19 p.m., a vehicle containing a father and two sons, all drunk, crossed the center line of Highway 11 and collided with Mark’s car almost head-on. Mark tried to get out of the way, but both vehicles were going almost 60 miles per hour. 

The father, who was 54, wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. He was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. One of the sons died a few days later at the hospital they took Mark to. The other son swore to first responders that he hadn’t been driving—he made these protestations from where he was pinned to the seat by the steering wheel. Later, devastated by the death and destruction he had caused by choosing to drive impaired that day, he took his own life.

The stranger who called Heather (at Mark’s request) wouldn’t tell her how bad it was, but he stayed with Mark until the emergency vehicles arrived. As it turned out, the damage to Mark’s body was devastatingly extensive: Both ankles were crushed and both legs were broken. His right patellar tendon—the thing that keeps your kneecap in place—was severed. One hip was shattered, every bone in his face except his nose was broken, and he had a brain bleed.

When Heather talks about Mark’s injuries and ensuing treatments—nine surgeries she can rattle off like the alphabet—she is very calm and matter-of-fact. But she says that as she stood in that hospital room, listening to the list of her beloved stepfather’s injuries grow longer and longer, she saw her husband cover his mouth with his hand…and that was when she cried.

For the next two years, Heather’s life and those of her three sisters and their mother revolved around Mark’s care. Heather is quick to say that he never complained, and that he was the one who kept everyone’s spirits up—even though he had to eat pureed food for 45 days, even though he lost 50 pounds, and even though he had to sleep on an air mattress because contact with a regular one caused him too much pain.

Mark’s recovery has been a long road, and it’s not over yet. Next week, we’ll tell you about what life is like for Mark now, and how this has affected those who love him.