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Blog Archive: December 2014

A Good Year for DPS — and for You (Part 2)

Posted December 29, 2014
Being prepared is a huge part of the public safety mission, so people in this field learn from the past and keep their eyes on the future. Occasionally, though, it’s important to look back and measure progress — a process that started here on last Monday and continues today.
Photo: Firefighers regularly respond to home fires.
Fire deaths dropped to 44 in 2013.
In 2014, the 25th edition of the annual Fire in Minnesota Report was released, showing several positive trends. One is that 99 percent of Minnesota’s 785 fire departments reported their annual data, making our state #1 in fire reporting. Fire deaths dropped from 90 in 1989 to 44 in 2013 — that’s 44 too many, but the downward trend is consistent. One thing hasn’t changed at all. Cooking, heating and open flames are still the top three causes of home fires, meaning public education will focus on that fact until it does change.
On the subject of fire, Minnesota’s Youth Fire Prevention and Intervention (YFPI) program is now up and running. It has long been a State Fire Marshal Division goal to provide intervention and treatment for young firesetters within 100 miles of home anywhere in Minnesota. Many hours of research and organization later, that’s becoming reality. In recent years, youths aged 10-17 represented up to 57 percent of the state’s arson arrests, and YFPI aims to change that.
Rail safety legislation was enacted this year in Minnesota and DPS is a key agency. With increasing amounts of oil and hazardous liquids being transported by rail, the 2014 legislature passed new rail safety requirements and funded the Railroad and Pipeline Safety Account for the costs of training, preparedness and response. Training began in September, and work will continue to protect Minnesotans from rail disasters.
Every month, each DPS division gains new Facebook and Twitter followers. State Patrol Facebook “likes” doubled in 2014 to more than 31,000. Total DPS followers on Facebook now number 82,000+, and Twitter followers have exceeded 40,000. People rely on social media for news and information more than ever before, so a growing social media audience is essential to the DPS mission of saving lives.
Even more people are finding safety information on the DPS YouTube channel, where new videos appear every month. These professional productions feature human interest stories, safety lessons and awareness messages for education, Facebook posting and influencing those important behaviors that keep people safe. Take a look and find one to share with people you care about.
All in all, it’s been a good year for the Department of Public safety. The people at DPS hope your new year will be happier, safer and more secure because of the work done here in 2014.

A Good Year for DPS — and for You (Part 1)

Posted December 22, 2014
People in the field of keeping others safe from natural disasters, vehicle crashes, criminal acts, fire, terrorism and other mayhem tend to think in terms of statistics. They must, because they need guidelines to show them where their work and resources can do (or have done) the most good.
Photo: Drive safely; don't drive distracted.  
Much of the work done by public safety officials isn’t widely noticed, because you can’t count the things that didn’t happen. But at year’s end, it’s useful to take stock of statistics and goals met. There was a lot of progress this year in making Minnesota safer. There was so much of it, in fact, the list will take up two blog posts.
The Toward Zero Deaths program continued to make progress. It’s a cooperative effort among safety agencies, non-profits and law enforcement to reduce traffic deaths in Minnesota to zero. Ten years ago, there were 567 traffic deaths on our roads. In 2013, there were 387. There are naysayers who think TZD’s goal is impossible — but TZD partners intend to prove them wrong.
Every one of Minnesota’s 104 public-safety answering points (PSAPS, where 911 calls are answered) is now connected to the Next Generation 911 network. Minnesota is leading the nation in this technology upgrade that provides real-time digital images and other data to responders before they arrive. It lets PSAPS communicate seamlessly with each other and eliminates delays. And it’s up and running in Minnesota, with further development planned into the next three years.
Along the same lines, FirstNet is coming to Minnesota. The process is underway to bring this national, high-speed, wireless communication system to Minnesota responders. It’s a dedicated network that eliminates the need for emergency operations to share limited bandwidth with cell phone users, media outlets, and everyone else uploading or downloading anything. It makes your emergency the only priority on the bandwidth, and that’s going to improve emergency response in the future.
Other communications are getting better, too. Governor Dayton’s 2014 Plain Language Initiative has your state agencies simplifying, reorganizing and clarifying their written communication with you. The forms, brochures, websites and other ways you interact with state government have begun to improve, and will continue as content experts turn gobbledygook into common expression.
On that note, here’s a good, clear suggestion: Check back next Monday for the rest of the story. There’s great news on the fire safety front, some rail safety legislation to report on, and a few good tips on enjoying DPS social media.

More Parental Involvement = Fewer Teen Crashes

Posted December 18, 2014
For parents, there are defined stages in the child-raising process.

One day a formerly helpless infant begins moving independently from place to place, and safety gates go up until the danger of falling passes. Then little arms and legs become strong enough to access adult territory, and the glass decorations disappear until “breakable” is understood. Another day, a discernable word comes forth. It’s one you’ve been repeating with emphasis — “mama,” possibly. And so begins another parenting period.
These firsts are followed by many others, and after a few years, only the major ones are memorable. A whopper occurs, generally, around the age of 16, the first time a parent hands a teenager the keys to a vehicle. It’s a new world of freedom for a teen, and a new world of worry for a parent.
Photo of teen drivers
Photo: These teens are driving safely; they buckled up.
In Minnesota, the Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) Law of 2008 helped alleviate some of that worry. Based on statistics that show teen drivers at greatest risk (1) during the first year of driving, (2) at night and (3) in situations where they’re distracted by other passengers, the law limited nighttime driving privileges and set passenger limits for teen drivers. The result, as hoped, was a decrease in teen-driver crashes.
Legislation passed in this year’s session mandates that, beginning Jan. 1, GDL requirements will include a “parent awareness” class to be offered by each driver education provider. 
The class must be at least 90 minutes long and cover information on reasons for the GDL, safety risks associated with new drivers, and ways adults can influence their novices behind the wheel. The class will include additional resources like “How to Talk to Teens About Driving,” and a driving instructor will answer questions and provide insights.
The point of this class is to help parents be just as involved in their teens’ transition to independent driving as they have been at all the other points of passage.

The fact that the child looks grown up (as most parents well know) doesn’t make their judgment as solid, or their risk perception as good, as that of an experienced adult. They still need guidance — and with regard to something as potentially dangerous as driving, those who provide the guidance may need a little guidance of their own.
The new law also mandates that driving students submit a “supervised driving” log and increases the number of supervised-driving hours required before licensing. Traffic safety officials encourage parents to spend as much time as possible supervising their teens behind the wheel. Every hour you’re sharing your experience and judgment with your new driver is making them more knowledgeable and better prepared for independent driving.
Four other states already require parents to be take awareness classes as their teens hit the road, and the trend will probably expand as statistics on teen crashes reflect positive results. Parental guidance and involvement are as important to teenagers’ successful development as it is to a toddler’s safety. That’s the theory behind the new, Enhanced GDL Law in Minnesota — and if you’re a concerned parent with a new driver, you’ll see the wisdom and the potential benefits. 

Ten Ways to Stay Off the Naughty List

Posted December 15, 2014
Personal safety is a personal responsibility. Nobody can keep everybody safe. But the DPS mission is, fundamentally, just that, and a huge part of the effort is public education. That’s why half the blog posts at this site are about ways to keep your body hale and whole, your property undamaged, and your wallet untapped by fines or tickets.

smoke alarm image
Photo: Smoke alarms; test regularly and change batteries.
Here’s a top-ten list of topics we blogged about this year. They’re lessons that keep people out of the ditch, out of the hospital, and out of the court system.  They’ll keep you off the naughty list and out of the statistics books.  So they’re worth a quick review.
1. Call before you dig. When spring comes you might do some landscaping. Before you take out a tree, put in a fence or plant some new bushes, dial 8-1-1 a couple of days in advance. The utility people will come and spray pretty stripes on your lawn where the underground utilities are buried, and you’ll avoid finding out what happens when you hit a gas line with a shovel or cut the electricity to your entire neighborhood.

2. Train before you ride. The Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Program exists to keep you upright on two wheels. Beginner, advanced, refresher classes, bike maintenance, street-smarts — it’s all there for you, available all over the state.  Just get in touch.

3. Get ready for anything.  A spring time with robins singing, butterflies flitting, crocuses winking from the snowbanks and blue skies overhead — that one — is mostly wishful thinking in Minnesota. Our springs also bring high winds, lightning storms, hail, flash floods and tornadoes. Find out if you’re ready to keep yourself and your family safe.

4. Light it right. Fireworks are so much a part of our celebrations we forget they’re dangerous.  A sparkler is basically a wire covered with gunpowder, and the burning tip can reach 1800 degrees.  That’ll do permanent damage — so take the time to do fireworks right.

5. Drive the Way You Wish Everyone Else Would.  Speeding, distraction, impairment and seat belts are the four top causes of roadway deaths and injuries.  Minnesota law enforcement takes part in multiple “enhanced enforcement” waves throughout the year — and a traffic ticket is the best thing that can happen if you speed, text and drive, drive drunk and forget the seat belt. The worst possibilities are in the annual Crash Facts Report.  So study up and learn to share the road safely.

6. Make fire safety a priority. Cooking, heating and open flames cause most of the deadly residential fires in Minnesota, and all those fires are preventable. Watch the stove. Use heaters and fireplaces carefully. Know how to use candles without creating a hazard. The more you know, the safer your home will be.

7. When kids go back to school, make safety lesson one. Online, walking, biking, in the car and on the bus, there are things your children should know about protecting themselves. You can’t be there every minute, so they need to learn and practice safety rules.  Essential tips are included in the “Back to School” blog post from August, 2014.

8. Change Your Clocks, Change Your Batteries.  Nobody expects a residential fire. People don’t think a fire could happen to them. But it happens anyway, and living without smoke alarms is dangerous.  Smoke alarms installed correctly, supplied with fresh batteries and tested regularly, save lives every day. They may be the most inexpensive peace of mind you can buy.

9. Teach your kids about the dangers of fire.  Every year, children start destructive fires. Some are intentional — some are not. Some are tragically fatal. Minnesota has one of the nation’s outstanding programs in Youth Firesetting Prevention. But safety starts with parents who teach their kids that fire is not a toy.

10. Winter? Yes, it’s Dangerous, Too. But if you know how to stay safe when you’re working, playing, driving, or snuggled in at home, you’ll survive it with minimal suffering.  DPS is a major partner in “Winter Hazard Awareness Week,” each November, and you can share their information with family and friends. We’re all in this together, after all; we may as well help each other through.
Here’s wishing you safe, happy holidays and a Minnesota nice New Year! 

Happy Holidays — Here's Your Gift

Posted December 8, 2014

During the Thanksgiving holidays in 2011, ’12 and ’13, Minnesota police arrested 1,624 drivers for DWI. In just 12 days, they arrested enough people to form a line a mile long. Okay, a line at the airport — if each person had a carry-on bag.

However you measure it, that’s a lot of people — enough to make Minnesota roads and highways treacherous. And the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is even worse.

Santa on an obstacle course showing effects of driving while intoxicated
Photo: Santa drove a pedal car through an obstacle course wearing different levels of “drunk driving”
. Line up a sober ride this holiday season.
All those holiday parties, family events and celebrations are the stuff of fond memories for most people. But for too many, they’re sharply reminiscent of a pain that never goes away. For some, that period includes the anniversary of a senseless, preventable highway death caused by a drunk driver. That’s the reason for the “Extra DWI Patrols” that are currently taking place every weekend through December 27.

An increasing number of motorists are learning, one way or the other, that driving under the influence isn’t worth the risk. DWI arrests have gone down every year since 2006, when almost 42,000 people were arrested for driving impaired. In 2013, the number was “only” 25,716 — a significant drop, but let’s go back to the airport. That line is close to 16 miles long.

Almost 600,000 Minnesota residents have been charged with DWI. That’s one out of every seven licensed drivers in the state. Fortunately, this is not how it usually works, but please imagine driving down the road knowing that one-in-seven of the vehicles you can see is being driven by a drunk person.

A DWI can cost you your driving privileges, thousands in fines and possible jail time. Repeat offenders and those arrested at an alcohol concentration level of .16 or above have to use ignition interlock to get their licenses back, or lose them for a year. Three or more offenses means using interlock for three-to-six years.

And of course, there are the ones who don’t get caught soon enough. They live the rest of their lives knowing their irresponsible behavior altered or ended another person’s life. That’s a tough sentence.

Make the holidays happy for you and everyone else on the road. If you know your friend (spouse, significant other, daughter, son, parent, customer or mere acquaintance) is inebriated, take action to keep them from driving. Offer to be a sober driver for the group. Report drunk driving when you see it.

You could be giving someone the best holiday gift ever — the gift of life.

Perri's Story -- From Heartbreak to Helping

Posted Dec. 4, 2014

In Minnesota, two hay-bale fires were started by 10-year-old children this year. One child was very fortunate. The other, a little girl named Perri, was killed in the fire.

Perri’s story is heart-wrenching for the family, her community and for firefighters.. The family is now sharing their story in hopes that someone, somewhere, will prevent the same type of tragedy.

On April 10, Perri was found inside a fire that consumed 40 bales of hay. She was in her “fort” where she would often play, with her feet
Perri 2.jpg
Photo: Perri Heideman loved animals and being outside.
tangled in bailing wire. Investigators shared some artifacts with her parents, including a burnt piece of Perri’s jeans, as they reviewed their diagrams and told her parents the only fire cause that could not be ruled out was that Perri had started the fire herself.

State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) investigators shared the family’s grief as they got to know, through parents’ memories, a spirited, happy little tomboy who loved the color purple. They insisted she had never played with fire before; they strictly forbade her to help with garbage burning or grilling. They never imagined she would set a fire, and grasped for any other explanation — but there was none.

Finally, Perri’s parents decided that sharing their story could be a way to give back — to honor their little girl and make sense of her unfathomable death. It would be a way to keep other families from suffering this fate.

Investigators explained the SFMD Youth Firesetting Prevention and Intervention (YFPI) program, and Perri’s mom Lonna immediately saw a way to help. She’s a social worker, and she is now spearheading the Southwest Regional YFPI team. She knows that by sharing with others, she can go from heartbreak to healing to helping.

Perri’s parents were honored by Gov. Dayton at the State Fair on Aug. 22. Their entire family attended the Fair in matching purple “Perri” shirts and spent time at the SFMD booth sharing their message and handing out rubber “Perri” bracelets. They shared their safety message at their local county fair in a similar manner. They have enrolled in classes on youth firesetting prevention and intervention with the intention of continuing their effort to spare other families the pain they have endured.


The Deadliest Time of Year for Pedestrians

Posted Dec. 1, 2014
As winter progresses, streets freeze over and snow piles up, logic tells us walking anywhere would get more difficult, and therefore more dangerous. But every year, tragic events remind us that it’s the onset of winter that’s most dangerous for pedestrians.

On October 27, an 11-year-old boy was critically injured on his way to school, as one car slowed to allow him to cross Rice Street in St. Paul — but a second car did not.  On Nov. 18, a Brooklyn Center pedestrian was killed on Hwy. 252 near 73rd Ave. North in a hit-and-run incident involving two vehicles, neither of which stopped. And a day later, another incident in Brooklyn Park resulted in a pedestrian death on eastbound I-94 near Zane Ave.
Photo: People crossing the street
Photo: More pedestrians may be out and about in the summer but winter months bring another set of problems for motorists and pedestrians.

It’s time to consider what we can do to stop these preventable injuries and deaths. We can’t change outdoor conditions that cause difficulty for pedestrians. People outside are trying to stay warm and upright; they may not be able to see beyond the fur on their jacket hoods. Winter is long and cold. Streets remain slippery for months. Crosswalk markings disappear beneath the snow.  The light disappears earlier every day until December 21 and then crawls back slowly until late spring. Everything conspires against pedestrians, so behavior must change — walker and driver behavior, alike.
During the three-year period from 2011–2013, 35 pedestrians were killed on Minnesota roads, and the two contributing factors listed most often by investigators were driver inattention and driver distraction.

One glance at the radio dial, two seconds of attention to the cell phone or a reach into the back seat can allow a pedestrian to enter a crosswalk without being noticed by a distracted driver.  When that happens, the results are nearly always injurious — and too often fatal.

If crosswalks and intersections are visible, the potential for pedestrians to appear is real. Drivers must act accordingly, and remember that snow-packed, icy roadways can make it impossible to stop quickly. Watch for and anticipate the people who share our streets on foot.

Pedestrians must take responsibility for their own safety, too. Cross roadways only at crosswalks and remember that overconfidence can be fatal. Having the right-of-way is not the same as being safe, and the crosswalk does not guarantee protection. Drivers are obligated by law to stop for you, but that does not mean they will.

Our turn-on-red laws can be challenging for pedestrians, too. Drivers waiting to turn on a red light are often looking the other direction — not into the crosswalk they’re about to enter. Think about that before stepping into the street. Check over your shoulder for turning vehicles.

If you walk on a road or highway, wear reflective clothing and walk against traffic. All pedestrians in traffic of any kind should leave their ears available to identify vehicle sounds; your eyes alone may not keep you safe.  And as obvious as this may be, it bears repeating — impairment does nothing to improve safety of any kind. Walking or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is begging for trouble, winter, summer or any other time.

So far this fall and winter, statistics on pedestrian injuries and deaths are following the patterns of previous years. It’s a sad, preventable pattern. We can interrupt it with consideration, common sense and caution.