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May 2014 Archive

Next Generation 911 - More Options, More Data, More Effective Response

 
Posted May 29, 2014
 
What if firefighters in your community could respond to calls armed with real-time photographs of the fire and a set of blueprints for the burning building? What if each responder could access information about obstacles at the site, what sits next door, and whether hazmats were involved? It would take a lot of the guesswork out of emergency response, that’s what — and all of this is becoming real. It’s called Next Generation 911, or NG 911.
 
Every one of Minnesota’s 104 public safety answering points (PSAPS, where 911 calls are answered) is now connected to the NG 911 network — and Minnesota is among eight states leading the nation in migration to NG911.
 
Photo: Dispatcher in a 911 call center.
NG 911 is an update to the 911 network that served us for 30+ years. Nowadays, our smart phones combine voice messaging with high-speed Internet capability, and we think nothing of it. And about six years ago, a 911 system that did the same thing was just a bright idea.
 
The DPS Emergency Communication Networks Division (ECN) conducted a study on 911 network performance and discovered challenges to making the idea a reality.
 
For example, there were two 911 service providers in Minnesota — Century Link and Independent Emergency Services — and they handled 911 calls differently. A call might come in to one PSAP with all the data dispatchers see on computer screens. But if it needed to be transferred to a PSAP served by the other provider, that data could be lost — an obvious problem for emergency responders. The interoperability problem has been solved.
 
NG 911 is a long-term project. Plans are being made for the next three years of development. PSAP hardware and software need to be updated. We need to plan for database creation. Dispatchers will need training, and the public will need to be educated.
 
You can learn more and find out who represents your region of the state on the Statewide Emergency Communications Board that advises on the project. Beneath a map that breaks out the regions, you’ll find names and contact information for board and advisory committee chairs.
 
ECN has solicited input from emergency personnel across Minnesota to help create a communications network that best serves our responders and residents. Your input is welcome as Minnesota works to become a model of efficiency in emergency services.
 

Click it or Ticket - An Effort to Save Your Life

 
Posted May 22, 2014
 
Interested in your odds of survival on the roadway? Here’s a helpful statistic: 41 percent of the people killed on Minnesota’s roads in the last five years were not wearing seat belts.
 
Photo: The car was destroyed,
but Samantha lived.
Law enforcement agencies record Minnesota vehicle deaths and injuries. Department of Public Safety statisticians figure percentages on causes like drinking, speeding, distraction and lack of seat belts, and the Office of Traffic Safety explains how important it is to drive sober, watch your speed, click your belt and put the phone down. It works, but unfortunately, some people don’t always hear the message.
 
But at a Monday morning news conference this week, people heard.
 
The primary message was this: a Click It or Ticket seatbelt enforcement campaign takes place across the state May 19-June 1. That means there will be 400 police agencies with extra officers on the road, actively hunting for unbelted drivers and passengers. If they find a driver or passenger unbelted, they’ll turn on the lights and siren, pull the car over and deliver a ticket.
 
Call it enforcement. Call it compassion. Call it what you like — it’s an effort by people who see the roadway carnage every day, month after month, to keep other people from being violently ejected in a crash and probably killed, when one little click might have saved a life.
 
On Monday, a father who is also a law enforcement officer told a story that helped people understand why the officers do it.
 
Photo of Sam at graduation.
Photo: Sam’s college graduation; she buckled up and survived her injuries.
Most tales about car crashes end in heartbreak. But at the news conference, Sgt. Duane Siedschlag of the White Bear Lake Police Department told one that ended differently. He talked about his daughter, a passenger in a car being driven too fast by a driver who became distracted and crossed the median. His daughter sustained permanent spinal injuries in the resulting roll-over crash — but she lived. She healed. She has graduated from college and moved on with her life since that horrible night in 2009.
 
She was wearing a seat belt.
 
In a car that was destroyed, she lived. Because of one little click, she can walk and talk and make her dreams come true.
 
Please remember to save your own life before an officer in a squad car tries to save it for you. And for further reinforcement, look again at your statistical odds. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
 
Click! Safe travels.
 

38 Cadets Graduated From Minnesota State Patrol Academy May 16

 
Posted May 19, 2014
 
After 16 weeks of rigorous training, course work and character building, 38 cadets graduated from the 55th State Patrol Training Academy on Friday, May 16 at the University of Minnesota Mariucci Arena.
 
The new Troopers come from diverse backgrounds. They range in age from 21 to 43, and include 12 military veterans, a college instructor, a marathon runner, a pilot and four who were born outside the U.S. Thirteen have prior law enforcement experience.
 
Photo of State Patrol Graduating Class
Photo: State Patrol graduating class.​
Lieutenant Colonel Matt Langer, acting chief of the Minnesota State Patrol (MSP), said that the graduation ceremony is designed to recognize not only the new Troopers’ accomplishments, but also the support and encouragement of their family members as the cadets completed training.
 
Since January 27, the cadets lived at Camp Ripley, mastering crash investigations, traffic law, emergency vehicle operation, firearms and scenario-based training. Hands-on training included reconstructing crash scenes, taser deployment and self-defense. Cadets were coached on core principles of the State Patrol — respect, integrity, courage and honor — and taught leadership skills with emphasis on service and lifelong learning.
 
Following graduation, Troopers report to one of the 11 MSP district offices and spend 16 weeks working with a field training officer before they begin their solo assignments.
 
Becoming a State Trooper
 
The Minnesota State Patrol recruiting process allows potential candidates to apply regardless of previous law enforcement education or experience. Anyone with a two- or four-year degree may seek admission. Information about becoming a trooper, career/internship opportunities and the ride-along program is on the MSP website.
 
About the Minnesota State Patrol
 
More than 500 Minnesota State Patrol Troopers work to provide a safe environment on Minnesota’s roads by assisting motorists, enforcing laws and educating drivers about traffic safety issues. In addition to road safety activities, Troopers conduct flight patrols and search-and-rescue missions, and assist other law enforcement agencies.
 
The Minnesota Legislature created the Highway Patrol in 1929 when lawmakers, in response to the automotive boom, saw the need for a traffic enforcement agency. The first patrol force consisted of 35 men. In 1970, the Highway Patrol became a division of the Department of Public Safety; four years later its official name was changed to Minnesota State Patrol.
 

Law Enforcement Memorial Day Ceremony Honors 269 Fallen Officers

 
Posted on May 15, 2014
 
Today is May 15 — a day set aside annually to pay our respects to law enforcement officers who have given their lives in the line of duty. The day of tribute was created in 1962 when President Kennedy signed the bill declaring National Law Enforcement Day as a time to honor and remember fallen peace officers.
 
In Minnesota, the day is marked by a special event at the Law Enforcement Memorial on the Capitol grounds in St. Paul. The Law Enforcement Memorial Association (LEMA) hosts, as officers from across the state post guard around the memorial. “Standing of the Monument,” a tradition begun when the first memorial was erected at MSP International Airport in 1977, begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday evening and continues through 7:30 p.m. on May 15.
 
Officers stand vigil while a LEMA Honor Guard officer walks the Thin Blue Line. The Thin Blue Line is a phrase known to police officers worldwide. It alludes to the enforcement barrier that stands between our citizens and chaos, represented by a blue line that appears on the ground as part of the memorial.
Photo: Officers stand guard at the Law Enforcement Memorial on the Capitol
grounds in St. Paul
During the Standing of the Monument, the guard is changed every 20 minutes with a precision rifle inspection by the Sergeant of the Guard. An especially poignant part of the ceremony involves K-9 officers with their partners sitting quietly in memory of K-9s that have been lost on the job, many protecting the lives of their handlers. K-9 partners will be present from 8 a.m. May 15 until 7:30 p.m.
 
At 7:30 p.m. LEMA hosts a candlelight vigil. The service begins with honor guard units from throughout Minnesota marching in parade formation across the Wabasha Bridge, up to the Peace Officers' Memorial and standing at parade rest around the guests in attendance at the service. Each guest is provided with a candle to light at the end of the service.
 
Since 2009, Minnesota has lost 10 police officers in the line of duty. Since 1874, 269 Minnesota officers have given their lives protecting the citizens of this state.
 
For more information about the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association and a list of fallen officers, visit the LEMA website.
 

Government Data: TMI or GTK*?

 
Posted May 12, 2014
 
We’ve been bobbing in oceans of data since the start of the digital age. Government crunches millions of numbers to track trends, improve services, update codes, design budgets and otherwise plan for the future. Most of the results are made public in news releases, social media or reports you can easily obtain.
 
But is all this data just too much information, or is it actually good to know*? Let’s examine one tidbit in the light of that question.
 
Man being given a breathalyzer test for DWI.
Photo: Statistics -- like the number of DWI arrests on fishing opener weekend -- can help keep you safe.
Recently, the Department of Natural Resources announced via Twitter that, as of the Tuesday before the May 10 fishing opener, DNR had sold 82,000 more fishing licenses than the 243,632 they had sold by that day in 2013. Stop the presses, right? Why would anyone need to know that?
 
If you sell bait and tackle, you’d better keep the minnow tank full and stock up on widgets and thingamajigs. If you run a campground, you should prepare to be busier than expected this season. But if you don’t do any of those things, it’s easy to stop thinking about that data as soon as you read it.
 
Let’s do a double-take and think again, because this information is actually GTK.
 
You can hardly step sideways in Minnesota without hitting fishable water, so you may encounter some of our 325,632 license holders anywhere — especially early in the fishing season. (That’s now.) And why should you care?
 
Consider if you are a driver:
  • Those extra 82,000 people may be pulling boats. Passing a tandem vehicle set-up requires more space and time. Be ready for that.
  • If they try to pass you, they need more time: if they use poor judgment, you’ll have to slow down.
  • They may be driving in areas they’re not familiar with, so they might try
    to stop or turn quickly. You’ll need to be on your toes.
  • If you’re the one pulling a boat, be considerate. Remember that other drivers can’t see over or around you, and behave accordingly.
Based on 10-year averages, Minnesota can expect the fishing opener weekend to result in:
  • 400 DWI arrests
  • 500 traffic crashes
  • 250 crash injuries
  • 2 traffic fatalities
It’s easy to extrapolate from those numbers that depending on your travel route, you may be sharing the road with a significant number of impaired drivers as the fishing season kicks off, so you’ll need to be watchful. You know that seatbelts reduce the number and severity of crash injuries. It always makes sense to wear yours — and insist that every passenger buckles up. And finally, put the phone down and concentrate on driving. Texting behind the wheel is always a bad idea, as illustrated by this statistic: distraction is a factor in about 25 percent of traffic crashes.
 
The point here is that data you might consider non-essential can help keep you safe — if you take time to apply it to your own experience. So here’s to the number-crunchers. And happy trails this summer.
 

Fill Up the Bike, Break Out the Gear and Dust Off Your Riding Skills

 
It’s spring in Minnesota! Snow is gone, tulips are up, and motorcycles are back on our streets and highways.
 
Bikers may be the happiest people in the state right now, but they’re also among the most endangered. For nearly seven months, the drivers they share the road with have been worrying about black ice, searching for the center line and watching for snowplows to avoid collisions. Now the drivers must go into summer mode and begin watching and listening for bikes. Sometimes the adjustment takes a while — and the best way for a motorcycle rider to stay safe is to ride smart.
 
motorcycle safety instructor showing trainee a hazard avoidance technique
Photo: Instructor conducts a hazard avoidance exercise during a motorcycle safety course.
Are you ready to ride? One way to be sure is to dust off your skills with a rider training course. Whether you’re brand new to riding, started a few years ago or have been riding motorcycles for years, the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center (MMSC) has a rider course for you — and in every class, a bunch of people riding at your level, with interest in the same type of riding skills.
 
Need more incentive to take a rider safety course?
  • Half of all motorcycle fatalities are single-vehicle crashes — only the motorcycle was involved — and rider error is the main contributing factor. Preliminary data from 2013 indicate negotiating a curve or a turn was cited in 63 percent of fatal, single-vehicle crashes. That’s a skill taught and honed in basic skill training.
  • The other common scenario in single-vehicle bike crashes: the bike leaves the roadway and hits a post, guard rail, tree, etc. — not another vehicle. You can learn how to avoid that.
  • Improper braking or steering maneuvers contribute to about 25 percent of rider fatalities.
  • Age and experience don’t guarantee safety: in 2013, two-thirds of the riders killed were over the age of 45.
The MMSC has served Minnesota riders for more than 25 years with affordable, high-quality, professional training and education. Instructors are certified by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) and dedicated to building and improving your riding skills.

Spots fill up quickly, so visit motorcyclesafety.org and register today.
You can follow the MMSC on Facebook or Twitter for riding tips, upcoming events and other motorcycle safety info.
 

The SEOC Stands Ready — 24/7, 365

 
Posted May 5, 2014
 
SEOC stands for State Emergency Operations Center. It’s a function of the Department of Public Safety that you don’t hear about often, but the work that happens there is essential. The people who staff the SEOC swing into action when the skies turn black, the waters rise, tornadoes touch down or major infrastructure fails. And they’re not working only when you need them; they’re ready all the time.
 
The SEOC is a very large, very wired-up room where someone is always keeping an eye on the weather for you, in a manner of speaking, ready to respond to emergencies involving nature, roads, pipelines, other infrastructure, energy plants, transportation systems, public health trends, suspicious behavior reports, and any other source of potential threat in the state. The SEOC is operated by the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division (HSEM), where the mission statement is several sentences long, but can be summed up in few words: prevent, prepare, respond and recover. And we could add: coordinate.
 
Photo: Approval of a protective action decision during an SEOC activation.
When a disaster occurs, each state agency begins to carry out its assigned role. Their activities need to be coordinated to be effective, and that’s where the SEOC comes in. When an emergency report comes to the Duty Officer (a single answering point where agencies request state assistance) and the decision is made to activate, the SEOC goes into response mode. If the governor issues an emergency declaration, the SEOC is automatically activated. Since 2004, the SEOC has been activated for floods, tornadoes, winter storms, wildfires, an alert condition at the Prairie Island power plant, a flu epidemic, the I-35 Bridge collapse, and most recently for the winter propane shortage.
 
In a full-scale activation, the room fills up with multiple representatives from up to 30 federal, state and volunteer agencies and private partners. Representatives plug in their laptops and begin communicating with each other and with their own agency staff as phones begin ringing, electronic bulletins appear on screens, and situation reports keep every participant informed on actions and progress. HSEM staff talks with their Regional Program Coordinators in affected areas of the state, where updates come in from County Emergency Management Directors. That information goes back to the SEOC Operations Team, where decisions are made about what’s needed next. The public information staff provides media with updates for the public and HSEM leadership keeps the governor’s office informed.
 
When government resources run low, HSEM’s public-private partnerships come into play. The SEOC staff puts locals in touch with private companies where they can contract for use of heavy equipment, generators, and even trucks to transport necessities like fresh water, sandbag-making equipment, or portable showers and latrines. Meanwhile, SEOC staff provides local officials with guidance on processes like evacuation or mass sheltering.
 
In a longer-term crisis (example: a propane shortage, or an epidemic of some contagious, life-threatening disease) the SEOC sets up a hotline for the public so they can have live conversations with experts who answer their questions.
 
Coordination and caring are keys to handling emergencies. People in crisis need people who care and agencies that work efficiently to save lives, protect property, and minimize long-term impact from disastrous events. The SEOC is there, 24/7, to provide those services.
 

There's More to That Trooper Than Meets the Mirror

 
Posted May 1, 2014
 
The Department of Public Safety website includes a few dozen YouTube videos about the State Patrol. Some of them are dash-cam recordings that let you watch what happens at a traffic stop. Others are Troopers talking about why you shouldn’t drive drunk or unbelted. Those are pretty much what you’d expect. But many contain a surprise or two.
 
State Trooper visiting a sick child at the Amplatz Children's Hospital
Photo: State Trooper visiting a sick child at the Amplatz Children's Hospital.
Most drivers are aware that State Troopers patrol the highways, stop speeders and respond to crashes — but that may be all they know. Having never needed help on the highway, they check their speed when they see a marked car and move on down the road. If they do get stopped, they watch their mirrors as the big maroon hat emerges from the squad car, and wonder how much this is going to cost them.
 
What they may not know is that the sight of that hat, for some people, is the most comforting thing they’ve ever experienced.
 
On April 28 in Eagan, the Minnesota State Patrol honored some of their own for taking care of the people they serve. One after another, Troopers in that same uniform you might not want to see were invited to the podium to be recognized and thanked. Some were given “Life Saver” awards for preventing the death of another person — on duty and off duty, on the street and along the highway, in a campground, in the water, in a terrified person’s home, on the scene of a burning apartment building — and in most cases, the Troopers weren’t sent to those scenes. They responded because they were nearby when they saw or sensed someone in danger. They responded because it’s their instinct to drive into trouble, not away from it. They’re people sworn not only to enforce, but to assist.
 
Troopers use their first-aid training to administer epinephrine to people with deadly allergic reactions, and they shock hearts back to life when an automatic external defibrillator is available. They administer CPR, pull people from burning and sinking vehicles, and protect the helpless and wounded until an ambulance arrives. They tenderly care for survivors on the scenes of tragedies, and they talk with the families of crash victims, bearing news that nobody wants to hear.
 
Some Troopers are honored for leadership because they are exemplary officers and excellent teachers. Others earn recognition for being innovators, problem solvers and supportive colleagues, setting examples and creating professional opportunities for other officers. In every case, the Trooper being honored performed an act that few people even recognize as part of the job — an act that came naturally to a professional member of the Minnesota State Patrol. It was simply part of the mission “…to protect and serve the people of Minnesota through assistance, education and enforcement.”
 
So next time you see a squad car on the highway, think about your speed, and then think again, and smile — because chances are good that uniform will be there when you need it.