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Blog Archive: November 2014

On Thanksgiving, Calories Are Not The Biggest Problem

Posted November 24, 2014
For many years, diet-conscious people have tossed around this commonly known “fact:” consuming 3,500 calories more than you burn will cause you to gain one pound of body weight. It may or may not be true. Metabolisms vary, and numbers like that are difficult to measure and harder to prove. But here’s a number that is absolutely true: roughly half of all the home fires in Minnesota start in the kitchen. That’s a number to think about about during the holidays.
Woman cooking in kitchen
Photo: She's doing the right thing;
watching over a hot stove.
Here are more good numbers: 99 percent of Minnesota fire departments report their fire calls to the State Fire Marshal Division, where the data is crunched and reproduced in a report called “Fire in Minnesota.” On page 14 of this year’s edition, there’s a pie chart that clearly illustrates why Turkey Day is a potential concern. Heating, open flames, arson, electrical malfunctions and all the other fire causes — the ones that come to mind when you think about house fires — are tiny slices of the pie. Cooking is huge.
Most cooking fires can be attributed to one behavior: someone didn’t watch a hot stove. Maybe they left the room to greet some guests. Rearranged the refrigerator. Went to set up folding chairs. Couldn’t find the tablecloth.
Eventually, the errant cook smells something wrong. They return to the stove to find a cooking vessel on fire — and often, instead of putting a lid on the pan to smother the fire, they do something unwise.
Unwise responses to a cooking fire include (1) picking up the pan to move it and (2) using water in any fashion. Water on hot oil will cause a sort of explosion of flames that can light the room (and the cook) on fire.
Put a lid on the pan and turn the heat off. No oxygen, no heat, no fire. In an oven, close the oven door and turn the heat off. Again — no oxygen, no heat, no fire.
Better yet, avoid cooking fires altogether by reviewing and following these rules:
Stay in the kitchen. Watch the stove. Stay in the kitchen. Watch the stove.
On the State Fire Marshal Division website there is a slightly longer list of tips you can print and hang on your refrigerator. On holidays there may be more than one cook in the kitchen, so it’s good to keep everyone reminded. If you review and discuss the list, safe behavior will become habitual and you won’t need to worry about roasting more than your turkey.
Then, with your home and family safe, you can think about your waistline.

Ingenuity Creates More Options, Better Government

Posted November 20, 2014
The Department of Public Safety (DPS) has 10 divisions that serve the public.
DPS issues drivers’ licenses, investigates fires and manages disaster recoveries. They make sure slot machines meet certain standards and alcoholic beverages are handled according to state law. DPS helps crime victims navigate the justice system and helps law enforcement agencies bust criminals. They oversee the safety of underground pipelines, arrest drunk drivers, and promote seatbelts, car seats and motorcycle helmets. DPS handles mountains of data and compiles statistics to help agencies form policy and help legislators write laws.
It’s a busy, busy place full of challenges, good ideas and people who believe in what they’re doing.
With so many assignments, efficiency is top-of-mind. Cost-saving and teamwork are encouraged in every project, and a good example occurred at the end of August this year. It’s an interesting look inside the organization.
The Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) Support Services Imaging Team (SSI) scans all the motor vehicle and driver’s license documents to create electronic images. After scanning, the paper versions are sent to a warehouse to be saved until the electronic images are securely backed up. The boxes, which cost about $1.59 each, are returned to DPS. On this specific occasion, there were 77 pallets holding 50 boxes each.
Last summer, DVS staff began breaking down the 3,400 document boxes in their “spare” time to prepare them for storage and reuse. One day Commissioner Dohman walked through the loading dock area where the work was taking place. She greeted the staff and asked what was going on. The answer was, “We’re saving money!”
The SSI supervisor told her about the savings realized by breaking down the boxes to be stored flat and reused.  Commissioner Dohman recognized another potential cost-saving opportunity and suggested employing persons with disabilities to do that job. Her idea, she explained, aligned with Governor Dayton’s recent Executive Order directing state agencies to provide increased state employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. 
The necessary e-mails and phone calls quickly followed among DPS HR staff, accounting staff, the DVS imaging supervisor and others. Following a couple of meetings and some contract work, the boxes were broken down for storage by capable people who efficiently completed the job.
The resulting numbers tell a story of cost-savings, efficiency and teamwork. Tossing out the remaining old boxes and purchasing new ones would have cost $5,400. Paying the DVS Imaging Team to break down and recycle the boxes would have cost about $2,800. But contracting with a vendor who specializes in providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities cost $1,700. Outsourcing the work allowed SSI staff to concentrate on their document-imaging tasks and keep up with demand.
In an organization as large and diverse as DPS, every cost savings counts and every opportunity to better serve the Minnesota residents makes a difference. DPS people believe they should make a difference — and believe that cooperation and ingenuity help them do their jobs better.

DVS Services? Now They're Easier To Find

Posted November 17, 2014
Roughly 40,000 people visit the “Locations” page on the DVS website every month. They’re looking for driver or vehicle services. Some of them need a legal record. Others just want a form. Not every DVS office provides every one of the 16 DVS services, so it’s important to make it easy for people to find the right place. DVS has recently done a very good job of that.
Here’s the easiest way to use the new “DVS Locations” page without a direct link.
  • Start at
  • Find the orange stripe and click “Locations.”
  • Office Locations is on that list. Hitting it will take you to a well-organized, sensible and intuitive page where you type your ZIP code, check the service you want and hit “Enter.”dvs map office location results screen shot
A map will appear to show you the nearest offices that provide the service you checked, including office addresses, phone numbers, hours of operation and driving directions from the ZIP code you entered.
In addition to all the information you’d expect, there is some you might not anticipate.
DVS offices occasionally close because of remodeling or unforeseeable events like storm damage or even staffing issues. When that happens, nearby offices usually increase their hours or add a business function in an effort to better serve customers. If that situation exists, you’ll find the information on the “Locations” page.
This is a list of DVS services you can choose on the redesigned page when searching for a location.
  • Copy of Driving Record
  • Vehicle Inspections
  • Driver License/ID Card - Duplicate
  • Driver License/ID Card - Enhanced
  • Driver License/ID Card – Expedited
  • Driver License/ID Card/Instr Permit - 1st Time Applicant
  • Driver License/ID Card/Instr Permit - Renew/Replace
  • Knowledge Tests
  • Road Test - CDL (Class A, B, C)
  • Road Test - Class D
  • Road Test - Moped
  • Road Test – Motorcycle
  • Title and Registration  DNR Registration (ATV/Boat/Snowmobile)
  • Interstate Trucking Registration and Fuel License
  • Vehicle Title - Expedited
  • Vehicle Title and Renewals
If it doesn’t seem specific enough to you, choose the closest thing and use the phone number and office location information to help get your questions answered.
The next time you need to meet some requirement, you might not be chomping at the bit to go, but at least you’ll know where you’re going.

Toward Zero Deaths — a Dream, a Goal, a Possibility

Posted November 13, 2014
Today, Commissioner of Public Safety Mona Dohman will address a group of more than 800 people who are working cooperatively toward a common goal. They want to eliminate traffic deaths on Minnesota roads and highways.
The highway engineers, law enforcement officers, emergency responders, public educators and other traffic-safety stakeholders she’ll talk to are attending the annual “Toward Zero Deaths” (TZD) conference in Duluth. They’re there to share success stories, look at statistical trends, set new goals and make plans for the next year, when they’ll continue their efforts to reduce traffic deaths to zero.
It’s a lofty goal. Commissioner Dohman acknowledges that fact. “But what’s an acceptable number?” she asks. “Ten? 100? There is no acceptable number but zero, and that’s the one we focus on.”
Car damaged from head on crash
Photo: Car that was damaged due to a head-on crash.
It’s necessary to track every traffic fatality as a number; that’s the only way to measure success or find places to concentrate more effort. But the issue is very personal, to Dohman as a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, and to every person in the room where she’ll speak. “Every death on our roads and highways is personal to someone, and our work cannot be done until we’ve accomplished everything possible to prevent every crash.”
That word — crash — is important, and it is deliberately used. “Accident” implies that what occurred was random, and that it could not have been prevented. But crashes are preventable, and steps have already been taken in Minnesota in support of that conviction.
The Minnesota Legislature amended DWI laws in 1971, ’76 and ’78, and in most years in the 1980s. The Child Passenger Protection law came in 1981, and the secondary seat belt law in ‘86. Since then, they’ve closed loopholes, broadened scope and strengthened penalties associated with those laws — and the benefits have become clear.
Today, about 95 percent of Minnesotans protect themselves with seat belts, as opposed to 20 percent in 1986.  Traffic deaths were 60-percent attributable to alcohol use in the 1960s. That number averages 33 percent over the last decade.
Every single traffic death, TZD participants will tell you, is preventable with caution, knowledge, skill and personal responsibility, improvements to infrastructure design, faster responses or better technology. This isn’t the whole story. But in essence, every traffic death has a bottom-line cause, and the TZD project exists to find and eliminate them all.
“Impossible!” people say. Well, they said that 10 years ago, when 567 traffic deaths took place in Minnesota.
They say it still, after 387 traffic deaths occurred in 2013.
They’ll be saying it for the next ten years, too — while cars grow safer, law enforcement grows more effective, legislation has greater impact, public education messages travel on new social media, medical care becomes more sophisticated, and other TZD tools increase in number and effectiveness.
Someday, we’ll reach zero. Someday, they’ll be wrong. 

Preparedness: Making a Difference One Life at a Time

Posted November 10, 2014
“It’s all about the ‘I get it!’ look on their faces,” says Tammy VanOverBeke, Lyon County emergency management director, explaining why she enjoys helping Minnesotans prepare for emergencies.
Tammy works in partnership with Independent Living Advocate Ted Stamp, who uses a wheelchair and works for the Southwestern Center for Independent Living in Marshall, Minn.  Ted and Tammy have known each other for years and recently spent time developing a forum to address the needs of people with challenges not experienced by others as they prepare for an emergency or a disaster. They may face language barriers, physical challenges or other issues that make them unique populations.
Talking about finding a way to help was great, Ted says, but “You have to move from talk to action.” He reached out to Tammy and said, “Let’s do something together.” And that’s how it all started.
These days, you can find the “Ted-and-Tammy roadshow” at assisted living facilities, Boy Scout meetings and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes across southwest Minnesota.
Ted and Tammy
Photo: Ted and Tammy receive the Association of
Minnesota Emergency Managers’ Preparedness Award.
 At a recent ESL class, the Hispanic and Somalian students had studied words like “emergency” and “prepare” prior to Ted and Tammy’s arrival. The two discussed with students how they might react if law enforcement officers knocked on their doors and asked them to leave because conditions in their area made it dangerous to stay in their homes or apartments.  They asked the students where they would go and explained the need to plan ahead.
Ted and Tammy remember the surprised reactions and worried expressions when students learned that cell phone service could be completely unavailable during an emergency or disaster. The two shared information on the importance of texting instead of calling at times when cell phone service is in great demand.
At assisted living facilities the residents really appreciate the “emergency supply kit” bags Ted and Tammy hand out. The bags are donated by the Minnesota State Council on Disabilities and contain a variety of emergency preparedness information, along with a whistle and a key ring. The whistle can be used to alert rescuers to one’s location during an emergency, and Tammy and Ted encourage residents to put extra car keys and house keys on the key ring.
A family communication plan with written phone numbers should also go into the bag, they explain — and if law enforcement asks residents to evacuate, medications and extras like hearing-aid batteries belong in the kit, too. Another lesson is this: tell children and caregivers about these bags so they remember to take them if they have to leave. 

Ted has prepared materials with listings of local resources that help those with access and functional needs — an often overlooked group of constituents — stay prepared.  In addition to the messages and materials, Ted says, it’s the personal connection that really matters in the work he and Tammy do.
“It’s critical to get out and actually meet the people you want to teach about preparedness,” he says. “They take the message to heart when it’s based on personal interaction with someone they trust.”
Because Tammy and Ted can’t be everywhere, they ask those they visit to share their messages with at least one other person. That way the information is carried forward and the effect multiplies.
In recognition of their creativity and service, Ted and Tammy were presented with the Association of Minnesota Emergency Managers’ Preparedness Award at the organization’s 2014 conference. It is well-deserved recognition for a wonderful idea, and the Department of Public Safety is grateful for partners with their dedication and determination.

How to Deal with Winter Dread: Get Ready

Posted November 6, 2014
First-winter people from other lands can be shocked by Minnesota weather. They’re from places like…you know…Florida (what’s a little humidity?), California (like, totally perfect) or Arizona (...but it’s a dry heat.)
People in those places hear all about our weather. Many haven’t the experience to comprehend anything colder than a slushy, but they know we get uncomfortable. What they cannot understand until they’ve been here at least a year is this:
Winter Dread.
It starts when the leaves turn. (Those beautiful colors are a harbinger of doom.)
Multiple snow plows on a busy highway
Photo: Plows clearning away snow on a busy freeway.
Now they’re falling. (The smell is so nice! The crunch is delicious! And the branches are bare. It’s coming…)
Next the heat goes on inside. Oh, it feels so comforting. (It’s dark in the afternoon, and there’s frost on the windows. Oh, snap. Here we go…)
And then it snows, and the wind blows, and it snows, and the lakes freeze over. Then it snows some more. It freezes and thaws and the ice dams form. The streets are like ice rinks, the highways are treacherous, the sidewalks disappear, and a hundred little dangers arise — things we haven’t dealt with for months.
Do we remember how to function safely in this so-called Winter Wonderland?
Functioning safely is the reason for Winter Hazard Awareness Week, a safety-education event that runs Nov. 10 through 14. If you make use of the Winter Hazard resources furnished by the Department of Public Safety, you’ll find that confidence takes away some of the dread.
For instance:
  • Winter Storms is the topic for Monday. Find out how they form, what to watch for, what to do, and what NOT to do when they strike.
  • Outdoor Safety is Tuesday’s topic. It’s about more than staying warm; see what you can do to work and play safely in the cold and snow.
  • Wednesday, Winter Fire Safety is the topic of the day. The number of home fires rockets in the winter due to heating and cooking. Find out how not to become a fire statistic.
  • Safety issues indoors? Yes. Outside issues are predictable in the winter. Inside threats like radon, mold and CO are not. On Thursday, learn how to protect yourself.
  • Winter Driving is another thing we dread, and that’s why it’s the Friday topic. Refresh your memory on snow plows, safety kits and a dozen other issues — and find a list of new “Winter Road” terms from the National Weather Service in a recent MPR blog.
There’s nothing to do about a Minnesota winter but accept it, prepare for it, and hope it’s not as wintery as the 2013 version. And while you’re hoping, try replacing your dread with confidence during Winter Hazard Awareness Week.

“Bears That Care” — When Smokey Goes All Teddy Bear

Posted November 3, 2014
Several Internet sources say that the term “Smokey” referring to state troopers was coined by over-the-road truckers in the 1970s — an expression based on that big, round-brimmed hat of the same style worn by our forest-loving friend, Smokey Bear.
bears that care fist bump
Photo: McGruff the Crime Dog fist-bumping with a child going
through treatment at Shriners Hospital for Children.
The original S. Bear was a 1944 creation of the Ad Council for the U.S. Forest Service. They decided to help combat wildfires with a big, powerful-but-friendly mascot in an imposing uniform who could impress upon children and adults the importance of responsible behavior. Given that fact, the Smokey moniker reflects rather positively on the Minnesota State Patrol.
Considering that these big maroon “bears” have dedicated their careers to saving lives, it’s not a stretch to imagine the same people taking their care and concern to hospitalized kids — which they do, at least twice a year, as members of a registered 501c3 charity called “Bears That Care.”
Bears That Care sponsor Halloween and Easter visits to the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital and Shriners Hospital for Children. Smokey Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog join them, often arriving by helicopter, and a Polaroid photo of the child with Smokey or McGruff is left with each child as a memento of the event.
This fall, troopers visited the University of Minnesota Children’s Amplatz Hospital on Thursday, Oct. 30 to visit with young patients and pass out toys and stuffed animals. Then they continued to Shriners Hospital to do the same thing, stopping to chat with children, sharing smiles and encouragement, and posing for selfies on request from kids, parents and hospital staff.
Bears That Care has operated since 1987.  They got their start with financial support from an insurance company, the Teamsters Union, the Fridley and Spring Lake Park American Legions and the Blaine V.F.W. Currently, contributions from the Minnesota State Troopers Association and donations from the public help them maintain their charitable activities.
State Patrol Acting Chief Matt Langer says the program will continue as long as troopers can keep it going. “Bears That Care is something we do for the kids and their parents, of course, but it’s great for the troopers, too. It feels good to see the smiles and hope that Smokey Bear — and a bunch of people in matching hats — can bring to a child’s bedside. A chat, a stuffed animal, and a picture to keep are small things, but they create big memories for the kids and the troopers.”