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Blog Archive: September 2014

Beware: Deer Crashes Increase in the Fall

 
Posted: September 29, 2014
 
Remember how Bambi was born in the spring, surrounded by butterflies and flowers, his mother’s loving eyes glistening as birds twittered overhead?
 
It probably didn’t happen in Minnesota (spring snow, anyone?), but it can be assumed the reason he arrived in springtime is that his parents were on the move the previous fall, looking for each other so they could start a family. As in every state where deer live, they were so focused on their search for love that they leapt over fences, jumped ditches and bounded across roads, putting themselves and oncoming motorists in danger.
 
It’s an annual problem that Minnesota drivers need to remember: In dating season, Bambi’s relatives are unaware of the consequences of all that leaping and bounding. It’s up to motorists to avoid deer collisions.
 
Deer walking across road
Photo: A deer crossing the road during the fall.
According to the Minnesota DNR, drivers should watch carefully for deer along the roadside, slow down when they see one, and if a deer crosses the road, watch for others behind it. They’re a bit like fire-and-rescue vehicles that way, often appearing in pairs. The most active times for deer are dawn and dusk — but there are no rules. They move around all day, too.
 
The DNR advises motorists to follow these suggestions during the fall:
  • See the signs: “Deer Crossing” signs are posted in high-risk areas. Pay attention.
  • Deer don’t roam alone: When you see one, expect others.
  • Use your brights when you can. Most deer crashes happen between 5 p.m. and midnight.
  • Be safe behind the wheel: In every season, vehicle safety starts with seat belts. If you should hit an animal, belts can keep you from being seriously injured.
Unfortunately, deer-movement season coincides with the latter part of motorcycle season in Minnesota, so our two-wheeled and four-legged friends may be on the road at the same time.
 
Motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable, as illustrated by statistics from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety. Seventeen of Minnesota’s 18 deer-vehicle crash fatalities from 2011–2013 were motorcyclists. In the 7,000+ deer-vehicle crashes reported to DPS in those three years, 68 people were seriously injured. Sixty-four of them were on motorcycles.
 
Motorcyclists can follow these tips to stay safer:
  • Avoid night and low-light riding periods.
  • If you encounter a deer, use both brakes and keep your head and eyes up for control.
  • If there is space to move around the deer without leaving the roadway, use maximum braking and just before impact, swerve in the opposite direction the deer is traveling.
  • Wear a DOT-approved helmet and full protective gear to prevent injury or death in a crash.
If you should hit a deer despite your best efforts, report the crash by calling 9-1-1. The operator will ask for your location so you can be connected to the proper law enforcement jurisdiction. Chances are, someone will be dispatched to make sure you’re all right and the deer is not a danger to the public.
 
But here’s hoping you don’t need to do that. Just watch for those shining eyes and be ready for anything.
 

FirstNet — Wireless for First Responders Only

 
Posted September 25, 2014
 
Officials from the Washington, D.C. offices of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) joined public safety leaders from across Minnesota yesterday in a meeting at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). They gathered to talk about developing a national, high-speed, wireless communication network for use by public safety responders. The idea has existed for a while, but with this meeting the work of determining Minnesota’s unique needs and planning our dedicated network has begun.
 
Dedicated is a really important word here.
 
Wireless is commonplace now, and responder communication takes place whenever water rages, smoke billows, infrastructure fails, or trees and houses are abruptly relocated. But responders have been sharing bandwidth with cell phone users, uploaders and downloaders since the dawn of wireless communication, which clarifies the wisdom of a system built for — and only for — people who will try to save you from the aforementioned situations.
 
Attendees at a FirstNet meeting held at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety
Photo: Attendees at the FirstNet meeting held on Sept. 24.
The DPS Emergency Communication Networks Division (ECN), led by Director Jackie Mines, already has begun the Minnesota process. Their accomplishments include building “stakeholder engagement” at 14 regional meetings with Minnesota fire, law enforcement and medical responders. Fortunately, these people have a long, strong history of working together, and their buy-in was quickly assured. The state is gathering data on wireless broadband use, network coverage priorities, and computer-aided dispatch incidents. And five different volunteer groups are working on recommendations for the new system.

History has demonstrated that first responders in Minnesota need this technology. For example, when the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed in 2007, cell phone use exploded, service nearly shut down and responders had no dedicated wireless network on which to communicate. During the 2011 Pagami Creek Fire in the BWCA, responders had to share bandwidth with media outlets sending massive video files. Responder effectiveness is slowed when things like that happen, and FirstNet will solve that problem.
 
At Wednesday’s meeting, FirstNet Acting General Manager T.J. Kennedy presented important benefits and challenges inherent in a project this large. He spoke about the current situation, and how responders are using existing infrastructure and customized systems to overcome emergency communication barriers, but finding they’re just not enough. By making use of those systems to build out FirstNet, he said, we can create economies of scale to move forward. But our current communications networks vary in age, condition and dedication — so that issue must be addressed.
 
Cyber security is another challenge. “You can’t drive 100 miles-per-hour while you enter a 12-character, upper/lowercase password,” he explained to a nodding crowd of 35+ people. “We need technology to deal with that.”
 
Federal FirstNet authorities will continue to work with Minnesota officials to share information, consult on development and provide a regional representative to work onsite as needed.
 
“Our goal,” Kennedy said, “is to create an effective, affordable, maintainable system” to serve responders nationwide.
 
That network will improve communication among local, state, regional, tribal and national emergency services personnel, making all our responders more effective. With ECN in the lead, DPS divisions will work together — and as they accomplish major milestones, you’ll learn more about it here.
 

National “Officer of the Month” Award Goes to Minnesota Trooper Brian Beuning

 
Posted September 22, 2014
 
Minnesota State Patrol Troopers are well-known for their work on our highways. Motorists see them on Interstates, watching for speeders and drunk drivers, checking seat belts, participating in special enforcement campaigns. When a crash occurs or a tire goes flat, people wish and hope to see one of those Patrol cruisers, because they know the officer in the big maroon hat will stop to help.
 
That kind of assistance is part of their job description — but once in a while, training and instinct take them beyond the boundaries of everyday activity. Recently, one of Minnesota’s Troopers earned national recognition for his heroic response in an unusual emergency.
 
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has honored Trooper Brian Beuning as September’s “Trooper of the Month.” The award is tied to his actions in rescuing a woman trapped in a car in flood water near Beaver Creek in Southwest Minnesota.
 
Julisa Jones was driving through rising water on Interstate 90 during a June 16 flash flood when her vehicle was swept toward a water-filled ditch. Responding to her 9-1-1 call, Trooper Beuning arrived at the scene and waded through fast-moving, knee-deep water to reach the woman’s car. He assessed the situation — water was rapidly seeping into the vehicle — and instructed her to apply the emergency brake and climb into the back seat, where she could escape through a back window. When she complied, he quickly pulled her from the car.
 
Trooper Beuning receives officer of the month award
Photo: Trooper Beuning receives “Officer of the Month” Award.
That didn’t entirely solve the problem, however. They were both in danger from the rising water and fast-moving currents around them — a realization that was driven home as they watched the car being swept away, sinking into a ditch and then drifting into a flooded field — and they were unable to escape without assistance. As they waited for help to arrive, Jones said, Trooper Beuning kept reassuring her that they would be rescued. He braced himself against the current and held on to her.
 
After a boat launched by the DNR was unable to reach them safely, two firefighters in water rescue suits finally made it through the current and placed life jackets on both Beuning and Jones, attaching them with rope to a semi-truck — and 45 minutes after being stranded in the water, they were safe on dry land once again.
 
This isn’t the first time Beuning’s quick thinking and bravery has saved a life in our state. He was given the 2011 Lifesaving Award by the Minnesota State Patrol for rescuing a man who was sinking into a grain bin full of corn.
 
“We’re proud of Trooper Brian Beuning and this much-deserved award,” said Lt. Colonel Matt Langer, acting chief of the Minn. State Patrol. “Trooper Beuning did not hesitate to risk his own safety to help someone else, demonstrating the commitment to public safety held by members of the Minnesota State Patrol and peace officers everywhere.”
 
Colleagues and friends honored Trooper Beuning in a ceremony at the Department of Public Safety in St. Paul today. Along with other 2014 Officer of the Month recipients, he’ll attend a special awards event in Washington, D.C. in May 2015.
 

What Do Emergency Managers Do, Exactly?

 
Posted September 18, 2014
 
This week, the Association of Minnesota Emergency Managers held their annual statewide conference. Hundreds of professionals from cities large and small, counties urban and rural, and agencies as small as volunteer fire departments and large as the Department of Public Safety gathered to learn, share and determine ways to keep you safer.
 
So…what do emergency managers do, exactly?
 
Search “emergency management” on the Internet and you may find something with too many eithers, ands and ors contained in long sentences with lots of commas. It might sound like this:
 
Emergency management is the effort of communities or businesses to plan for and coordinate all personnel and materials required to either mitigate the effects of, or recover from, natural or man-made disasters, or acts of terrorism.
 
Emergency management staff assessing tornado damage in Minneapolis
Photo: Damage assessment after the 2011 Minneapolis tornado.
Correct, but not dazzling. The meaning becomes clear, though, when the sky turns black and the river becomes a torrent, a bridge falls down or a tornado shreds a community. When the patterns of our lives become unrecognizable and people are helplessly asking each other, “What are we going to do?” your emergency manager, or EM for short, is the person who knows what we are going to do.
 
Most things we call emergencies are handled by police, fire departments, EMTs or other responders. But when the scope of the problem exceeds the abilities of those public servants, your local emergency management team goes into action.
 
In a disaster situation, EMs often work together on the city, county and state levels. Sometimes federal involvement is necessary, too. Their job is to create order — or at least the beginnings of order — out of chaos.
 
Under extreme stress, people want information. Lots of it, all the time. Emergency managers set up systems to keep citizens and government leaders informed. They activate emergency communication systems, connect people and services with each other, and call in appropriate agencies. If local EMs need more resources, they can turn to state and federal agencies for backup. They make sure the response plans (plans they’ve already made in anticipation of such an event) are carried out in an orderly, effective way by experts in each necessary field.
 
When emergency managers take over, things start to happen. People affected by the event are able to stop asking “What are we going to do?” and begin asking, “What happens next?”
 
Disaster management begins at the local level. In a flood, for instance, people are concerned only with the river that’s running through their basements. They want to know where to sleep that night and how to get in touch with relatives to keep them informed. Emergency management plans dictate that help and instructions on those things come from local or county EMs, or people being coordinated at that level.
 
But emergency management in Minnesota is also a huge network. Depending on the size of the problem, there may be local, county, state and federal EMs communicating with each other about what happens next.
 
These are the same people who, when the proverbial fan is operating normally, are always asking questions and finding answers about what to do “if.” They have a plan, and every year they improve it. They strengthen ties with the government and each other, and they know how to find resources to dry out those basements, rebuild that town, and reduce shock and misery as much as possible. While the mess is still being cleaned up, emergency managers and their colleagues are already considering ways to minimize damage from the same type of event, should it happen in the future.
 
And once in a while, as they did this week, they gather in one place to share what they know and learn even more about planning, response, mitigation and recovery.
 
And by the way, they’re still on call while they’re at the conference — because that’s what emergency managers do.
 

Let’s Be Honest About Kids in the Car

 
Posted September 15, 2014
 
This is Child Passenger Safety Week nationwide. Yes, some “awareness” weeks can make us yawn — but here’s a thought that won’t, if you’re honest.
 
People hear about vehicle crashes and injuries every day, and if they don’t know the people involved, it’s easy to make assumptions.
 
Someone must have been driving distracted.
Maybe someone was drunk.
Maybe someone ran a red light.
Probably speeding; changed lanes without signaling.
 
It’s almost an academic exercise we go through — but that changes when we hear children are involved.
 
Patrol fastening a child safety seat
Photo: Lt. Roeske shows a mother how to
properly
fasten her child in a safety seat.
When we think about helpless little kids being flung around inside a vehicle because they were not restrained properly, it makes us angry. And it should. Children have no control. They have to depend on adults to protect them.
 
That’s why Minnesota has laws that require effective restraints for child passengers.
  • Infants must ride in a rear-facing seat until they’re at least one year old and 20 pounds. They should use the seat until they’re two years old, and possibly until they’re 35 pounds, depending on the seat’s weight limit.
  • A forward facing seat with a harness is next, until children weigh 40-60 pounds, depending on the seat. They should ride in the back. Some harness seats can be used as boosters with the harnesses removed.
  • Booster seats (seats that lift a child to a height where seat belts work right) are required by law in Minnesota until kids are eight years old or 4’-9” tall. Height is a better guide than age. Many parents fail to use booster seats, but children less than 4’-9” are not ready to use a seatbelt alone. Poor seatbelt fit can contribute to injuries or death in a crash. And remember, kids should ride in the back until age 13.
So if you carry children in your vehicle, even occasionally, you should be aware of the rules and make arrangements to protect those kids. You know how you feel about it, so act on your feelings. Act to protect little lives.
 

Sept. 11, 2001 Redefined “Preparedness”

 
Posted on September 11, 2014
 
There are other defining events in American history — other moments indelibly imprinted on those who witnessed them. But Sept. 11, 2001 is one that’s still difficult to talk about. In addition to the crushing heartbreak and inconceivable carnage, it was a day on which our concept of public safety was permanently changed. The way we go about keeping government agencies and U.S. citizens prepared for unexpected disasters has grown much more complex.
 
9.11.01 never forget imageCommunication issues are in the forefront. Federal, state and local agencies have dramatically improved the amount and frequency of data sharing. Briefings between the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI improve their ability to analyze information, incidents and individuals that may look innocent until all the dots are connected.
 
At the state level, 9/11 changed the way Minnesota communities prepare for emergencies. Communities and agencies exercise together, sharing strategic assets. The state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division (HSEM) offers training, helps design practice exercises and coordinates drills to be sure everyone understands their roles.
 
Following 9/11 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security developed the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to allow the U.S. President to address the public through the Emergency Alert System and via alerts on cellphones. The system also allows counties, certain cities and tribal governments to issue local alerts.
 
A relatively new system of “interoperable communications” allows emergency responders to talk to each other via 800Mhz radios; the older VHF equipment is less sophisticated, and does not allow responders to be “on the same wavelength” — literally or figuratively. Those responders include:
  • 911 dispatchers
  • Local law enforcement
  • County deputies
  • Fire departments
  • Public works crews
  • Ambulance/EMTs
  • State Patrol
  • Federal officials
  • Helicopter pilots
  • Tow truck drivers
Another important aspect of communication has changed: public safety officials have developed unified command procedures to work together more quickly and efficiently. Under unified command, responders of all types know who is in charge and what to expect.
As simple as it sounds, post-9-11 examination of procedures revealed the importance of making officials familiar with each other, and with agency missions, before an emergency takes place.
 
The Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment program helps community leaders manage risk through planning, mitigation and acquiring or developing additional resources. Communities are required to submit assessments to HSEM annually by Dec. 31. Residents of those communities may not be aware of this activity, but they’re safer because of it.
 
Preparation and training are not inexpensive. HSEM now distributes millions of dollars annually in grants to communities — money they use to train and prepare. These grants fall under the Homeland Security Grant Program begun after 9/11. They include support for:
  • State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) funding helps state and local agencies implement security goals. States are required by the 9/11 Act of 2007 to dedicate at least 25 percent of SHSP funds to law enforcement terrorism-prevention planning, training, exercise and equipment, including fusion centers that provide information sharing opportunities for law enforcement.
  • The Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) focuses on regional preparedness in major metro areas. This program is very similar to the SHSP in helping metro areas develop regional systems for prevention, protection, response and recovery. The same “25 percent” requirement applies to this funding.
There are other, more complex programs and systems in place since 9-11, but these are good examples of the way the public safety world is now thinking about preparedness and response.
 
see something say something campaign imageCitizens are important in the process. You probably have heard about the “If you see something, say something” campaign. It’s working; people are beginning to understand that things we used to ignore can no longer be assumed to be innocent.
 
Community Emergency Response Teams and a wide variety of additional Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster also encourage citizen involvement. Each group offers opportunities to put your talents to work and make your volunteer efforts count.
 
As with so many issues, emergency preparedness and response require people to work together. Government can’t do everything…nor can the citizens. But with honor and respect for those lost 13 years ago, and with determination to make ourselves stronger and more prepared, we can look to the future with more confidence. The Department of
Public Safety is a part of that effort — and so are you.
 

Dealing with the Fire Challenge

Have You Had the Talk with Your Teens? (No, Not That One)
 
Posted September 8, 2014
 
As hard as it is to believe, there’s a new fad among teenagers called the “Fire Challenge.”This activity requires a participant to pour an accelerant such as nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer on a body part and light it on fire. The behavior and the results are video-recorded and posted online for viewing by other teens.
 
social media channels graphicIt isn’t difficult to find examples by searching “Fire Challenge” online — but some of the videos are as hard to watch as they are to believe. There are newspaper articles about this activity, as well. At least one of them involves a Minnesota teen. This isn’t something that’s happening only in big cities or “other places.” With the Internet as a source of information and inspiration, these risky, painful, potentially deadly behaviors can go viral and end up in your hometown very quickly.
 
Parents need to talk to teenagers about this kind of behavior before it happens. As much as adults would like to think they’ve raised kids who wouldn’t consider anything so ridiculous, that’s sometimes not true. A word to the wise is better than a trip to the hospital.
 
The following information is from the National Fire Protection Association Public Education
Division. Find more online at NFPA.org.
  • Stay informed about the latest risky fads among teens; risk-taking peaks during adolescence.
  • Monitor teens’ use of social media. Set and enforce ground rules.
  • Stay involved with teens. It’s natural for them to seek independence, but input and direction from adults is important during this time.
  • Model healthy behaviors with regard to risk-taking. Teens should see their adult role models participating in activities that are fun…even thrilling…but with safety precautions in place.
  • Provide opportunities for teens to channel their thrill-seeking tendencies in healthy ways. Athletics is one example. Find others, as well.
  • Know your teen’s friends and contacts, and enlist the help of responsible peers. For every one who thinks the fire challenge is “awesome,” you’ll find one who thinks it’s ridiculous.
  • Online, find and share clips of teens speaking out against self-destructive behavior.
Parenting teens is not easy. New fads will come along to replace this one. With attention and diligence, however, and with help from sensible role models and peers, parents have a better chance of getting adolescent brains through their dangerous period and into “adult” mode, where the question, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do that, too?” becomes SO last-decade.
 

Do We Really Need Preparedness Month, or Shall We Count on Good Luck?

 
Posted September 4, 2014
 
It’s one of the most famous movie lines of the 20th Century. Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department holds a handgun that may or may not be loaded. He’s looking at a cornered bank robber who’s trying to retrieve his shotgun to challenge Callahan.
 
Explaining that he’s not sure whether his 44 Magnum has a shot left in it, Harry tells the robber, “…you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’”
 
In the end, the robber didn’t. Harry takes the shotgun, and the day is saved. But here’s the point: September is National Preparedness Month. Do we need to pay attention? Or do we just feel lucky?
 
You know that emergencies arise unexpectedly and cause trouble for people like you, in communities like yours. Watches and warnings tell people about problems, but they don’t prevent disaster. Things like tornadoes, floods and snowstorms tend to be seasonal, but they don’t follow the rules. To wit: It’s almost Labor Day, and a tornado touched down north of Foley, Minn. on Sunday. Flash flooding can cause havoc anywhere with hardly any warning.
 
People die in these situations. Vehicles float away. Family members get separated. Cell towers blow down and water mains break. Gas lines sever and fires start. Police and fire responders try to manage the chaos, but they can’t be everywhere. And some of the worst situations are due to the fact that people are unprepared. They weren’t ready because they didn’t believe it would happen to them. Maybe they felt lucky.
 
If they had planned — during Preparedness Month, or any other time — to be ready to survive for a few days on their own, they’d be in less danger, the community would recover sooner and they would suffer less. And you can do it. Here’s a start:
 
Create an Emergency Kit
items for an emergency preparedness kit
Photo: Examples of items to go into an emergency kit.
Get a waterproof container. Put in a three-day supply of water and non-perishable food. Toss in a first-aid kit…a flashlight or two…plastic bags, toilet paper and some hand tools. Consider medications you can’t be without, the needs of your pets, and whether you might want to get someone’s attention with a whistle, or sanitize something with rubbing alcohol. Once you make your kit, you’ll add to it over time. Then you’ll want to put one in your car. When you start asking yourself, “What if…” you’ll figure out what you need.
 
Make a Plan
If disaster struck when you were at work, one child was at school…another at soccer practice…another family member on the road…and the cell phones didn’t work…how would you find each other? Would friends or relatives know where to look for you? Is contact info stored anywhere other than inside a device that may not work? Here’s a form you can use for kids; adults should have a similar list. An extensive communication plan is the best idea. Write it down and keep it safe.
 
Stay Informed
Do you know what kinds of weather hazards have affected your community in the past? Are you ready to handle them again? When you travel, you plan your route and find out whether the hotel has a pool. Do you know whether it has a tornado shelter? Knowing what to do…how to plan and how to survive…can keep you and the people you care for alive and safe in an emergency. More likely than not, someone is counting on you. Time spent now, getting informed, will keep you from feeling helpless later.
 
People can’t spend their lives anticipating every imaginable horror; they’d never experience happiness. But feeling lucky doesn’t work, either.
 
And it’s funny how things work; the more prepared you are, the luckier you’ll feel.