To be (SAFE), or not to be – that’s what it boils down to.

I grew up on a farm 10 miles outside town, so I am pretty familiar with driving in less-than-desirable weather conditions. If the school buses weren’t running, we drove ourselves to school. If it was icy, we drove slow. And, to be safe, we always buckled up and made sure we had our snow boots, gloves, snow pants and a hat in the back seat.

Fast forward 15 years later, and I’m now working for the North Dakota Safety Council with a husband and son at home.  Needless to say, my definition of safe has changed.

But, just because I work for the NDSC and safety is my job, doesn’t mean safe decisions come easily. Last week, I found myself stuck in unexpected blizzard conditions 45 miles from home. It was bitterly cold outside and zero visibility. But even I, Mrs. Safety (as my family so kindly calls me), found myself questioning whether or not I should pull over. Anyone with common sense would know that, if the weather man is reporting zero visibility, no travel advised by the NDDOT, and dangerous windchills – you should probably stay off the road. Still, thoughts kept running through my head like “Maybe it will get better as I get further west.”, and “Why isn’t anyone else pulling off?”  Even more important questions such as “What clothes will I wear tomorrow if I stay overnight?” ran through my head, as well.

But, the road conditions got worse the further I drove. I struggled to hold my foot steady on the gas as the snow blinded me and the white lines disappeared from the road. I knew the dangers of pulling over on the side of the road, so I kept driving, praying to find an exit.  Luckily, a semi guided me to an exit for a gas station. With my hands still trembling, I let out a sigh of relief as I put my car in park.

As I sat at that gas station, I watched numerous vehicles come and go. I would ask some of the drivers how bad the roads were. They would all say “HORRIBLE.” So, I’d ask them why they were getting back on the road and they’d simply reply, “What else am I supposed to do?” I started to feel like maybe I was overreacting by staying put. I mean, if they were all making the drive, why couldn’t I?

After about three and a half hours, two women walked in the gas station. I was on the phone with my husband trying to decide what to do when the gas station attendant started pointing to me. I got off the phone and he told me the two women were getting a motel room across the street. FINALLY, someone helped reaffirm my decision to stay put and stay SAFE.

I followed the two women across the street, paid $73 for my motel room, and slept through the remainder of the storm. I made it home by 7am the next day. I stopped by my son’s daycare and, as I hugged him, I thought about my decision to stay off the road. I’ll never know what would have happened if I had chosen to continue that drive. But at that moment, as he wrapped his arms around me, I knew I made the right choice.

I hope you never find yourself in a situation like I was. But, if you do, please don’t let the decisions of other drivers sway your decision to stay safe. Trust your gut instinct, and make the decision that is mostly likely to get you home safe.

Serena Schmit
Marketing Coordinator
NDSC
serenas@ndsc.org

Other winter driving tips from the NDSC:

  • Before you leave, stock your vehicle with a winter survival kit.
  • Check the weather report throughout the day.
  • Make sure someone knows your estimated time of arrival and the route you plan to travel.
  • Buckle up.
  • Stay home. Don’t travel in bad weather if you don’t have somewhere you HAVE to be.

Lessons Learned from the Man in the Mask

While the majority of working professionals have 8-5 jobs, there are some professionals who are required to work more unusual hours. Those who work in the medical field often fall into this category, entering or exiting work buildings late at night or early in the morning.  With such a schedule come personal safety dangers, particularly with predators who find these odd hours perfect for attacks.

I know one family who is very aware of these dangers.  My girlfriend’s mother works in the medical field as a nurse.  She had a frightening, eye-opening experience when she was just beginning her career years ago.

Her experience occurred as she was arriving at work to start her shift.  It was still dark out as she walked her usual route toward the nurse’s entrance to the hospital.  In her half-asleep state, she happened to notice something out of the corner of her eye.  When she looked toward that direction, she saw a man in a ski mask following her.  His footsteps slowly got closer and as soon as she realized what was going on, the race to the door was on.  Luckily, she was a very good athlete and was quite fast.  She made it to the door just in time to get inside and slam it shut before the masked man could grab her.

She was understandably very shaken by the incident, and is still bothered by it today.  The events of that morning were a chilling wake-up call to her whole family, and the lessons learned still resonate with my girlfriend who is now a nurse as well.

Unfortunately an event like this is a very real threat to both shift workers and the general public. Learning to identify a predator, and knowing how to defend yourself in case of an attack, could be the best educational experience of (and for) your life.

I recommend taking these simple steps to protect yourself:

  1. Avoid high-risk situations – if you don’t need to go out alone at night, avoid it.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings – stay off your phone when walking to your car and have your keys ready BEFORE you leave the building.
  3. Trust your instincts – if something feels wrong, something probably IS wrong. Don’t hesitate to ask for a security escort to your vehicle.
  4. Get educated and be PREPARED – find a personal safety course in your area that can teach you how to recognize predators and simple techniques to escape if you are attacked. The NDSC offers these courses statewide. Click here to learn more.

Please consider attending a personal safety course whether you work odd hours or not, as the information and techniques are life-saving and applicable to many situations. I know my girlfriend and her mom plan on being front and center in the NDSC’s next class.

Peter Pomonis
Home & Community Coordinator
PeterP@ndsc.org
701-751-6118

Walking Safely This Summer

Woman Walking Outside

When the snow leaves the asphalt and trails, our feet like to take over.  Walking increases in popularity during the warmer North Dakota months, when people of all ages like to get out and enjoy the nice weather.  I find myself lacing up my sneakers quite frequently during this time of year.  I love the fresh air and sunshine, but I also appreciate the mental clarity and stress relief that I get during the many walks I take.

Even though I like to “zone out” and enjoy the sunshine and fresh breeze (or ND wind, let’s be honest!), I know that I need to stay aware of my surroundings and make smart decisions.

Here are a few safety precautions I take when I go for a walk:

  • Walk defensively.  I always assume that drivers do NOT see me.  This means scanning the street well before I cross, even if the WALK sign is lit and indicating that it is okay to go.
  • Vary your route.  I never take the same path at the same time of day.  This is actually a fun, personal challenge of mine – finding a different path each time I go for a walk!
  • Bring your cell phone with you.  I put my phone in a case that fits around my upper arm.  These can be found at places like Target and Best Buy.
  • Consider carrying pepper spray.  My spray comes in a nice size that fits in my hand and is actually a key chain.  You can find pepper spray at sporting goods and farm fleet stores.
  • Walk with confidence.  I like to call on my inner-actress and put on my “I-own-this-world” persona when walking, which means walking tall with my shoulders back and head up and making eye contact with those I am approaching.
  • Choose well-populated paths.  I avoid certain paths because, although nice and quiet, they are too secluded for my safety.
  • Trust your intuition.  Just the other day I switched my direction based off of gut feeling in regards to another individual on the trail.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Those are my personal favorites, but there are many more tips to follow in order to ensure safety while walking.  Please check out this PDF for more tips.

Also, consider attending the NDSC’s Self Protection and Predator Awareness course.  This course includes a classroom section on predator/stalker awareness and location safety, as well as practical hands-on training that teaches you techniques to escape an attacker – all helpful to know when walking.  Visit our website to learn more or to register for a course.

With education and awareness your walks can be enjoyable AND safe.

Too Quick to Criticize

As a working Mom most of my days are fairly hectic. From the moment I wake up I’m thinking about my to-do list sitting on my desk at work, my grocery list on the counter and my supper plans for that evening. But what makes my life the most difficult, is my ridiculously horrible memory! (My husband and co-workers can vouch for that!)  And a bad memory can get you in trouble – a written, but forgotten, grocery list, lost keys, low fuel light, late projects, a familiar face with no name…the list goes on and on. Luckily for me, most of these things are relatively harmless. It’s not like I’d forget my SON…right? As much as I’d like to believe that, thankfully my job has taught me otherwise.

When stories hit the news about a child being found dead in a hot vehicle, people are very quick to criticize. But we’re all naïve to think it can’t happen to us. It can happen to a caring, loving, middle-class mom just like me. And it can happen to you. But it doesn’t have to.

Be a responsible parent and recognize that no one is perfect, including you. Educate yourself and take steps now to prevent losing the most precious thing in your life.

  • Talk to your daycare provider. Ask them to call if you haven’t dropped off your child by a certain time.
  • Be especially careful if you are changing your routine. If you don’t typically drop your child off at daycare, set a reminder on your computer or ask your significant other to call you near the time you’re supposed to be getting to work.
  • Put something in the back seat next to your child, such as your cell phone or purse that is needed at your final destination.
  • Never leave your child alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute. Not when you run in to the post office and not when you run in to the store. Never.
  • Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 9-1-1. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.
  • Teach your children that vehicles are not a playground. And keep your keys out of their reach.

Heat stroke tragedies can happen very quickly. In just 10 minutes, the temperature in your car can rise up to 20 degrees. And on an 80 degree day, temperatures can reach deadly levels in that amount of time.

Fifteen precious children have already died this year because someone did the unimaginable, or because a child was playing somewhere they shouldn’t have been. Before you judge those parents, please remember, it COULD happen to you.

~Serena Schmit

For more safety tips, visit www.kidsandcars.org, www.safercar.gov or www.safekids.org.

Road Trip Lessons

I took a road trip with one of my new co-workers a few weeks ago, and during our long commute from Grand Forks to Bismarck, we started reminiscing about how we lived our lives before we were ‘safety people’. As we shared stories, I was struck by the realization of how naïve I was just a short time ago. Now, as a wife, mother, and provider for my family, I don’t have the luxury of being naïve.

Our state is changing and, as my co-worker would say, I can’t be an ostrich with my head in the sand.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel safe in this beautiful state and I’m proud to call it home. But what my co-worker has taught me is, no matter what your city or crime rate, you need to be aware of your surroundings so you can identify what unique and dangerous situations you could potentially put yourself in. By being proactive, identifying your risks, as well as your personal strengths and weaknesses, you will be more prepared to handle yourself if faced with a challenge.

As women, mothers, daughters, and wives, we need to empower ourselves with the knowledge to avoid dangerous situations. And we need to arm ourselves with the knowledge to escape if, God forbid, we were ever attacked by a predator.

My co-worker had these tips to share with me, and I hope you take the time to read and pass them on:

  1. If you think you are being followed, cross the street or change directions a few times. Go quickly to a well-lit area with lots of people. Do not go home.
  2. Avoid talking on your cell phone or texting while getting out of or walking to your car.
  3. Never agree to be kidnapped. Drop the car keys, run and scream for help.
  4. If you are forced to drive, consider crashing your car near a busy intersection to draw attention to your situation.
  5. If someone bumps your car in traffic, wave them to follow you, and drive to a busy gas station or business.

My co-worker, a former highway patrolman and member of the US Air Force, developed a new Self Protection & Predator Awareness Course. I encourage you to take the initiative to educate yourself, whether through this course or another. Click here to learn more or to find a course in your area.

Stay Safe!
Serena

Are You STREET SMART?

By Lynae Hanson, Assistant Executive Director of the NDSC

With all the news coverage surrounding North Dakota’s increase in traffic crashes and fatalities, it’s the perfect time to remind ourselves to “Be street smart!” North Dakota’s traffic fatalities rose from 148 in 2011 to 170 in 2012. Although it’s difficult to know how many of these fatalities can be attributed to distractions, we know drivers are four times more likely to crash if using a cell phone while driving.

The North Dakota Safety Council offers some useful tips to help make you street smart:

  • The activity in the area of the brain that processes moving visual images decreases by 1/3 when listening to a phone conversation.
  • Your brain can miss seeing up to 50% of your driving environment when you are talking on a cell phone while driving.
  • Drivers talking on cell phones have slower reaction times than drivers with a .08 alcohol content.
  • Drivers using a cell phone behind the wheel are four times more likely to crash.
  • Hands-free or hand-held, your brain doesn’t know the difference*.

Stay focused behind the wheel:

  • Pull over to use your cell phone, or let calls go to voicemail.
  • Change your voicemail greeting to indicate you don’t take calls while you are driving.
  • If you have passengers in the vehicle, assign a ‘designated texter’ to send and reply to messages for you.
  • Eliminate the temptation of answering your phone by turning it to silent and placing it out of reach.
  • Make driving your priority: perform other tasks before you get on the road.
  • Take control of your vehicle. Explain the importance of keeping your focus on the road, to all passengers.
  • And ALWAYS wear your seatbelt.

Make today the day you stop using your cell phone while driving, and pledge to never drive distracted. For more safe driving tips, contact the North Dakota Safety Council at www.ndsc.org.

*Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety