June 8 is Safety Saturday and members of law enforcement, corrections and EMS gathered to educate the community on the tools and equipment used to keep them safe. In addition to vehicles and exhibits, several seminars, a bike rodeo and free food were offered to those attending.
Prominently displayed at the opening of the event was the armored vehicle, the Bear Cat. The armored vehicle is essentially a Ford truck equipped with heavy armor, bulletproof glass and a plethora of S.W.A.T related gear. According to Chief Deputy Reed Reinbold, the armored vehicle costs around $200,000 and can sit six fully geared officers.
The S.W.A.T team for the region is multi-jurisdictional, serving Otter Tail, Wilkin, Grant and several police stations in the area. The vehicle is also equipped with a mounted camera, infrared optics and a top hatch.
Michael Lange, a patrol deputy for the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office, skillfully wielded a robotic device Saturday only a few feet from the armoured truck. He stood in front of a black hard case filled with delicate instruments that dictate the movements of the small robot, known as the Super Droid. The Super Droid is mounted on a set of treads and has a long extension arm fitted with a claw like hand.
"We have this so we don't have to endanger personnel," said Lange. He went on to explain that the droid is often used for mobile reconnaissance and delivery. Officers have used it in the past to deliver cell phones in high risk situations, among other things. Lange commented that maneuvering the robot is fairly easy unless the operator relies solely on the screen for navigation.
Cool toys and a talented horse
Leading to the garage was a collection of emergency vehicles and equipment. Officers showed off their cool toys, and their friend, the exceptionally talented horse, Sophie. Sophie, along with her owner, Christy Bjorgan, form an important part of the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Posse. Bjorgan has been a member of the group for seven years and utilizes her equine pal whenever possible. Bjorgan and other members of the posse are typically called in to assist the Sheriff's Office. They will typically monitor fires, help with traffic, and participate in search and rescue efforts. Onlookers quickly took notice of the horse, stopping to take photos with the duo. "She can do everything," Bjorgan said. Bjorgan has been involved with horses for the majority of her life and takes every opportunity to ride. She was particularly proud of the horses ability to respond to direction.
Inside the Operations Center sat several more vehicles and displays. Jason Haman, lineman at Lake Region Electric was showcasing electrical safety procedures. His exhibit was a carefully crafted model of electrical lines and equipment, things that are essential for the delivery of power but also extraordinarily dangerous. Haman was on a mission to educate the public about the proper way to deal with situations involving downed power lines and to show the destructive nature of electricity on the body. In the center of the display was a mock human constructed from PVC pipe, attached to it was hot dog that represented human organs. Haman and an assistant would carefully apply electricity to the subject, showing how the body reacts to 7,200 volts of electricity. When asked what people should do if they ever come in contact with a downed power line or any malfunctioning electrical equipment, Haman responded by saying, "Just stay away from it and call the local power company or 911."
Corrections officer Ashley Larson was a part of the correction department display. She showed of the various implements she and her coworkers use to pacify and transport inmates. "We have things from our search group, the Correctional Emergency Response Team," Larson said. She explained, the toughest part of her job is interacting with such a diverse group of inmates on a daily basis. Each one having their own unique personality. Her and the corrections staff need specialized gear to minimize the risk to them and the inmates. Larson showed off an FN gun, a long rifle that resembles a high powered paintball gun. The FN gun is used for pacification. Larson confirmed that being hit by a projectile fired from the FN gun is quite painful. Additionally, she also had a cellbuster. A cellbuster is special arm that houses a mace canister. Officers are able to insert the arm through a food port into a cell to spray an unruly inmate.
Safety Saturday is an opportunity to share with the community the tools that aid in their safety. The event was sponsored by Otter Tail Business and Community Association and the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Department.
Personal safety seminars
Safety Saturday was host to a few different seminars to educate the public on a variety of different subjects.
Jeanine Thompson, a regional youth advocate for Someplace Safe, gave a presentation about sexual exploitation that occurs online and in-person.
Since 2015, Thompson has helped 364 different clients that were the primary and secondary victims of sexual violence. Sexual violence is a broad term that encomposses stalking, revenge pornography and unwanted touching.
Thompson encouraged the audience to use their "natural thermometer" when assessing whether a situation is threatening or not.
"Don't take that next step, it only takes a fraction of a second," Thompson said.
While she acknowledged everyone is at risk for being a victim of sexual violence, some are more at risk than others. Those include girls younger than 18, students who skip school, testing boundaries and taking risks, as well as couch hopping.
Thompson said to be aware of what phone applications children are using.
"The less you do with apps, the safer you are," she said.
Arvig IT Specialist Todd Mattson then gave a presentation about computer safety, especially how to prevent being the target of an online hack.
Mattson said the goal of any internet user should be to make yourself as small as a cyber target as possible.
"There's no such thing as 100 percent security online," Mattson said. "The only way to do that is not be on the internet."
In light of that fact, Mattson said to be very careful of using public wi-fi in airports and hotels. Hackers can easily siphon data off these unprotected networks in search of bank accounts and other personal data.
An easy way to prevent this is by using a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt personal data on phones, computers and tablets.
Mattson also spent time educating the audience about "phishing." Phishing is when hackers disguise send an email disguised as a trusted friend, coworker or retailer. It's often extremely difficult to notice the difference between a legitimate email and when someone is phishing for personal information, such as passwords.
Mattson saidv if an offer is too good to be true, has misspellings, or is requesting personal info, don't click.
Regarding passwords, Mattson recommends using long password phrases rather than short, complex strings of letters and numbers.
Later in the afternoon, Sergeant Bob Huckeby and Deputy Aaron Sprout taught a women's self defense course.
Huckeby said it's possible to hit hard enough to stop an attack, it just takes visualizing yourself doing so.
It all starts with trusting your instincts, according to Huckeby.
"There is a reason you're getting that feeling something's not right," he said.
Huckeby said it starts with making yourself a hard target.
"Try to avoid situations that make you vulnerable or a soft target," he said
This can be done by walking with presence and purpose, scanning surroundings and acknowledging people nearby.