A House Explosion Gave a South Dakota City the Chance to Issue its First Safety Alert Via Text

The text alert was the first of its kind for Aberdeen, S.D., notifying receivers of a local explosion with no other information.

by Elisa Sand, American News / February 12, 2018

(TNS) — Law enforcement took preliminary information gathered at the scene of a residential explosion and issued the city's first public safety alert last week.

Residents who didn't receive the text message can sign up for future alerts at the city's website. City Manager Lynn Lander said the public safety feature was added about six months ago at the request of the police department.

Police Chief Dave McNeil said the officers who first responded to the scene noticed it had the characteristics of a gas explosion. He said firefighters then reported there was a secondary explosion and that the utility company was being notified, so steps were taken to alert the public.

That alert said there was a gas explosion in the 500 block of North Second Street. Additional information was posted on the city's website.

"With all the characteristics of that, our simple mission was to warn people that there was an explosion. We believed it was related to gas and we needed to get people to stay away," McNeil said.

However, the cause of the explosion and house fire have not yet been determined. Tom Glanzer with NorthWestern Energy said no natural gas leaks were found in the area.

The alert was issued by the city manager's assistant, who composed it while officers were handling safety concerns on the scene, Lander said. It was a first.

"It was meant to support the next level of safety protection and prevent people from congregating in the area," Lander said.

The explosion and house fire were reported at 10:10 a.m. Tuesday at 507 N. Second St. Aberdeen Fire & Rescue had the fire out by about 3 p.m., but the 500 and 600 blocks were closed to traffic through Wednesday afternoon while local and state investigators were on scene.

The alert went out from a five-digit text number without a disclaimer noting it was a city public safety alert.

Lander said he wasn't aware the alert was issued without that information. It will be included in the future, he said.

While the city has branched out into text alerts, establishing social media accounts isn't in the city's plans, though the police department does have a Facebook page and Twitter account.

Lander said he doesn't anticipate setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account for the city proper, as some other communities have. He said he'll continue to monitor trends in technology, but for now he would rather use the tools the city already has available.

"If we need to adapt, we will do so in the future," he said.

He's mindful that traditional methods of getting information out to the public will always be needed for people who don't have smartphones or use social media.

While the police department's Facebook page is active, nothing was posted about the explosion. McNeil said officers chose the text alert because it would be the most effective in getting out an emergency message to the public.

"When you're at a scene like that and do all those things, you notify city management offices and get that notice out," he said. "At the same time, officers are in the field and not near our social media application. This was the quickest and most efficient at the time."

The investigation into the fire and explosion continues.

Nobody was killed or injured, and there was no methamphetamine lab in the house, Aberdeen Fire Marshal Mike Thompson said, addressing a rumor that popped up Friday.

There's no evidence that anybody was home at the time of the explosion nor of any illegal activity, he said.

Thompson said a consultant with the home insurance company is expected to be in town Monday. That person will evaluate the home and determine the best way to improve the structural integrity of what remains so investigators can safety access the basement.

Thompson and investigators from the state fire marshal's office and insurance companies have yet to gain entry to the basement, but have been able to see that the furnace and water heater remain "relatively intact."

He said interior work to the home like painting was being done, but that the last tenant moved out in September or October.

©2018 the American News (Aberdeen, S.D.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.