A Year After Silver Spring Explosion, County's Shortcomings Prompt Change

A year after a deafening explosion rocked two apartment buildings in Silver Spring, Maryland, officials in Montgomery County have added housing inspectors and assessed how prepared they are to respond to disasters.

County officials have spent the past year examining where they fell short in the aftermath of the disaster that killed seven people -- including two children -- and hurt almost 40 other people. The County Council passed a stalled landlord-tenant bill, which created tenant advocates in the Consumer Protection Office, and added inspectors to the Housing Department.

Council members listened to current and former residents of the Flower Branch Apartments, where the explosion occurred just before midnight on Aug. 10, 2016, Councilman Tom Hucker said.

"The law that we passed guarantees that in the future [landlords] are going to have to be much more activist, much more focused on tenants,” he said. “And the public and the council are going to be able to keep an eye on them better."

The county's internal auditor examined the response to the Flower Branch disaster and made 14 recommendations to the county, including that communication must be improved.

"We didn't have an immediate appreciation that night that some people were waiting because they didn't know what to do,” Emergency Management Director Earl Stoddard said.

In a largely Spanish-speaking community, getting interpreters on the ground fast was a big challenge.

"We had to then mobilize and find those folks and bring them on duty and get them out to the program. So, it was a delay in getting an effective communication with folks,” said Raymond Crowel, Chief of Behavioral Health and Crisis Services.

Also, the county has invested in plans to manage volunteers and donations, run shelters and reunite families.

"We needed to have a much better system, and we have it now, over the last year, to identify those needs, collect them and start rolling out resources faster," Stoddard said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the precise cause of the explosion, which they did determine was related to natural gas.

Washington Gas installed a new natural gas main where one demolished building once stood on Arliss Street. Striking footage from Chopper4 shows the empty lot. 

The property owner, Kay Communities, inspected all of the remaining apartments and replaced equipment. The company plans to rebuild, and is considering a memorial to honor the people who died, its website says.

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