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Police investigate threat of 'blast' at downtown Sanford campus

Fargo Police monitor the north entrance of Broadway Sanford Health after a threat was called in on Friday. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO – The call came in about 10:30 a.m. Friday, warning a Sanford Health employee of violence and a “blast” at the downtown hospital. 

The threat put Sanford’s downtown campus into a modified lockdown, with access to the hospital being limited to just three entryways and security personnel screening visitors at all entrance points.

Police monitored the edges of the campus as investigators attempted to assess the threat’s credibility, but by about 3:30 p.m., uniformed officers were pulled back.

Police Lt. Joel Vettel said there’s a “relatively low” chance the threat was credible, but the investigation likely will continue on into next week.

It’s not clear if the caller was making a bomb threat, Vettel said at an 11:45 a.m. press conference outside the Same Day Surgery Center, where security personnel were standing watch at the entrance.

“There was one mention of some sort of ‘blast,’ and again that can be construed in different ways,” he said. “Certainly we’re looking at this as possible situation where a bomb threat would be a similar type of situation.”

Security was heightened across all Sanford campuses after the threat, but officials believe the threat was directed at the downtown campus specifically. 

By Friday afternoon, after the uniformed officers had been pulled back, and Sanford Medical Center President Paul Richard said in a statement that after sweeping the campus and consulting with police, it’s “business as usual” at the downtown campus.

Still, Richard said they remain “vigilant” with security on campus.

“We’d like to thank our local law enforcement and our employees who acted so quickly to ensure our campus is secure,” he said in the statement. “As with all threats of danger, the security of our patients and staff is our greatest priority.”

The hospital still was limiting access to just three entryways Friday evening – a north side entrance, the west Broadway entrance into the Downtown Clinic, and the emergency room entrance.

That would continue at least until late Friday night before hospital officials reassess the situation, Vettel said.

While the investigation is ongoing, Vettel said the threat seems less credible because the caller was somewhat vague.

“They were not as specific as oftentimes we’d see in more credible type of events, but again we’re still assessing the credibility of this event,” he said at the morning press conference.

There are about 400 in-bed patients at the downtown hospital and more than 2,000 staff members in the downtown campus, Richard said.

Vettel said similar threats happen in the community three or four times a year. He said police have a “comprehensive plan” for responding to these kinds of calls, and he credited Sanford for reacting effectively.

In the past two years, bomb threats have been called in to area Walgreens, the Radisson, North Dakota State University, Agassiz School and Hector International Airport.

 “We’ve been through this enough with our partners across the community where I think the plan simply falls into place and people go through the process to make sure we’re doing all our due diligence to ensure the safety of everybody involved,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518