Falls Park Safety Assessed Annually

The City of Sioux Falls has received requests for reports regarding an incident review conducted at Falls Park after two drowning deaths in 2013 and safety studies conducted at Falls Park from 2008 through 2018 that belong to the City. Doug Kirkus, a loss control consultant for Safety Benefits Inc. of Sioux Falls and Mitchell with over two decades of experience, has been contracted by the South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance (SDPAA) to conduct safety reviews of Falls Park. Because of Falls Park’s popularity, Kirkus proactively evaluates the park with the City’s Risk Manager annually. Such reviews were completed in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2017. These reviews were conducted orally, and no written reports were prepared for the City.

After the two drowning deaths in March 2013, an incident review was conducted including representatives from Police, Fire Rescue, City Attorney’s Office, Risk Management, and Parks and Recreation. No safety report was prepared after this review. Kirkus then was contacted to review the Falls Park area as well. This review occurred in June 2013. Kirkus concurred orally regarding the recommendations being implemented, and no written report was prepared for the City. Over the course of the summer of 2013, updated signage was authorized, ordered, and installed, and holes were drilled into the quartzite walls after the team identified where lines should be placed to aid rescue personnel. Once the recommendations were implemented, a news release was issued in September 2013 by the City of Sioux Falls (attached), which describes the findings of the 2013 safety review.

In 2016, the SDPAA conducted an internal staff training exercise that included a limited review of Falls Park. A nationally recognized safety management consultant, Mary Beth O’Connell of O’Connell Consulting out of California, was on site along with the Executive Director of the SDPAA, Judy Payne. Concerns around additional fencing, placement of rescue devices, partial closing of the park during high water periods, and a number of other measures were discussed during the training exercise. The group provided no additional recommendations regarding the river hazard beyond what were implemented after the 2013 incident. Afterwards, Payne sent a letter to Mayor Huether stating, “Having served as the State Risk Manager for eighteen years, I know good risk management when I see it. I can assure you that the City of Sioux Falls practices GREAT risk management.” The SDPAA released its internal safety training document relating to Falls Park to the public and to the City on March 28, 2018.

The City is conducting an incident review in response to the drowning that occurred on March 18, 2018, including representatives from Fire Rescue, Emergency Management, Police, Risk Management, City Attorney’s Office, Parks and Recreation, and the SDPAA. Further information will be released to the City Council and the public once the review is complete.


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