The 15th of October 2001 proved to be a day to be remembered throughout American history. It was the day of the first major bio-terrorism attack within the United States. Although bio-warfare had been used within the US before, smallpox blankets for the Indians, etc., it had never been of the magnitude experienced on that day. Food poisoning had been used on a small scale in the West. These did not equate to the potential bio-terrorism threat observed as a result of the October 15th Anthrax attack. Many played vital roles in the identification, containment, mitigation and remediation of the problem. SSA served as a major leadership function within the overall response to Anthrax On The Hill.
During the period of October 15th to the 19th, several hundred personnel had either responded to participate in resolving the problem, had been asked to respond, or offered to respond. The Capitol Police Board (CPB) assumed management responsibility for resolution of the incident. Existing control and management mechanisms did not function well or, in many cases, not at all. Chaos literally reigned. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommended the establishment of an Incident Command System (ICS). FEMA further recommended that SSA, specifically Douglas R. Stutz, Ph.D. be placed in charge of all operations. Dr. Stutz was the only individual among the hundreds there with the scientific, emergency response and management background to accomplish the job as efficiently as possible. As a result, on the 20th of October, the Congressional Leadership chose Dr. Stutz was appointed to serve as the Incident Commander (IC) through both the Crisis Management phase and subsequently the Consequent Management phase of the Capitol Anthrax Incident.
At first, the magnitude of the job and its inherent responsibilities were difficult to determine. All Advisors to the IC, of which there were many, were of the opinion the cleanup could be accomplished within a short span of time, a few weeks. Of course, no one really understood the extent of the contamination. A letter containing Anthrax spores had been opened in the office suite of the Senator Daschle, Democratic Leader of the Senate. The product appeared to have aerosolized and spread throughout one floor of the suite. Several workers within contact range were thought to have become contaminated. Emergency response personnel moved all affected persons to another floor to take nasal swabs and determine the extent of exposure. No one expected the contamination to be beyond the immediate area of release. The newly appointed IC warned however, that all too little was known about the product and all necessary precautions must be followed. As a result, the Hart building was closed in its entirety.
The IC instituted a sample identification process designed to determine the actual extent of the contamination. Since it was a letter that was involved, a “follow the mail trail” policy was adopted. It soon became evident that not only did the contamination extend beyond the suite where Anthrax was released; it also extended to other buildings on Capitol Hill. The magnitude of the event increased from one suite to ultimately surveying more than 30 buildings. This was done in less than two weeks. Five additional buildings were found to be contaminated, all presumably from the same letter even though a second letter was found later.
The job had now increased in magnitude by more than ten. Additional resources were quickly brought in to characterize the contaminated buildings in preparation for remediation. All activities were on a 24-hour, seven day a week basis. Operations, planning, logistics and command operated around the clock. A tent city was constructed to support the effort to include feeding the workers, supply and equipment storage and laboratory facilities. The US Air Force flew in heavy equipment from Texas to assist in the remediation process. Several specialized military units were activated to assist. All of these resources were under the command of the IC.
Press and community relations became extremely important. Command served several communities that included both houses of Congress, the city in general and the immediate neighborhood. All had to be kept current with accurate information. Frequent briefings were held for all entities. Throughout all of this, SSA continued to serve as the IC and manage not only the resources provided by government and private agencies, but also the technical, scientific and medical aspects of the project. Time was of the essence! Operations that prevented or even slowed Congress from acting or carrying out their business had to be accomplished with urgency. Security and safety issues were paramount and were a significant consideration in management of the project.
Once the contaminated areas had been characterized and the extent of remediation required was known, the IC changed the mode of management to a project oriented program, thereby allowing for a more closely managed effort. Each contaminated area was assigned a manager who reported to the IC. His/her area received the necessary support from logistics, planning, and etc. to accomplish independent remediation goals.
Since the entire project was of a nature that had never been accomplished before, it required scientists, engineers and technicians who were insightful and innovative. Virtually every effort, regardless of its size, was an actual experiment that had to be conceived of, designed, tested and verified. All of this had to be done in real time and as quickly as possible. Every day the Congress did not have full use of its facilities created more problems.
Several methods of disinfection or remediation were used. Fumigation with ClO2 was used for the release suite and the heating, air condition and ventilation (HVAC) system serving the suite. Liquid ClO2 was used in the release suite as a pre-treatment and as the final treatment in other areas of that building as well as other buildings. Ethylene Oxide (ETO) was used to sterilize small items such as paper, office equipment, etc. Although there is data available on the use of these products for other purposes, little exists for the use required in this project. Everything had to be developed from nothing or ground zero. All three firms were integral in this development. Their leadership allowed the remediation to be successful in a relatively short period of time. Normally, a project of this size and nature would require months, possibly years to plan and carry out. This project was successfully carried out in weeks, a feat never accomplished before.
As the project drew to a close, many individuals and organizations joined forces with SSA to consolidate the lessons learned into one entity. Coming together in this fashion provides corporate and government worlds a resource not available anywhere else. Our Team has demonstrated its ability to function in crisis situations in an innovative and creative mode. Knowledge gained from this event and the many others each member has participated in rests with our experienced Team and nowhere else. The talent and knowledge found only in this Team is now available to others. Nowhere else, regardless of the organization or who the individuals might be, will you find people who have actually done the job rather than theorize about it. The Capitol Hill Anthrax event is unique. There is a concern that those who did not actually participate in the project are promulgating incorrect procedures and information. Those who participated are the ones who can provide the information, the skills and the experience necessary for informed corporate and government agencies.
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