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Homeland Security Fails the Little People

Last Friday at around 1:15 PM, an envelope containing a suspicious substance was received in the suite containing the Governor’s office. The Governor, reportedly 40 feet away and several walls away, was evacuated along with Department of Public Safety Secretary John Denko and eventually Lt. Governor Diane Denish. For the most part, everyone else was left to continue as if nothing was happening. Staff at the Legislative Council Service could be found on the phone over two hours later without the slightest indication of threat or emergency.

In fact, according to major media outlets it wasn’t until just before 4:00 PM that the entire capital was evacuated. This gave the Governor ample time to call a news conference.

“It’s most likely a hoax but we’re taking every necessary precaution,” Gov. Bill Richardson, one of those evacuated [hours before anyone else], said at a news conference outside the capitol about three hours later.

The threat was aimed at Richardson, said Department of Public Safety Secretary John Denko. He would not describe the letter or its contents other than to say: “It was a threat and it was a bit nasty.”

Richardson said he will not be intimidated.

Well, the Governor definitely proved his mettle by returning to the Capital to hold this news conference. After all, the threat was credible enough that Brian Grace, the governor’s director of mail operations, “was subjected to decontamination on the spot (subscription) – which involves stripping and washing down with water and bleach.” Obviously, this was a potentially serious threat.

Unfortunately, that raises an important question. Why were all the other state employees at the Capital left to toil and breathe air that could have contained anthrax traveling through the ventilation system? Schools have responded quicker to large burritos than the 2 1/2 hours it took to begin evacuation in response to a credible threat.

Now, the lack of concern for state employees is not the only problem. Based on published reports, it would seem that a Hazmat 101 refresher course for DPS would be in order. It was reported that the Governor and Secretary Denko evacuated to the Governor’s Mansion to shower. Thinking of only his own comfort that Governor and the Secretary put many more at risk. According to basic Hazmat rules, containment is to immediately follow moving people to safety. Really not a great idea to have the Governor and the Secretary traveling from the Capital to the Governor’s mansion to decontaminate while possibly contaminating a vehicle, the area from the Capital to the mansion and the mansion itself, not to mention the water system.
Not sure what is more bothersome — the complete lack of concern shown for the welfare of state employees, or lack of definitions or protocols displayed by DPS (this department oversees State Homeland Security) for a credible threat. All of this sure does seem to support the assertions (subscription) made by Brigadier General Annette Sobel.