The Washington region's top leaders yesterday called for a summit with federal officials to address their concerns that local governments were kept in the dark during this week's anthrax scare.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) joined an angry chorus of state and local leaders and members of Congress who said the Department of Defense failed to adequately warn the region that it was investigating a possible anthrax threat Monday morning at a Pentagon mailroom. Fairfax County officials said they learned about the incident hours later, after their emergency workers responded to a call about a suspicious biological substance at a Defense Department mailroom in Baileys Crossroads.
Transcript: Fairfax's Gerald E. Connolly (D) discussed coordination between government officials.
Events Leading to Anthrax Alert
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Anthrax Alarm Uncovers Response Flaws (The Washington Post, Mar 17, 2005)
New Tests For Anthrax Negative (The Washington Post, Mar 16, 2005)
Officials Say Fairfax Was Out of Loop (The Washington Post, Mar 16, 2005)
Anthrax Facts (The Washington Post, Mar 16, 2005)
Negative Results But Very Real Fears (The Washington Post, Mar 16, 2005)
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A series of tests at the two sites indicated Tuesday that there was no public health threat. Investigators called the incidents, which were four miles apart, an apparent coincidence. But elected leaders warned that a similar lack of coordination in a biological attack could be devastating.
"This may well be forgiven given the way the testing is coming out, but it certainly can't be excused," Williams told reporters yesterday at his weekly news conference. "Not to have upfront contacts with the Department of Defense really is inexcusable."
Williams said he will be talking with Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) about how to proceed. "It really sets back our regional response efforts," the mayor said.
The three affected buildings in the Skyline complex on Route 7 in Fairfax were cleared to reopen this morning, except for one suite still being tested.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) yesterday called for a "regional response summit."
"We've spent a lot of time and money to improve regional coordination and preparedness," said David Marin, deputy staff director for Davis. "But this week's scare suggests we're not ready for prime time yet."
Davis pledged to gather federal, state and local officials to deconstruct, hour by hour, who was informed about the Pentagon investigation and when. Pentagon officials said they followed protocol, calling the Arlington fire department about 10:30 a.m. Monday after the mailroom reported a positive alert for anthrax from a sensor. Arlington has jurisdiction because the Pentagon is in that county.
Pentagon officials said yesterday they notified other fire departments in the region at 12:10 p.m.
"Fairfax was called," Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said yesterday. "I cannot speak to every individual who feels he or she should have been notified, but the system of notification worked."
Dan Schmidt, spokesman for the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department, disputed that a call from the Pentagon was received. "We do not know of any sharing of information of the Pentagon facility event," Schmidt said. At 2:30 p.m., Fairfax responded to the Baileys Crossroads complex after a sensor gave an alert in a Defense Department mailroom there.
Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said he learned of the Pentagon incident at 4:20 p.m. from the county's emergency management coordinator, who learned of it from his counterpart in Arlington.
Flood said an official with the Pentagon Force Protection Agency called numerous fire departments "in the immediate vicinity of the Pentagon" to inform them that an investigation of hazardous materials was underway.