Suspicious powders empties office buildings
In separate incidences, 'unknown white substances' which turned out to be harmless, found in the two Dept. of Human Services buildings forced the evacuation of all employeesPolice Chief Jim Soules, wearing proper protective coverings, prepared to enter the Dept. of Human Services building last Friday. Assisting Soules was Crook County Health Department Director Wendy Swain and county emergency coordinator Greg Hinshaw.
The anthrax scare that has caused so much trouble on the east coast came closer to home late last week when white powder was found in two state buildings causing both to be evacuated.
The discovery of an unknown white, powdery substance forced the evacuation of all employees at the Department of Human Services building, 1495 NE Third St. Friday morning.
The powder was found by a DHS employee at approximately 8:30 a.m. in the men's rest-room according to Sterling Hammond, supervisor for the Self Sufficiency Program.
After inspecting the material, which Sterling described to have the look of Talcum powder and covered a small area, Sterling notified the Prineville Fire Department, which then called local police.
Representatives from both Prineville agencies arrived at the site within minutes.
According to Prineville police officer Ron Elliott, no one at the scene knew how to turn off the ventilation system of the building and as a result, an evacuation of all persons was ordered.
"We have a protocol we have to follow," Elliott said. "We're sure it's going to turn out to be nothing, but on the one-billionth chance it's not, we have to evacuate."
Elliot explained the importance of turning off the ventilation system.
"If this is something airborne, you don't want it circulating through the building," he said. "And if you're not able to shut that off, you need to have people get out."
Hammond said that he checked the cleaning supply closet in the DHS building to see if the unknown substance resembled any of the cleaning compounds used in the building. He said that it did not.
After contacting the FBI, Central Oregon Hazmat and other emergency management officials, it was decided that no credible threat existed beside the powder itself. The decision was also made to send a Prineville police officer wearing protective equipment into the building to take a sample. Using proper procedures, Chief Jim Soules was also to clean up the substance.
Later in the afternoon the building was considered safe and people were allowed back in.
Monday, the police department reported that the white powder had been determined to be a non-dangerous substance. It was found to be material left by an exterminator.
This was not the first such incident in central Oregon last week. Thursday afternoon, the State Office Building on SW Highland Avenue in Redmond was evacuated when an unknown white powdery substance in a employee office was discovered. Capt. Wayne Shortreed of the Redmond Police Department said, following standard operating procedures, the building was secured and samples sent to the lab for testing.
Results of the test indicated that the substance was not harmful and the building was reopened early Friday morning. The investigation into the source of the powder, Shortreed reported, was continuing.