- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

U.S. Capitol Police announced yesterday they have ordered 25,000 gas masks to protect workers and tourists around the Capitol from possible biological or chemical attacks.

The masks called "escape hoods" by police will be stored like fire extinguishers around the Capitol complex, which includes the Hart Senate Office Building, where anthrax was discovered last fall.

The masks are to help members of Congress, their staffers and tourists survive an evacuation in the event of an attack, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said.

"While we don't anticipate a need for these escape hoods, we are acting in a way that will make us prepared in case there is a chemical or biological incident," said Chief Gainer, who was second in command in the Metropolitan Police Department before becoming chief of the Capitol Police on June 3.

"The environment has changed forever after September 11, and I think we can be prudently precautious but not scaredy cats," he said.

Capitol Police are spending $2.5 million on the masks at a price of $100 each. Before September 11, the Capitol had roughly 10,000 visitors a day.

Chief Gainer said he hopes the purchase "sends the message to the public that responsible public officials are taking appropriate precautionary steps."

But some lawmakers, concerned about how the fear of terrorist attacks will affect D.C. tourism, were upset about how yesterday's announcement was made.

"We are real amateurs when it comes to showing people the many steps that have to be taken to protect them," said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting member of Congress.

Mrs. Norton, a Democrat, said the announcement will produce "hyped stories with pictures of people in the Senate or the House wearing the masks."

"That picture is going to be seen all over America, and thousands of tourists are going to say, 'I certainly don't want to go to the capital,'" she said.

Each mask has a yellow hood that fits snugly over the head with a plastic face covering, a nosepiece clamp and a filter to restrict noxious fumes. The masks typically are used by authorities who first respond to emergencies.

Capitol Police officers have been equipped with the masks since 1997. After anthrax-laced letters were sent to Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont last October, Capitol Police decided to buy more.

No one on the Hill died from exposure to anthrax spores, but two postal employees died from inhalation anthrax after the District's central mail center processed the letters to the two senators.

At a news conference outside the Capitol yesterday, Chief Gainer demonstrated how to put on a mask. One-hour training sessions will begin Monday for congressional staffers, he said.

The chief said the masks are capable of filtering out anthrax spores or toxic gases for up to one hour, depending on the temperature and how heavily a person is breathing. The masks would be useless during an attack involving exposure to radiation, such as a "dirty bomb" explosion.

The masks will be stored in each congressional office and at all entrances to the Capitol. They would be issued only upon an alert by police officers, who will be trained to quickly instruct visitors on how to use them.


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