- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

At least nine senators were among 200 people herded into a Capitol parking garage last night after a security sensor indicated the presence of a nerve agent in the Russell Senate Office Building. Later tests proved negative.

“Test results have been cleared and all test results are negative, so that’s very good news,” Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said.

The all-clear came three hours after an air-monitoring sensor indicated a suspicious substance in the attic of the Russell building. It initially tested positive as a nerve agent.

Lawmakers, aides and other personnel were evacuated to the West Legislative Garage shortly after 6:45 p.m. as police conducted several other tests before concluding that it was a false alarm.

“We had this warning system work,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, one of those in the garage. “People in the building followed the directions promptly. There was no panic, no running, no upset or anything like that.”

Police said none of the people evacuated to the garage showed any signs, such as a runny nose, of exposure to a nerve agent. Sgt. Schneider did not know what triggered the alarm but said it could have been something as innocuous as a cleaning substance.

“One of the alarm systems that tests air quality went off with a positive reading, and then it went off again with a positive reading, so I guess they thought it was serious enough that they had to take very aggressive action,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, speaking on a cell phone from the garage.

Mr. Gregg said everyone was eager to go home but understood the need for the delay.

“I started out [the day] flying in Air Force One and ended up in the garage with 200 of my closest friends,” he said. Earlier in the day, Mr. Gregg accompanied President Bush on a brief visit to New Hampshire.

A spokesman for Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, said people tried to leave the area but police directed them into the underground parking garage across the street. There, police distributed water and gave regular updates.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said the alert was prompted by a single sensor and that no suspicious chemicals were found.

“Everybody is safe. This was a false alarm,” Mr. Frist, a surgeon, said shortly after the all-clear. “I’m sure tomorrow there will be a lot of questions about whether we had to be quarantined, and the answer to that is yes.”

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