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Anthrax scare prompts evacuation of key Southwestern building

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, joined the list of hundreds of organizations enduring anthrax scares Oct. 16.

A powder came out of a box of envelopes and brushed onto a business office employee in the seminary’s historic Memorial Building. Mark Sheldon, Southwestern’s director of financial services and controller, notified the seminary’s security department after learning about the substance.

Randy Austin, chief of security, told Sheldon to evacuate the office and then called the school’s physical plant to have air-handlers shut down. Austin then notified the Fort Worth Police Department.

“We called Fort Worth Police because we take every call seriously,” Austin said. “It is like a bomb threat; you never know when it is real and when it is not. And we take every call seriously.

Fort Worth police arrived on the scene and within a few minutes decided to call the Fort Worth Fire Department. The three-story building, which includes theology faculty offices, administrative offices and classrooms, was evacuated for two hours and a dozen employees who were exposed were quarantined.

After seeing the powdery substance, the fire department called for a hazardous materials unit to go in and evaluate the substance. After examining the substance and calling the manufacturer of the box’s contents, the hazardous materials unit reported the substance was an overabundance of rice powder placed in the box to keep adhesives from sticking to envelopes.

Of the 50 calls dispatchers fielded Oct. 16 about suspicious packages or substances, the fire department took action on six of those, including Southwestern’s, said spokesman Lt. Kent Worley. They also responded to calls about suspicious substances found at a local hospital and an American Airlines headquarters building.

An announcement about the scare was made to the seminary’s trustees just before their lunch break. The trustees were holding their biannual meeting in the seminary’s new Leadership Development Complex on the southeast corner of campus. President Ken Hemphill and much of the seminary’s executive staff were with the trustees and were never in danger.

“Because of our exposure to the world as being one of the largest seminaries,” Austin said, “and because we [have alumni serving in] countries where the gospel is not allowed to be preached, the local Fort Worth authorities take any calls from Southwestern seriously.

“We were relieved this was not anthrax or any other substance,”
Austin said. “And on a positive side this became a good training exercise for both the seminary and the Fort Worth emergency response unites.”

    About the Author

  • Richard McCormack