Chicago Police Find Flour Is Not Anthrax – WBBM 780

Chicago Police Find Flour Is Not Anthrax

Wednesday, December 25, 2002, 8:45 a.m.

By BRANDON LOOMIS
Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — Authorities closed a five-square-block area of the city’s North Side as well as the Lincoln Park Zoo Tuesday after the discovery of a suspicious substance outside the zoo that turned out to be harmless white powder marking a running course.

More than 100 police officers and firefighters, some wearing special suits to deal with hazardous materials, were called into the area.

Streets were blocked off. Several entrances and exits to Lake Shore Drive, one of the principal highways in the city, were closed. The zoo, which is normally open every day of the year, was soon closed. The public was warned by authorities to stay away.

Field testing equipment gave readings indicating that the substance “could be anything in the anthrax areas,” said Fire Commissioner James Joyce.

“But they were false positives,” he added.

“It’s a completely inert substance,” Joyce said at a news conference. “It’s scattered over a three- or four-block area.” Members of a running club had used the powder to paint arrows to show the runners where to go, he said. Wind blew the markings so that they no longer looked like arrows, and a Chicago Park District worker alerted authorities.

Fire Chief Dennis Gault said authorities secured the area and prevented people in the zoo from coming into contact with the substance. Zoo officials did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press, but a reporter who tried to enter the zoo discovered it was closed hours early.

Tuesday’s scare began shortly after 9 a.m. and was not resolved until about 1:20 p.m.

Asked if, in the current security atmosphere, people should be putting flour on the ground to mark things, Joyce said, “How about red flour?” Then he added, “This will alert them that they need to think about what they are doing.”

“We’re satisfied with the results,” Joyce added. “We do what we have to do. We respond and protect the citizens.”

Eric Dawoudi, 26, a DePaul University student whose apartment overlooks a zoo entrance, said he heard on the radio that the substance was harmless.

Nevertheless, a police officer would still not allow him into the neighborhood.

“I told him I heard on the radio that everything was okay. He “I told him I heard on the radio that everything was okay. He said, ‘You believe everything you hear on the radio?”‘

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

How I Helped Solve Zoo Mystery – Sun-Times

How I helped solve zoo mystery

December 25, 2002

BY ART GOLAB STAFF REPORTER

Though the Hash House Harriers may dress a little eccentrically and run around the city following trails of flour, they are not terrorists.

I know. I’m one of them.

So when I got the call Tuesday morning from my editor to start the day investigating the evacuation of the Lincoln Park Zoo– prompted by the discovery of a mysterious white substance–I had a sinking feeling that instead of reporting on a story, I might become part of it.

“It’s probably the Hashers,” said my wife, Dawn Klingensmith, referring to the running club we had joined a year ago.

Our concern grew after a call to the “grandmaster” of the running club, Mike Bendas. He confirmed they had run next to the zoo Sunday and had used flour to mark part of the trail.

You see, the Harriers is a group that plays a version of “hounds and hares,” a game where a designated “hare” lays a trail and others try to follow it.

Started by the British in Malaysia during the late 1930s, there are 1,500 chapters running in every major city in the world.

In Chicago, they mostly use chalk to mark the trails. But when the trail runs over grass or dirt (and it frequently does), it is marked with white flour.

My wife and I had run with the club in many neighborhoods, including Lincoln Park. Though we didn’t make this run, we knew it was possible that the unknown substance causing the alert could be “hash” marks.

When I arrived at the park, it was, well, a zoo. Police and fire emergency vehicles were flashing lights everywhere and firefighters were breaking out hazmat suits. Cops wouldn’t let anyone east of Clark Street. This was all triggered after a zoo employee found one of the piles of powder outside the zoo that morning.

Though reporters aren’t supposed to get personally involved in a story, after talking with Bendas, we decided the cops needed to know what we knew.

Approaching Cmdr. Michael Chasen, I told him the story and he had another officer interview Bendas over the phone. He put police in touch with two other hashers who actually ran the trail.

One hasher, at O’Hare Airport waiting for a flight, marked the trail on a detailed map printed out on a police computer at the airport. The other was picked up by detectives; he gave them a personal tour of the route. When the accounts of these two sober citizens matched, authorities concluded it was indeed flour.

A complicating factor was that some mobile testing equipment initially gave what Fire Commissioner James Joyce termed “false positives,” for a substance “in the anthrax area.”

When Joyce was asked if, in the current security atmosphere, people should be putting flour on the ground to mark things, he said, ”How about red flour?” Then he added, ”They will have to certainly think about what they are doing the next time.”

Bendas said that at the height of the anthrax scare a year ago, the club notified police in advance of using flour, but had trouble finding someone in authority to listen. “We would love to have an official point of contact in the future,” he said.

For now, Bendas said the club is “Looking into other methods, including red flour.”

False Alarm Unnerves Lincoln Park – Chicago Tribune

False alarm unnerves Lincoln Park
Bioterror scare turns out to be harmless powder

By Matthew Walberg, Liam Ford and David Heinzmann, Tribune staff reporters
Published December 25, 2002

Christmas Eve and there’s white powder scattered on the ground across Lincoln Park–a quintessentially beautiful Chicago scene.

Unless the powder isn’t snow and no one knows what it is for nearly four hours. Then it’s a potential disaster that evacuates the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory and shuts down a grid of North Side streets, sending emergency crews into overdrive and wreaking havoc on some last-minute shopping efforts.

The piles of white powder that Chicago Park District workers found Tuesday morning turned out to be a harmless mixture of chalk and flour intended to mark running lanes for a foot race that took place in Lincoln Park on Sunday.

But from a little after 9 a.m. to a little before 1 p.m., fire, police and hazardous materials crews treated the powder as if it might be a bioterrorism threat.

When it was over, city officials took a better-safe-than-sorry view of the false alarm.

“We prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Fire Department spokesman Dennis Gault said.

Trouble began when a Park District employee doing some maintenance discovered a number of white powdery marks on the ground and called police, Fire Commissioner James Joyce said in an afternoon news conference near the zoo.

The substance was scattered in spots in a three- to four-block area within Lincoln Park.

More than 100 firefighters responded during the incident, which was raised from a Level 2 hazardous materials call to a Level 3 when the Fire Department’s new testing equipment at first indicated the powder might contain a dangerous substance, Joyce said.

“We got a series of false positives,” Joyce said.

Gault said later that the equipment worked properly, indicating materials present in the powder that could have been dangerous but not in the state or mixture used. He said he did not know what those materials were.

A wide range of substances will alert the testing equipment, Gault said.

“Things that normally occur in nature also can be used for negative purposes,” he said.

Under closer scrutiny from fire, Health Department and Environmental Protection Agency technicians, the substances were determined to be harmless, Gault said.

When officials learned a foot race had been held, they contacted the head of the running club, who said his group had used the powder to mark arrows to direct runners through the park.

The club leader walked the entire course with emergency workers to confirm the scattered patches of powder were their markings, which had been smudged and withered by winds.

Authorities believe “it’s a completely inert substance,” Joyce said.

In addition to firefighters, dozens of police officers in squad cars, on foot and on horseback fanned out across the southwest end of Lincoln Park. Yellow police tape surrounded the entire northwest corner of the zoo at one point.

Pedestrian and vehicle traffic could not get east of Clark or west of Lake Shore Drive, and police kept people from going south of Diversey Parkway and north of North Avenue.

“It scared the hell out of me,” said Marian Altersohn, 83, of the 2100 block of North Lincoln Park West. “My apartment faces that area, and it started quite early. I wondered why the Fire Department was there. Then I saw all the police cars and I thought, `Jeez, this is getting pretty bad.’ I didn’t know what it was all about.”

When Altersohn left her apartment around 11 a.m. to have her hair done, “no one knew what was going on and we were free to leave,” she said. “But I did hear that later, people were not allowed to go back into their homes. Someone came into the beauty parlor and said, `I can’t go home. They won’t let me in.’ I just went to a restaurant and had coffee and made it last as long as I could. I didn’t want to go home.”

Bernice Bork, who lives in the same complex, said she heard at first that the commotion was about a suspicious package in her building.

“I stayed in, I didn’t go down because … I was hesitant about using the elevator,” she said. “I didn’t know if I’d be heading for trouble or away from trouble because at that point I still thought it was a package in the building.

“I would appreciate if the [media were] a little more accurate, that they would wait to get it right before scaring the hell out of people. I’m just glad it turned out well.”

About 25 conservatory visitors and seven or eight staff members were sent home when authorities responded, and most Zoo employees also were sent home.

By about 1:30 p.m., both the zoo and the conservatory were reopening, though zoo buildings were kept closed because most staff had already gone home, said Kelly McGrath, a spokeswoman for the zoo.

Despite the outcome, Joyce said fire and police officials were better off for the experience.

Emergency crews and police officers were able to practice responding to such incidents and got to use the equipment for the purpose it was intended.

“We’re satisfied with the results,” Joyce said. “We do what we have to to protect the citizens.”

Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune

Suspicious Powder Closes Portion of Lincoln Park Neighborhood – WBBM 780

SUSPICIOUS POWDER CLOSES PORTION OF LINCOLN PARK NEIGHBORHOOD

Tuesday, December 24, 2002, 2:15 p.m.

By BRANDON LOOMIS
Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — Reports of a suspicious white powdered substance caused police and firefighters to close down a five-square-block area of the north side and evacuate the Lincoln Park Zoo Tuesday.

But the substance turned out to be a harmless flour or similar powder used to mark a jogging course, the city’s fire commissioner said.

More than 100 police officers and firefighters, some wearing special suits to deal with hazardous materials, were called into the area.

Streets were blocked off. Several entrances and exits to Lake Shore Drive, one of the principal highways in the city, were closed. The public was warned by authorities to stay away.

Field testing equipment gave readings indicating that the substance “could be anything in the anthrax areas,” said Fire Commissioner James Joyce.

“But they were false positives,” he added.

“It’s a completely inert substance,” Joyce said at a news conference. “It’s scattered over a three- or four-block area.” Members of a running club had used the powder to paint arrows to show the runners were to go, he said.

Asked if, in the current security atmosphere, people should be putting flour on the ground to mark things, Joyce said, “How about red flour?” Then he added, “This will alert them that they need to think about what they are doing.”

“We’re satisfied with the results,” Joyce added. “We do what we have to do. We respond and protect the citizens.”
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

More on the story…

The Lincoln Park Zoo grounds were reopened after being closed during the hazardous materials alert, according to a news release from the zoo.

All the buildings, however, will remain closed Tuesday, the release said.

The zoo will reopen for business as usual Wednesday morning, with both the grounds and animal houses open to the public, according to the release. All fire personnel had left the scene by 1:45 p.m., and all roads had been re opened.

The area closed to traffic by the police and fire activity Tuesday afternoon included the perimeters Fullerton to North avenues, and Lincoln Park West to Lake Shore Drive. As of noon this also included the ramps from LSD to North Avenue and Fullerton, as well as northbound Clark Street at Armitage Avenue, Cannon Drive and Stockton Drive, according to the City Department of Transportation.

Emergency workers first responded to the park at 9:22 a.m., with the Level 1 Hazmat upgraded to a Level 2 response at 10:39 a.m. and a Level 3 response at 11 :29 a.m., said fire media Chief Dennis Gault.

“We received a call from the police department relative to a suspicious substance at the Lincoln Park Zoo,” Gault said of the original report.