My husband works as an administrator in a prison. Tonight, he told me about his day at work.
It seems that the Warden’s secretary, Mandy, was opening the “in house” mail, when a mass of powder flew out of an envelope, dusting her hands, clothes, desk and the floor.
Alarmed, she jumped up, and proceeded to carry the envelope out of the office, down the stairs, through the building to the Investigator’s office. Mandy dropped the envelope on the Investigator’s desk (spilling more of the powder, by the way) and told him what had happened. He started making calls.
Word spreads fast in a prison. Before long, a small crowd of curious employees had filled the room, with more mobbing around the door, wanting to catch a glimpse of the “anthrax letter.”
My husband, who was the Investigator until recently, was called down to the office because state agencies were being called in to investigate, and his office has to be notified whenever outsiders enter the prison.
He was a bit surpised by the number of people milling around once he got there, which, by now, also included a few members of the state police. He started sending a few of the employees out, reminding them that, though it was unlikely to be a harmful substance, people should act as though it was, and avoid the contaminated area.
One of the officers spoke up, “Well, isn’t the whole place a contaminated area? Mandy carried the thing through most of the administrative building.”
My husband just told them to step back out into the hall. The group grew larger as more and more people came to see what all of the fuss was about.
The initial impression was that the powder was concrete dust. No one had really thought it might be anthrax, because, after all, this is a tiny town in the Midwest, unlikely to be a terrorist target, and inmates usually have a tough time getting biological weapons at the commissary. However, they wanted to do this by the book. You just don’t take chances in a situation like this.
When my husband left the room, he was immediately surrounded by those who wanted to know the scoop. He told them that the substance was most likely concrete dust, but that as a precaution, it was being taken for further testing.
“It smelled like cocoa powder!” said one of the secretaries.
My husband stared at her. “Sara, you SMELLED it?”
“Well, yeah,” she replied, looking puzzled. “Why?”
My husband took a deep breath. “What does anthrax smell like?”
“I don’t know.”
“Exactly. Didn’t you take Weapons of Mass Destruction training last week?”
“*Did they happen to mention that it might not be a good idea to sniff a potential biological weapon?” *
Sara said nothing. She was looking vaguely worried at this point.
She should be. Had this really been a envelope full of germs, the casualty count could have been enormous. Not just those playing Scratch-and-Sniff with the envelope itself, but dozens of curious employees were exposed, as well as anyone who had innocently walked through the building.
I told my husband it’s nice to see that the thousads of dollars the State spent on WMD training was such a good investment.