Capitol Visitor Center takes steps to respond to future bioscares

Capitol Visitor Center employees will be issued permanent pagers in an attempt to improve communication should an emergency, such as a terrorist attack, occur, following reports of missteps among CVC employees in dealing with a white powder scare.

On June 18, an operational supervisor at the CVC mishandled a potential emergency situation by flushing a bag of white powder labeled “anthrax” down a toilet while hundreds of tourists were present. Capitol police were not notified of the incident until at least an hour later. CVC employees were not officially notified that the powder was found to harmless until days afterward.

“Clearly, we need to make sure that our visitor guides and supervisors and all of our personnel are familiar with what they should do with a suspicious package or suspicious substance, and that certainly does not include flushing it down the toilet,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of House Appropriations Committee’s Legislative Branch subcommittee, said, according to The Hill.

The pagers will be setup to receive text messages and radio announcements about security and safety information. The pager plan was outlined to a congressional panel on September 30 by the architect of the capitol, Stephan Ayers. The AoC heads the office that oversees the visitor center.

For their part, CVC employees alleged that they have been cut off from communicating with their superiors while engaged in activities with tourists and visitors, The Hill reports.

“There have been instances of no response to a radio report of an emergency…cases in which phone calls to police or medical help were delayed because multiple managers each thought the other was doing it,” Megan Burger, a member of CVC employee union said at the hearing, according to The Hill.

The AoC also plans to hire a safety specialist and a “Jurisdictional Occupational Safety and Health Committee” will be formed and meet once a month to discuss safety issues. The selection process to find a safety specialist will begin next month and be completed by April 2011.