Alabama praises response to recent anthrax scare

The anthrax scare last week in Alabama, which turned out to be harmless household products, aided the state in analyzing its local, regional and state level emergency response procedures, officials have said.

The scare began at 10 a.m. on Jan. 4, when a letter opened in U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner's Foley office was found to contain an unknown white powder. Two of Bonner's staff members were then isolated in the office, which was otherwise evacuated by Foley police and firefighters. Anthrax contamination procedures were then begun.

Similar letters were also received in Congressional offices in Mobile, Birmingham, Montgomery and Anniston.

On the local level, regional hazardous materials units were brought in to Bonner's office while officials around the state worked to deal with the threats in other areas.

"The closest regional haz-mat team is in Mobile County, in Saraland. They have the equipment to deal with this and to do a field test," Leigh Ann Ryals, Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency director, told "We called on them and that went very, very well. They were able to determine within minutes what it was and also what it wasn't. At the same time, we were talking to EMAs in other counties where things were going on to find out what was going on there and what we had here."

A testing device from the Saraland Fire Department's hazardous materials unit informed officials within 10 minutes that the power was not anthrax, which allowed Foley's staffers to avoid decontamination at the scene as well as a lengthy quarantine.

Firefighters and trucks were brought in from Gulf Shores and orange Beach to provide backup while Foley's emergency personnel worked on the Bonner site and local hospitals were notified of the potential anthrax contamination.

"They did a magnificent job," Perry Wilbourne, Foley City Administrator, told City Council members at a meeting. "We should be proud of the job the police and fire did in what could have been deadly serious."