November 2, 2001

Sections of Warren Hall close due to suspicious substance

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“This area’s blocked off,” said an University employee, who wished to remain unnamed, at Warren Hall’s entrance to the department Rural Sociology as students and staff tried to enter yesterday morning.

One of over thirty incidents on campus involving suspicious materials, an anthrax scare caused the shut-down of part of the Rural Sociology section Warren Hall. Yesterday morning, police and health officials sealed off the area on the first floor of for fears of possible anthrax contamination in the building, according to Linda Grace-Kobas, director of the Cornell News Service. The area includes two offices and a ladies’ restroom.

This spurred reactions from students and staff that led to the cancellation of two classes in the building for fear of exposing students and staff to possible contamination.

Around 9 a.m., an administrative assistant in the department of Rural Sociology called the Cornell University Police (CUPD) and the department of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) to report a suspicious letter with a white powdery substance from a sender in Pakistan that the department had received letters from in the past.

Following Centers for Disease Control specifications for handling suspicious letters and packages, the assistant, along with two other employees who were exposed to the letter, sealed off the area and called the police.

Due to the suspicious nature of the incident, the letter was sent to the State Department of Health in Albany for testing. As officials continue testing, the three rooms will remain sealed off.

“We should have the test results at the end of the week,” Grace-Kobas said.

Only two other suspicious materials from Cornell have been sent to Albany for testing but Kobas stresses that this testing is simply a safety precaution and does not indicate that this incident is an greater than previous scares.

Until the results are known, Gannett: Cornell University Health Services offered the three employees exposed to the letter medical consultation.

“Every time there’s a case, we take [the incident] very seriously,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations for Gannett.

Dittman noted how test results may be hindered at Albany due to the sheer mass of materials inundated at the Health Center’s offices.

“They get thousands of [suspicious materials] from all over the state. It always takes longer when testing is involved,” Dittman said.

However, no testing was required for the incident that occurred hours later in Olin Library.

Around 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon, University workers in room 110, the circulation department room of Olin Library found a “wrapped journal” covered in a white powder. Grace-Kobas notes that the room was never formally sealed off however workers, “just stayed in the room,” said Grace-Kobas. Workers there later checked with the journal’s sender and found that the powder was a common packing material used to protect delicate materials.

Dittman stresses that the entire Cornell community, including the Olin library workers, have access to consultation services at Gannett and luckily no one has come to their offices with physical ailments from the scares.

“We haven’t had anybody that has had serious medical implications,” Dittman said.

The Warren Hall incident caused confusion among all who use the building and were unsure of the situation.

“There were a lot of stories going around. Some people said they found anthrax. I didn’t know what to believe,” said Dre Simmons ’04, who attends her regular human development class in the building’s auditorium.

Some students found their classes in Warren canceled for the day as professors had the option to suspend the day or allow their classes to continue.

“[Canceling class] is up to the professors,” Grace-Kobas said. She noted that the faculty members affected received a notice informing them of the situation and that it was regulated to Warren Hall’s first floor. Professors for an Applied Economics and Management class and a Communications class decided to cancel their classes for the day causing students to suspect that all classes in the building were canceled.

“I heard someone mention that the area had been closed,” said Lauren Kennish ’02 whose class met on the other side of Warren Hall. “No one [in the class] seemed to know about [the incident],” Kennish added describing that due to the calm nature of the workers around the area no one in the building had cause for alarm.

“Rumors spread fast so it’s perfectly understandable that people would have cause for concern,” Dittman said.

In order to calm these fears, the University released an alert to the entire Cornell community to describe the incidents and place these two incidents in perspective. Entitled “Campus Update On Received Mail” the letter detailed the incidents and discussed the previous undisclosed scares at Cornell.

“Prior to today’s incidents there have been more than thirty reports of suspicious mail or materials on the Cornell campus. All have been thoroughly investigated by the EHS,” as stated in the e-mail to the Cornell community from Andy Garcia-Rivera, director of the EHS, William Boice, director of the CUPD and Janet Corson-Rikert, director of Gannett. Dittman adds that these previous cases were not fully disclosed to cover them up but because they are commonly resolved quickly.

“[The previous cases] we’re worth arousing fear. Most took place in individual offices,” Dittman said. She adds that because of the number of previous suspicions, that have all come back negative, these two incidents will be just as thoroughly investigated. Also, Dittman and the University alert stress that anyone concerned or distressed by the attacks can contact Gannett and other services any time, day or night.

“We don’t want people to manage their anxiety alone,” Dittman said.

Archived article by Carlos Perkins