By Emily Senger
A suspicious envelope and a staff member’s sudden unexplained illness in the Biological Sciences building prompted a mandatory evacuation Thu., Sept. 29. City emergency services, including the hazardous materials team, were also called to the scene to quarantine the building.
Three hundred students and staff were evacuated from Biological Sciences and eight others were decontaminated for possible contact with unknown chemicals before the suspected terrorist threat was attributed to a case of the stomach flu and a commonplace letter.
“Shortly after 11 o’clock in the morning we received a medical assistance call,” explained Director of Campus Security Lanny Fritz. “Two of our officers went into Biological Sciences in the main administration office and found a faculty member who had became sick quite suddenly.”
The staff member told Campus Security he opened a suspicious letter five to 10 minutes before the onset of his illness, which prompted the Campus Security officers to act.
“We called the city ambulance and after we explained the situation, their concern was there was potential for a chemical exposure,” said Fritz.
As a result, the building was evacuated using the fire alarm. When city emergency services arrived on the scene eight other people were also decontaminated by taking a shower, according to Fritz.
Upon examination, the letter was determined to be the workings of a religious fanatic from North York, Ontario, rather than a terrorist mastermind, and the building was reopened later that evening.
“The letter in question is one we now know that has been sent to several faculty members–up to one year ago in one case,” said Fritz. “At this point we believe the letter has no connection to the incident.”
According to Fritz, authorities have spoken with the individual responsible for the letter, but since sending mail is not a crime, no further action will be taken.
The evacuation left hundreds of students confused when they were forced from the building in what seemed, at first, like a standard fire drill.
“Nobody really knew what was going on,” said Jason Moore, a fourth year Zoology major who was evacuated from the building during his lab. “There was the hazardous materials team from the Calgary Fire Department and a lot of other fire trucks. I thought that there might be a real fire.”
Students and university staff were informed later in the day of the reason for the evacuation via email.
Fritz explained that any suspicious packages at the university should be handled with care.
“People should not open anything up if they deem the package to be suspicious,” said Fritz. “They should call Campus Security and we’ll take care of it.”
For Campus Security, suspicious mail includes packages with improper addresses, no return address or packages which are unnaturally heavy or oily.