Thursday, 23 October 2008

Yesterday's White Powder Scare: NYT Staff take showers (NYT)

Here's a more complete version of what happened yesterday at the NYT. Apparently it was all an unfortunate mix-up as various cold and other remedial powders had been shipped in by staff members to help them pull an all nighter preparing the Q3 Results for the following day.

Not what Ms. Mathis required either I should imagine, the eve of the big day.

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The lobby of The Times’s building, at 620 Eighth Avenue, was closed for several hours. It reopened after the substance was found to be harmless. (Photos: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

Workers investigating the substance donned hazardous materials suits.

October 22, 2008, 1:58 pm — Updated: 9:38 pm -->
Times Lobby Reopens; No Hazard Found
Sewell Chan AND Al Baker

Updated, 6:30 p.m. The lobby of The New York Times’s headquarters building in Midtown Manhattan was closed for nearly four hours on Wednesday after an employee opened an envelope that contained a suspicious substance, officials at the newspaper said.
The authorities determined the substance was not hazardous, and the lobby was reopened by 3:40 p.m. “We are glad that we can bring this unfortunate incident to a close,” Dennis L. Stern, senior vice president and deputy general manager of The Times, wrote in an e-mail message to employees.
Police officials said that three Times employees were asked to take showers as a precaution against contamination. The 13th floor, where the envelope was opened, was briefly evacuated, but around 2 p.m., employees on that floor were permitted to return to their offices, according to Catherine J. Mathis, a spokeswoman for The Times.
The letter was addressed to
Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor of The Times, according to Paul J. Browne, a spokesman for the Police Department. The address of The Times was hand-written and there was no return address.
“The white powder turned out to be some kind of pebbles,” said Mr. Browne, who noted that it was still being tested. He said the letter was initially “sealed up” by security personnel at The Times and that those security workers brought it to the lobby, which is likely what prompted the shuttering of the lobby.
Mr. Rosenthal’s executive secretary opened the envelope, and a white powdery substance came out of it, the authorities said.
“It was deemed to be non-hazardous minerals,” Mr. Browne said. “They do field tests and then they do later exams, but the initial testing indicated nonhazardous minerals.”
The envelope was post-marked in Florida, Mr. Browne said, though he could not say what city. Inside the envelope, Mr. Browne said, was what appeared to be a page from a child’s penmanship book. Nothing was written on it.
The secretary and two other Times employees, including a mailroom worker, were being decontaminated as a precaution, Mr. Browne said. As part of the decontamination, the workers had to bag their clothing and take showers.
Mr. Stern told employees in an e-mail message at 12:24 p.m.:
At about 11:30 a.m. today an employee on the 13th floor of our headquarters building in New York opened an envelope addressed to The New York Times. A white granular substance was in the envelope. The New York City police were called and are now on site investigating. The 41st Street side of the lobby is closed but people are able to get in and out of the building. We will keep you updated on any developments.
Employees at The Times were instructed over the public address system to use the building’s freight elevators and loading dock to exit or enter, while the lobby remained closed.
“No evacuation is necessary,” security officers at The Times announced, repeatedly, over the building’s public-address system. (After hearing one such announcement, the writer and playwright
Mois├ęs Kaufman, who was giving a talk to Times employees on the 15th floor of the building, quipped, “If I have to stay here, I want a salary.”)
Designed by the architect
Renzo Piano, The Times’s building, at 620 Eighth Avenue, between 40th and 41st Streets, officially opened in November 2007, but the newspaper began moving into its offices there several months earlier.
On Oct. 12, 2001, The Times
briefly closed its offices, then located at 229 West 43rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, after a reporter, Judith Miller, opened an envelope and released a talclike powder. The newsroom was evacuated and the police temporarily sealed off the building, but tests found no dangerous elements in the powder.
Ms. Mathis said that since then, there have been several other cases of suspicious materials being sent to The Times. None turned out to be harmful.

Police officers in the lobby of The Times, which was closed for nearly four hours.


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