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The white powder scare at an Arizona TV station
By Natalie Tejeda
Lately the newscasts at KYMA, and those across the nation, have
been full of anthrax scares. But on Monday, November 15th our
own station was evacuated after a receptionist found a white
powder in an envelope. We are not a large station, we have approximately
60 people working there. But for 5 hours everyone was evacuated
from the building. Some were quarantined and given sponge baths,
others just sat around and waited for clearance to leave or
re-enter the building.
In the meantime, what was airing on our channel was the CNN
feed, but with only one channel of audio playing. I work in
the bureau and we were totally in the dark about the situation
at our mother station. We thought there might be a problem because
of what was playing on our channel. But no one was answering
When we finally did reach our general manager we were informed
to not open our mail and standby in case we were able to broadcast
our 6 o'clock show. At 5:40 our station was given clearance
to re-enter the building and we went on air at 6. Our newscast
focused on what happened at our station and I was extremely
impressed at how fast our team pulled together and went to air.
The aftermath has left our front entrance closed off until lab
results come back, all of our mail has to be opened in a special
air tight box and everyone is being tested for anthrax exposure.
In totality it seems like a malicious joke was played at our
expense and at the expense of emergency crews who spent hours
checking our station and employees. But in these times where
real anthrax cases have popped up at major networks, we had
to take every precaution to ensure the safety of everyone employed
BY Phil Shuman
The phone call came on my direct line at 13;52 on a Tuesday.
"This is Brenda, from the Nevada Test Site, I wanted to know
if you were going to order the box lunch for tomorrow. It’s
$ 5.25. ". Assured it was of the highest quality, I quickly
agreed… thanking her, hanging up.
Wow I thought, the world is imploding, we can’t keep deadly
bacteria from killing us, the threat of more terror lingers
in the air, yet our government has the lunch situation taken
care of! Well, victory in small things. But let me tell you,
the trip to the "Nevada Test Site’’ was well worth it, lunch
For the past two years, the Feds, under the Dept. of Energy
and something relatively new called the National Nuclear Security
Administration, have been running a Weapons of Mass Destruction
Terrorism Response Domestic Preparedness Program. That’s a mouthful,
but what it means is that there is a training ground in the
vast desert about 90 miles north of Las Vegas which teaches
so called ‘first responders’ how to save lives, how to respond
to and deal with the chaos that follows any kind of terrorist
strike. It is a most imposing and remote location. More than
an hour on a chartered bus. Several security checkpoints. About
as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get, it’s a sprawling
chunk of land literally the size of Rhode Island that for much
of the past 50 years had the distinction of being used as the
one and only continental test site for nuclear bombs.
The history is impressive. I know because we watched a documentary
on the site on the buses video screens on the way out. So those
warning signs telling of radioactive material buried below ground??
They’re real. But since we don’t test nuclear bombs much anymore,
the site’s mission was changed. Now those "first responders"
from around the country, fire departments, police departments,
emergency management technicians, Haz Mat teams, bomb squads
etc. etc. etc. can come here for state of the art training.
They are put through various staged emergency scenarios under
the expert direction of one-time soldiers, police officers,
even the former Las Vegas fire chief. It is intense, it is stressful.
it is totally realistic, right down to the explosion at the
mock nuclear testing facility and the subsequent radiation contamination
or the chemical spill from a real tanker.
They even once grew a form of anthrax here and challenged our
intelligence agencies to come by and see if they could detect
it in the air. And that’s just the stuff they talked about.
The counter terrorism training , the special weapons teams that
learn here? They won’t even acknowledge that. But let’s just
say the rocky desert and mountain terrain looks a lot like what
we’ve seen in the pictures from Afghanistan.
At any rate, after the Los Angeles Times did a most fascinating
story on this so called ‘’boot camp’’, the phones started ringing
in Vegas, and so the public relations folks thought they’d arrange
a media tour for anyone who wanted to come, which is how I got
there. (How else do you think we get our story ideas if not
for the papers ? )
For EXTRA, this was a perfect story to supplement what our viewers
have been seeing on the news, so along with ABC News, Inside
Edition, some European TV outlet with a home video camera, and
a few print reporters and photogs from Seattle, Denver, and
San Francisco, we left for our adventure at 7; 30 am sharp.
Believe me, the government doesn’t readily welcome us so called
journalists, never mind cameras, into their secret desert bases
(Area 51 was just over the hills), but here they had something
they wanted to publicize. Why?
First to try to increase business for their program, which already
is booming in the wake of September 11th, second, to demonstrate
to the public that this type of training is in fact going on
so we’ll feel a little more secure, and third to do a little
lobbying. Nevada’s Democratic Senator Harry Reid recently visited
and was so impressed he proposed to President Bush that they
increase the funding for the test site and create the first
National Center for Combating Terrorism. It just might happen.
After a day on and off the bus, in and out of trailers for briefings,
we spent hours in the field watching SWAT teams, paramedics,
the bomb squads, and their colleagues practice for the real
thing, just as news from the other side of the country that
CBS and Dan Rather became the latest victims of terror were
beeping on our two way pagers.
When it was over, even us cynical members of the press corp
, handled with kid gloves and cared for all day long, were impressed.
Which is a good thing, because the training these folks are
getting today might save a life tomorrow. That’s a good thing.
And in case you’re wondering, the turkey sandwich, apple, and
cookie were excellent.
Phil Shuman is a reporter for the nationally syndicated news
magazine program "EXTRA". He also hosts a talk radio show on
Sundays from 4 to 6pm on KABC AM 790 in Los Angeles and invites
Passing for Normal
By New Yorker Mathew Tombers
The New York Times has devoted itself to helping us understand
and make sense of events that have overwhelmed us since September
11. Russia and the United States are acting like the allies
they were during the Second World War and Bush is being cozy
with the Chinese.
Relationships that were not possible before September 11 have
become possible, an aftereffect perhaps not taken into account
by Bin Laden. A commentator today said that the U.S./Russia
relationship was evolving on an hourly basis in ways that would
have been unthinkable six weeks ago.
The whole world is attempting to adapt to a new state and the
newspapers and the radio and television are saturated with efforts
to help us cope in our new state. New Yorkers, accustomed to
feeling at least disliked if not hated by nearly every other
American, find themselves deeply touched by the ongoing support
from every where in the country and around the world.
Our days begin now with a recounting of new statistics we would
never have thought we’d be giving. There are so many confirmed
dead, so many dead identified, so many listed as missing, so
many hundreds of thousands of tons of debris taken to Fresh
Kills landfill on Staten Island, so many thousands of tons of
steel taken into New Jersey. Traffic is slowed down at this
or that place because there are vehicle searches underway and
Single Occupant Vehicles are allowed to enter Manhattan below
63rd only after ten. Loud noises cause us to jump and we look
over our shoulders. We follow cars with sirens with our eyes,
and there are more cars with sirens now. Where have all the
black sedans and SUV’s come from?
We are getting back to living our lives, though our lives are
not what they were before September 11. On a visit to Lifetime
an executive told me about the box of latex gloves she had just
purchased for opening mail, a precaution that would have seemed
silly six weeks ago seems perfectly logical in a town that today
announced its sixth case of anthrax infection. It has been the
week of Anthrax. Seems like a case or two a day.
Is this my world? We might have to go back to having small pox
vaccinations. And there are idiots out there mailing parmesan
cheese to their friends thinking it will be a funny joke. That
one cost something like $300,000 to get straightened out.
I’m not sure the man who did it is going to find it very funny
in jail, which is where his local authorities want to send him.
An ad agency has just published a white paper: The Impact of
Anthrax on Direct Mail.
We are making efforts to joke about things. At a restaurant
yesterday the group next to me made reference to Manhattan as
"Anthrax Island." We are attempting to laugh and make light
of our situation. Getting around the city remains the occasional
nightmare beyond what it normally is because of all the odd
things that keep happening, odd things we have begun to accept
as part of our lives.
Going on the six train uptown to meet friends, the small group
standing next to me talked about how difficult it was to get
down to work that morning. The six train didn’t run for an hour
and a half that morning. Why? There was a police action, that’s
all they knew. And there are a lot of police actions these days.
Yet, I am amazed at how much grace the guys in blue show, day
after day after day, working twelve hour shifts six days a week.
Down at Canal Street yesterday an officer teased a small crowd
into responsibility. It was amazing, it was delightful. It brought
tears to my eyes.
I went downtown to Exchange Place yesterday for a meeting and,
by God, Wall Street seems almost normal, once you get it into
your head that there are soldiers as well as police on the streets
and they are just part of the fabric of our lives now.
Leaving a meeting at HBO yesterday something like a dozen policemen
marched into the building and everyone on the way out glanced
at them anxiously and searched their faces to get a read. Were
they tense? Were they smiling? Why were they here? Probably
not to just get out of the chill autumn air outside… They looked
pretty relaxed, I thought, and that made me more comfortable
but I still watched the news that night to see if there was
anything about HBO on television. There wasn’t. And yet we keep
on going, the streets above 14th seem full and lively and people
are laughing again, even with Anthrax.
The city is still more civil than it has been. We have been
good with one another. I had lunch yesterday with my friend
Asif whose family originally hails from Bangladesh. I asked
him if he had any trouble and he said: no, only once. Someone
on the subway had called him a [Anglo Saxon expletive deleted]
Muslim. But other than that, nothing. Which is better than he
expected. And, for the most part, people here are being respectful
of people of Asian origin and Muslim belief. The record is not
perfect but better than I expected.
Tenants of a building organized a watch over the Afghan man
who sells coffee from his cart in front their building. They
were determined to see to his safety. Business was down so people
left him extra money. The story filled me with joy. Asif told
me that he and his wife were celebrating that part of the Calder
sculpture, The Propeller, had been found. It had stood in the
WTC Plaza and they had spent warm summer nights at jazz concerts
in front of it. But down here in SoHo, where we live, the restaurants
are sparsely filled and TriBeCa is pretty nearly empty my friends
A coalition has been formed to promote business and to get people
back down town. Reading the New York Times an article discussed
the fact we are getting used to all of this. We are beginning
to accept that there is the possibility of our planes being
taken down, of bombs, of anthrax and worse forms of bio terror
that might come. We are factoring these into our lives. A way
of life has passed out of this city and another one is beginning
to replace it. It is what we now call, passing for normal. Passes
for normal is all we have right now. How am I doing? Passing
The Smell; I'll never forget it
By Bruce Brodoff
It's been seven weeks since the Twin Towers were destroyed,
and there are signs that the City is beginning to recover. The
"frozen zone" around the site shrinks a bit more every few days,
opening more streets to pedestrians and vehicles. Shuttered
businesses are beginning to reopen, the hotel and restaurant
business is beginning to pick up, the financial markets are
operating, and the Yankees are on their way to another World
The warm Indian summer brought out the strollers and outdoor
enthusiasts. It is now sometimes possible to forget what happened
on that awful day. And then the smell hits you.
It is an odor so strong, so repulsive, and so frightening -
even after seven weeks -- that it defies description. I've heard
the smell described as "burning Coke cans", "burning tires"
and "burning wire," but these descriptions just don't do justice
to the stench and what it represents. To me, the odor rising
from the destruction smells like the physical manifestation
of EVIL. I feel like I'm inhaling the very essence of the Devil
itself with each breath. The stench is almost visible, and I
don't mean because you can still see smoke rising from the crater.
It is "visible" down in the subway, as your morning train approaches
the Brooklyn Bridge station.
Sitting on the train, another groggy commute, lost in your thoughts
or nodding off. Then it hits, like a punch in the face, reminding
you that these are no longer routine mornings. There is a near
unanimous reaction among fellow straphangers: The recoiling
noses, the reaching for tissues or handkerchiefs, the solemn
internal thoughts. It is "visible" during office meetings, or
during lunch or dinner, or when taking a walk or working out,
when the wind shifts and once again sends smoke your way.
No matter what you are doing, the smell stops you in your tracks
and puts one overpowering thought back into your head: "Oh,
yeah, the freakin' Twin Towers were destroyed." I find that
it is most "visible" when it is pitch black outside, when I
am awakened in the middle of the night by a good whiff of the
smoke that has been carried by the breeze blowing off the harbor.
As I lay half-asleep, my eyes closed, the acrid smell irritating
my throat and lungs, I feel as though I can "see" the evil forces
that perpetrated this attack. The odor is a constant, monstrous
presence, tangible evidence of the dark side, a real-life bogeyman
that is not just under the bed but all around you, 24/7. I'm
hoping that the odor will finally disappear once the fires under
the rubble are extinguished and the site is cleared.
But I fear that even after the last traces of the former World
Trade Center are removed, even after the new buildings and parks
and memorials are built, after this horrible day is as firmly
implanted in the history books and as long ago as Pearl Harbor
is, that this odor will still linger. Maybe not as a permanent
presence, but one that rears its ugly head at the most unsuspecting
moments, disrupting business meetings, picnics and concerts,
shopping sprees and commutes home, forever reminding all of
what happened that day and what was lost.