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GSU awaits test results on suspicious powder
Lewis Hall closed until testing complete; response policy under review
010511 HAZ MAT SCARE 04 web
HazMat team members prepare to enter Lewis Hall at Georgia Southern Univeristy Wednesday after an envelope containing a suspicious white powder was found. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

As Georgia Southern University officials await test results to learn more about a suspicious white powder found Tuesday at Lewis Hall, they are also reviewing policy and procedures regarding the way such suspicious incidents are handled.

The mysterious substance was sent to a lab in Decatur for further testing Thursday morning after Georgia National Guard HazMat agents tested it on site Wednesday.

Inclement weather prevented them from flying the substance to a lab near Atlanta after they removed it from Lewis Hall around 11 p.m. Wednesday, said Betsy Nolen, GSU Assistant Director of Communications. "Georgia Southern Public Safety officials expect to receive the results of the testing either late today or potentially tomorrow. "

As of Thursday evening, GSU officials had received no word of the test results.

The substance was discovered Tuesday when an employee of the admissions office in Lewis Hall opened a package containing the suspicious white stuff. No one reported the find immediately, but after one person was reported to be ill Wednesday, someone notified GSU Police, said GSU Police Chief Mike Russell.

Test results from the Georgia Public Health Laboratory in Decatur were not available Thursday. A spokesman at that facility said the Federal Bureau of Investigation would release the results when tests were concluded. Calls placed to the FBI media relations agent were not returned Thursday.

Although reporting the suspicious white substance immediately would likely have been wise, Russell said there is no specific policy regarding university employee response to suspicious packages and substances. However, there is an emergency response plan made available to employees.

Officials are reviewing possible changes and updates to the plan, as it could be outdated, he said.

"A lot of the response (information in the plan) is archaic," he said. "We will have a debriefing next week" to discuss changes to the emergency response plan.

The plan is separate from the Public Safety Department response to emergency situations, but is a "flip chart" which employees are to refer to in cases of emergency, Nolen said. "It is a tool for us to know what to do" in emergencies.

Russell said changes and additions to the plan may include specific response procedures for suspicious substances, packages and other items.

The Lewis Hall employees who first opened the package Tuesday "didn't think anything of it" until a worker who handled the package became ill the next day, he said.
Upon receiving the report Wednesday morning around 9 a.m., GSU Public Safety and University Police responded, along with several other agencies including the Statesboro Fire Department, Bulloch County Fire Department, and Statesboro Police.

A number of other emergency response teams including Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia National Guard also responded later Wednesday.

HazMat agents secured Lewis Hall, quarantined the area, and questioned 44 employees, who were later made to disrobe, shower in a portable unit outside, and leave behind clothing, cell phones, purses and other personal items as they donned "disposable" clothing and boarded a bus to await being picked up by friends or family members.

Lewis Hall was still locked down Thursday as officials awaited word about the suspicious white substance. "Until testing is complete, Lewis Hall will continue to be closed," Nolen said.

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 912-489-9414.

 

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