Anthrax makes opening mail a new concern
Recent concerns about the safety of mail due to biological terrorism and the mailing of the bacteria anthrax have had minimal effect on Blair but have opened up new concern for the possibility of hoaxes.
Although Blair is an unlikely target, the concern of possible Anthrax threats has made Principal Gainous's secretary, Mrs. Avery uneasy. "I'm looking at the return addresses a little bit more now," she says.
Main office secretaries Julie Rivera and Carrie Adison try not to be concerned about the bacteria but are glad that teachers open their own mail. "If I don't have to touch it, I won't," Rivera says, laughing nervously.
Although the main office secretaries who handle the mail have expressed concern, the likelihood of a school becoming a target for biological warfare is highly unlikely. "They have targets and as big as [Principal] Gainous is, I don't think that it's going to be a problem," says Avery.
Paul Schaudies, division manager for biological and chemical defense at Science Applications International Corporation, says that it would be difficult for terrorists to target schools using their present techniques because students are separate from the mail. The anthrax has also not been used to kill a lot of people, striking instead at small numbers in high publicity areas such as the political and media centers.
According to the Washington Post, the only danger that schools must be aware of is the possibility of student-initiated pranks. These hoaxes, officials warn, whether intended as harmless jokes or malicious acts, will be treated as crimes. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge at an October 18 press round table warned possible pranksters of the consequences of hoaxes and the harsh retribution of law officials against them. "We are going to go after these people and I hope we get a ton of them. I hope we throw them in jail, and we ought to throw away the key."
In Florida, authorities have charged a 17-year-old who allegedly spread powdered headache medicine in his classroom in hopes that school would be canceled. This student, like many others, is now facing the possibility of jail due to increasing anger toward any actions which draw resources away from actual anthrax cases.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Republican Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist created a $10,000 reward for tips leading to convictions of false bomb, fire, or anthrax threats.
According to the Washington Post, legal experts said the tough stance is intended to deter malicious criminals and would-be practical jokers who might not realize how a false alarm can blossom into a full-scale response by law enforcement.
Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler warns of the usual legal difficulties of prosecuting criminals of hoaxes, but the heightened awareness of security and nationalism has made anthrax hoaxes much more unacceptable in the eyes of the law. "In criminal law, you look to the harm caused, and this is preying on people's worst hears. You wouldn't normally put them behind bars, but in this climate, you might," he says.
Although anthrax has become an issue of media frenzy and national concern, Schaudies says that anthrax should be a cause for "prudence, not fear."
Annie Peirce. Annie Peirce is a senior in the Communications Arts Program and the public relations manager for Silver Chips. She is also an opinions editor for Silver Chips Online. She was born on October 25, 1984, in a hospital somewhere in Prince George's County; but doesn't … More »