May­hem at DVA

Bomb threat causes con­fu­sion, fright as employees have no guidance

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY NIGEL ARM­STRONG go on­line Get the lat­est up­dates to this story www.the­guardian.pe.ca

May­hem reigned as employees at Veter­ans Af­fairs Canada tried to cope with ru­mours of a bomb in their build­ing Wed­nes­day.

“A per­son came through our area yelling ‘get out, get out, there is a bomb’,” said Jody LaPierre, ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the Union of Veter­ans Af­fairs Employees.

He was in the build­ing at the time and said a sense of up­set started to grow among employees around 11 a.m. Wed­nes­day.

“We never heard any fire alarm,” said LaPierre. “Some­one said later they heard the fire alarm where they were it but it didn’t go off in our area.”

He said peo­ple be­gan to leave based only on the ru­mour, some knock­ing on closed doors to warn oc­cu­pants of what was go­ing on, some start­ing to cry. There was no email or mes­sage of warn­ing, no phone or broad­cast mes­sage.

“There were some peo­ple that were very, very up­set. Other peo­ple were treat­ing it like a joke.”

LaPierre is on the build­ing’s health and safety com­mit­tee so he knew this wasn’t a planned drill.

“It just so hap­pens they are work­ing on a pro­ce­dure to fol­low for bomb scares but it’s not done yet,” he said.

The nearly 700 staff treated the event like a fire drill and as­sem­bled out­side.

“They came out and told us to move away from the front of the build­ing, so we went across the street,” said LaPierre.

Then frus­tra­tion and anger be­gan to set in.

“There were peo­ple there with no coat, no keys to their car, purses left, cell­phones left,” he said.

About noon a mes­sage came via cell­phones, ad­vis­ing staff to seek shel­ter from the cold in nearby build­ings, like the Mur­phy Cen­tre, the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cen­tre or the mall.

Later a mes­sage went out to call the DVA storm tele­phone line for up­dates but all that said was the build­ing was closed, call back Thurs­day for the next up­date, said LaPierre.

Employees that car pool are al­lowed to park in the un­der­ground park­ing lot. Some of them fran­ti­cally asked LaPierre what they should do to get home but he didn’t have an an­swer.

“Com­mu­ni­ca­tion was very poor,” he said.

Later dis­cus­sion with se­cu­rity sug­gested employees keep re­ceipts for any costs in­curred from the lock­down and get­ting home, likely with the pos­si­bil­ity of sub­mit­ting them to get money back, said LaPierre.

He did see pedes­tri­ans walk­ing past the build­ing in the very place employees had all been told to leave. He saw chil­dren still around a day care in the Zion church right next door.

He also saw some employees darting into the un­der­ground park­ing lot to get their cars and leave while the lock­down was still on.

“With the way things are to­day, I think you have to take this (se­ri­ously),” he said.

Gary McGuigan, deputy chief of oper­a­tions for Char­lot­te­town Po­lice Ser­vices Po­lice said of­fi­cers ar­rived and did an ini­tial sweep of the build­ing with the DVA se­cu­rity staff.

That sweep turned up noth­ing but just to be sure, a re­quest was sent for a po­lice dog from Monc­ton that is trained in sniff­ing for ex­plo­sives, said McGuigan.

The New Brunswick po­lice dog ar­rived, as did a P.E.I.-based dog and the two set to work sniff­ing through the DVA build­ing.

That ended about 3 p.m. with noth­ing found and mo­ments later a bomb threat was called into the nearby Jean Can­field fed­eral build­ing.

It is home to a va­ri­ety of fed­eral depart­ment of­fices but pri­mar­ily is spill-over of­fice space for DVA employees.

Tele­phone calls to the Jean Can­field build­ing go through the main DVA build­ing that was still in lock­down, said LaPierre.

He said the sec­ond threat makes it seem to be from some­one with knowl­edge of how DVA works.

Staff at the Can­field build­ing also went home for the day af­ter that call came in. The two po­lice dogs also went through that build­ing.

Noth­ing was found at ei­ther fed­eral build­ing so now anal­y­sis be­gins to see if the call can be traced and a sus­pect iden­ti­fied, Char­lot­te­town Po­lice Ser­vices told The Guardian.

NIGEL ARM­STRONG/THE GUARDIAN

Po­lice of­fi­cers from Char­lot­te­town Po­lice Ser­vices meet in the back park­ing lot of the Jean Can­field fed­eral build­ing in Char­lot­te­town Wed­nes­day af­ter vis­ually sweep­ing the ex­te­rior. A bomb threat against the build­ing came in around 3:30 p.m., the sec­ond such threat of the day.

HEATHER TAWEEL/THE GUARDIAN

Po­lice ve­hi­cles block the back en­trance on Kent Street to the Veter­ans Af­fairs Canada head­quar­ters build­ing just af­ter 11 a.m. Wed­nes­day. Of­fi­cers were re­spond­ing to a bomb scare at the build­ing.

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