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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 28, 2007

Biohazard system delivers at Honolulu airport post office

Photo galleryPhoto gallery: Postal Service employees test biohazard detection system
Video: Emergency response to mock anthrax scare

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Honolulu firefighter Ricardo Zapata scrubs down R. Witt, a postal inspector, at the U.S. Postal Service's main facility at Honolulu International Airport. The Postal Service's biohazard detection system was introduced after the Sept. 11 attacks.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Welles Hodgson walked out of a decontamination area yesterday dripping wet but satisfied that the U.S. Postal Service's biohazard detection system seemed to work at least in a mock drill.

Hodgson, an industrial engineer at the Postal Service's main facility at Honolulu International Airport, was one of five men who were hosed down by a fire crew, stripped, tagged, decontaminated and checked out medically as if the biohazard detection system had found a letter containing anthrax.

"It went very well," Hodgson said, "very smooth."

Nearly 200 postal employees evacuated the facility at 2:15 p.m. yesterday as alarms rang and the sound of a recorded woman's voice announced an evacuation.

The new alarm was distinctive, Hodgson said, because most of the other recorded announcements feature male voices.

The drill involving 14 federal, state and local firefighters, police, sheriffs deputies, health officials and others was the second phase of a test of the Postal Service's biohazard detection system, which was introduced after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The system collects air samples as mail moves through a machine that uses DNA matching to detect anthrax. The system had its first test in Honolulu in 2005.

A third test will attempt to track the source of the mock anthrax-tainted mail, said Doug Aton, homeland security coordinator for the Honolulu district's U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Yesterday, dozens of postal workers were treated as if they might have been exposed to anthrax and state Department of Health workers ran them through a series of questions.

But Russell James, the Hale'iwa postmaster, found himself as one of the volunteers to be hosed down and stripped.

The process also went smoothly for James, he said. But he did have one request.

"That water was cold, really cold," he said. "It definitely could have been warmer."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.