I arrived at work this morning, as I do most every morning, shortly after 7am. I'm a morning person, and I like to leave early. I work for a Department of Defense contractor in Bailey's Crossroads, Virginia, as a software engineer, so my schedule is pretty flexible.
Today was more or less a normal Monday. It started slowly as everyone shook off the cobwebs from the weekend. Perhaps more slowly than usual, as we had a company happy hour the previous Friday, and the water cooler discussion was more animated than usual. As 3pm rolled around, I got ready to leave, eager to return home and do some more packing for my move this weekend (into the condo I just bought, but that's another story). I stopped for a few minutes to talk to our team lead about some things, both work-related and not.
And then I walked downstairs to the parking garage, eager to start my evening. I opened the door to the garage and was met with yellow police tape stretched across the door.
"What the heck is going on?" I wondered. "Was there an accident? Are they doing construction?" I checked the other door, and there was more police tape. As I stood there, looking around, trying to locate the horrific danger that the police tape was protecting me from, I was accosted by a policeman wearing a gas mask.
"Sir," He said, politely but forcefully, "Close the door and go back upstairs." His voice was surprisingly clear and natural through the creepy thing attached to his face. I was understandably a little curious and worried, but I did as he said. He opened the door behind me and repeated his order to me and the other two men waiting for the elevator back up. He offered no explanation.
I returned to my office to announce that we were trapped. As the hours wore on, we were slowly informed of the reason for our captivity. First I heard there was a "biological threat" in the building. This vague warning was of little comfort. Later, they told us it might be anthrax, the same reason the Pentagon mail room had been evacuated earlier in the day. This was of even less comfort.
Finally, we got an explanation that seemed as thorough as one is likely to get in such a situation: something had set off a sensor in the mail room, six floors above my office. This sensor is designed to alert people in the event of a "biological agent", which in this case, we were told, was suspected to be anthrax. No conclusive positive identification had been made, but we were quarantined as a precaution.
At about 7pm, we were told to wash our hands and faces and prepare to leave. At 9pm, we were actually allowed to exit the building. We had to fill out a form with our name and contact information, and were given another form, instructing us to go directly home, take all the clothes we were wearing and seal them in a plastic bag, and take a shower. We were instructed to "take care not to shake [our] clothes or generate excessive air movement" while disrobing.
And now here I am, showered and in clean clothes, wondering many things. Do I have anthrax? Probably not. Will I be able to get into the building tomorrow? Maybe, but again, probably not. Will I be applying the extra five hours I was in the office today to my timesheet on Thursday? Absolutely. Are policemen wearing gas masks to filter the very air you're breathing a little disconcerting? To a lesser man, certainly. Would I have been happier today if my office wasn't surrounded by FBI agents wearing "Terrorist Task Force" jackets? Yes.
And such are the perils of working for the DOD. The money's good, the hours are good, but the perks sometimes leave a bit to be desired.