Senate Evacuated for Nerve Gas Scare

The Senate was evacuated when a nerve gas alarm sounded last night. It turned out to be a false alarm.

Photo: Evacuees from the office building were taken to a nearby garage where they stayed for more than two hours. A U.S. Senate office building was evacuated Wednesday evening after a sensor detected the presence of a possible nerve agent, but it was later determined to be a false alarm, sources said.
Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said the building was “all clear” as footage from the scene showed the evacuees leaving the area where they had been gathered after the scare. Eight senators and more than 200 staffers were evacuated after alarms sounded at 7 p.m. in the attic of the Russell Senate Office Building, just north of the Capitol, Senate aides said.

Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said she couldn’t say whether it was powder, gas or liquid that was detected. It was more like “something in the air” in the building’s attic, which takes up an entire floor of the 658,000-square-foot building, she said. She added that a cleaning solvent could have falsely set off the sensor in the attic, which is used primarily as storage space.

During Desert Storm, our M-8 nerve agent detectors went off repeatedly, all for false alarms. Unfortunately, to be sensitive enough to sound before the agent is absorbed, they almost have to be sensitive enough to give false alarms.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    What is really needed in the Senate Office Bldg. is some gas to give the Senators some nerve to represent the people instead of themselves.

  2. highly imaginative and creative but also paranoid Ron says:

    Although it is unlikely and a bit far-fetched, it is remotely possible that this was not a false alarm but rather a reconnaissance mission or rehearsal to see what the emergency plan is. If all of the evacuees are congregated in the same, small site, then greater numbers may be vulnerable to an attack than if they were dispersed throughout a larger facility.

  3. Anderson says:

    Good one, Herb.

    I was going for one along the lines of “don’t you have to have a brain for nerve gas to work?” but Herb’s is better.

  4. Anderson says:

    Also good, Ron. Exactly the kind of thing Qaeda would do.

    Just like the practice of setting off one bomb, then another when emergency personnel arrive.

  5. McGehee says:

    There’s already too much gas in the Senate as it is.