Berkeley’s Alta Bates Medical Center was one of several Bay Area hospitals that responded Wednesday night to a vague FBI warning of a possible terrorist attack at local hospitals.
The threat extended to four cities – San Francisco, Houston, Chicago and Washington D.C. – and provided no specifics, suggesting only inexact possibilities of anthrax or explosives striking medical facilities during the holiday season.
“We’re taking the threat seriously,” said Alta Bates spokesperson Carolyn Kemp.
The hospital, with two campuses in Berkeley and one in Oakland, sent out a memo Thursday notifying its employees of the FBI warning and asking them to re-familiarize themselves with the hospital’s disaster plan.
“By nature of who we are and what we do, we’re trained to handle disasters and emergencies,” Kemp assured.
Kemp added that the FBI’s warning coincided with an already-planned emergency drill, coordinated by state health officials Thursday.
The drill tested the hospital’s ability to respond to detonation of a “dirty bomb,” a low-tech explosive packed with radioactive materials and designed to spread over a wide area.
“This [type of preparation exercise] is something we do regularly,” Kemp said. “We’ve been on a heightened state of alert for the past 11/2 years.”
FBI officials say Wednesday’s warning was prompted by unconfirmed information from overseas intelligence sources that hospitals in four U.S. cities may be terrorist targets.
“[At this point] the threat is unsubstantiated and uncorroborated,” explained Pat Hansen, a spokesperson for the San Francisco FBI bureau. Hansen said that until the threat was substantiated, the FBI would not release further details.
The FBI, working with local law enforcement authorities, continues to address terrorist threats in the Bay Area and put proper protections into place, FBI officials said.
The warnings represent a balance between freely dispensing information and not alarming the public with unreliable threats, FBI officials said.