October 18, 2013

City, FBI confirm unsubstantiated threat to Wichita water system, others ‘in this area’

FBI officials say they’re taking “very seriously” a threat against water systems in Wichita and three other cities “in this area.”

FBI officials say they’re taking “very seriously” a threat against water systems in Wichita and three other cities “in this area.”

However, the threat has not been substantiated by FBI investigators, FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said from Kansas City on Friday morning.

“The city’s water is safe to drink,” city spokesman Van Williams said. “If that changes, the public and the media will be notified immediately.”

Meanwhile, city officials said security has been beefed up and residents are asked to remain vigilant in the wake of the threat, which apparently is several days old. Officials did not provide details about the threat or name the other cities.

“Whenever a threat like this comes in, it’s something we take very seriously,” Patton said.

Police spokesman Doug Nolte said the city was advised about the threat late Thursday morning by the FBI. It became public Friday morning after The Eagle obtained two internal city e-mails about it.

In the first e-mail, sent just before 10 a.m. Friday to city employees, city water distribution manager Elizabeth Owens wrote, “A specific threat has been made that mentions four cities, one of which is Wichita, related to the water distribution systems. Please tell your employees to be extra vigilant over the next 30 days about anything they see hooked up to a fire hydrant. If it does not look right, they should call 911, then let you or me know.”

“What you had with that e-mail was some city employees trying to be vigilant after the initial information,” Nolte said.

Billie Vines, another city water manager, followed Owens’ e-mail with an e-mail to the broader plumbing community, advising them to call police or the city if they saw “someone messing with a fire hydrant or vent pipe who is not a Public Works or Fire Dept. employee and does not have the hot pink ‘2013 bulkwater’ permit sticker on the back of their water tank.” Vines also asked for a “picture, tag #, company name.”

Patton said FBI officials received the threat, but couldn’t put a date on when it came in. She said the agency immediately involved local law enforcement and water officials, and FBI agents visited in person with Wichita water officials.

Some of the city’s medical facilities, which rely on water for much of their operations, were apparently unaware of the threat to the water system.

Wesley Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Burchill said she was not aware of it.

Officials at Fresenius Medical Care, a kidney dialysis facility on Wichita’s east side, learned of the threat from The Eagle at midday Friday, even though law enforcement authorities have the clinic’s contact numbers.

The official said that the clinic monitors its water carefully, so any intrusion of bacteria or other pollutants would be caught immediately.

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