Even before this week’s unprecedented siege of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump, which you can read about in the War Zone’s rolling coverage of the events as they unfolded, there were ominous indicators of what was to come. This included the discovery of pipe bombs in the vicinity of nearby Congressional office buildings earlier in the day, which had prompted evacuations, at least in part through underground tunnels. When the Capitol itself was breached, members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence, among others, were also ushered to safety via subterranean passageways.
These incidents highlighted the large tunnel network that lies under Capitol Hill, as well as other underground links throughout Washington, D.C. Many of these are used on a day-to-day basis just to conveniently get between government buildings without going outside, but, as was shown yesterday, they also have a clear value in helping people escape to safety during a crisis. Legislators had already been advised to make increased use of them on Jan. 6, simply to avoid encountering pro-Trump protesters.
When the first reports emerged of the evacuation of the Cannon House Office Building, as well as the Library of Congress’ James Madison Memorial Building, all of which are situated to the immediate southeast of the U.S. Capitol, the reasons were not immediately clear. While the focus of the world’s attention was on the crowds of Trump supporters preparing to storm the Capitol, the U.S. Capitol Police alerted the occupants of Cannon to the threat.
Without mentioning the specifics of the improvised explosive devices (IED), the Capitol Police urged the occupants of Cannon to remain calm and move “in a safe manner” to the exits, due to “police activity,” according to NBC Washington. Another message called upon the staffers to “close doors behind you but do not lock.”
“If you are in the Cannon Building, take visitors, escape hoods, and Go Kits and report to the South tunnel connecting to the Longworth Building,” Capitol Police also told staff there, according to NBC News reporter Scott MacFarlane.
NEW: US Capitol Police warning to Cannon House Office Bldg staff: “If you are in the Cannon Building, take visitors, escape hoods, and Go Kits and report to the South tunnel connecting to the Longworth Bldg”
Unfortunately, we don’t know what was inside the “Go Kits” in question, but they were likely stocked with various emergency and survival items, including things like first aid supplies and glow sticks or small flashlights. Pictures from inside the Capitol after pro-Trump protesters made their way inside do show members of Congress and others wearing what appear to be ILC Dover SCape CBRN30 masks.
These are emergency hood-type gas masks with an integrated battery-powered air blower to help keep dangerous contaminants, including chemical and biological agents, out. These are designed to be rapidly donned in a crisis, even by people with minimal training. The hood design, which seals around the wearer’s neck, is also intended to help people who might be wearing glasses or have substantial hair on the top of their head or large beards get the mask on quickly and without issue. Other companies beyond ILC Dover also make hood-style gas masks and respirators with differing features and capabilities, including ones with their own oxygen supply that can be used to help escape fires.