Most USDA facilities to reopen Wednesday after anonymous threats

This story has been updated to include the names and locations of USDA facilities that will reopen Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will reopen many of its facilities on Wednesday after an emergency email threat forced the evacuation of offices in five states.

“USDA continues to work with local and federal law enforcement, including the FBI, to assess the seriousness of the email threats received yesterday. As such, we have determined that the situation...

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This story has been updated to include the names and locations of USDA facilities that will reopen Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will reopen many of its facilities on Wednesday after an emergency email threat forced the evacuation of offices in five states.

“USDA continues to work with local and federal law enforcement, including the FBI, to assess the seriousness of the email threats received yesterday. As such, we have determined that the situation now allows us to begin reopening most of our facilities with enhanced security,” USDA Director of Director of Communications Matt Herrick told Federal News Radio.” Therefore, tomorrow,  most facilities will reopen with additional security enhancements, including the presence of law enforcement or security personnel on site.”

Herrick said following USDA sites will reopen at normal time on Wednesday, Aug. 31:

  • Ft. Collins, Colorado
    • All USDA Offices (except Forest Service)
    • ARS Plains Area Office
  • Beltsville, Maryland
    • George Washington Carver Center
    • Beltsville Agricultural Research Center
    • National Agricultural Library
    • Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Northeast Area Office
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
    • All USDA Offices
  • West Virginia
    • Kearneysville

The Forest Service Office in Ft. Collins, Colorado will reopen at noon (local time) on Wednesday.

The following USDA facilities will remain closed on Wednesday:

  • Hamden, Connecticut
    • Forest Service Office
    • Natural Resources Conservation Service Office
  • West Virginia
    • Leetown

“For those remaining offices, a bit more time is needed either to get additional security enhancements in place for a safe and secure opening or to make official notifications to union representatives. We hope to resolve the outstanding issues to ensure these offices will be ready to reopen, safely and securely, as soon as possible,” Herrick said.

Ron Martin, a regional vice president of ASIS International and a former physical security specialist with the Health and Human Services Department, told Federal News Radio that USDA, in light of these events, should train its employees on how to report email and online threats.

“It appears USDA has a security awareness and incident management action plan. Based on the public information available about the incident, they are implementing the plan,” Martin said. “That said, all agencies should adopt a see-something-say-something program. The agency should have a program plan that detect, assess, react and mitigate the threat.”


Posted August 30, 2016 12:23 pm: 

Responding to anonymous threats, the U.S. Department of Agriculture closed six locations on Tuesday pending investigation.

Matt Herrick, director of communications for USDA, listed the following facilities as closed until further notice:

  • Fort Collins, Colorado;
  • Hamden, Connecticut;
  • Beltsville, Maryland;
  • Raleigh, North Carolina;
  • Kearneysville, West Virginia;
  • Leetown, West Virginia.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack notified employees via email. All personnel at these facilities have been sent home, or notified not to report to work.

Herrick said multiple USDA employees received the same email message at the six locations.

“Without getting into detail of the e-mail message, USDA continues to work closely with federal and local law enforcement, including the FBI, to determine whether the threat is credible. We will share additional updates on this situation as more information is available,” he said.

USDA offered all 1,500 employees affected by the closures the option of telework or administrative leave.

“We are asking all employees to remain aware of their surroundings and they see see any suspicious activity, report it to on-site security, law enforcement, or to call 9-1-1,” Herrick said.

The facilities include offices for USDA agencies, an agricultural research center and library, and an Forest Service information center.

“The Department of Agriculture is working closely with Department of Homeland Security to ensure the safety of their offices and the personnel that work there.  I don’t have any additional detail on the nature of the threat, but when it comes to the safety and security of U.S. personnel military or civilian we take that quite seriously and we place the safety of those works at a high priority,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest during a briefing with reporters Aug. 30. “In consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, USDA has taken some prudent steps to ensure the protections of their facilities and their personnel.”

Patrick O’Carroll, the executive director Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) and a former Social Security Administration inspector general, said typically, agencies and law enforcement officials don’t say much about types of threats. He said one reason is not to encourage copycats, and a second is not to impact their investigation.

“You have to trust management here that they are watching out for the safety of the employees and the general public. They must have had serious enough information that they felt it was the right thing to close the facilities,” he said. “But after being so well trained in closing offices because of weather over the last few years, agencies can keep service to the public and the agency running.”

O’Carroll said before any building would reopen, law enforcement officials will try to understand whether the threat still is credible, how they are doing in catching the people or persons who perpetrated the threat and how they can ensure the safety of the employees.

“This will make everyone more alert and aware,” he said. “There are two real benefits of federal law enforcement working so closely together during crises like this. One is to compare notes and threats, and two is being more informed in making the next decision.”