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Protective masks readied on Capitol Hill

From Kate Snow, Ted Barrett and Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Capitol Police have purchased 25,000 protective hoods to protect members of Congress, staff and tourists in the event of a terrorist attack with biological or chemical weapons, congressional sources told CNN Tuesday.

The masks will be kept inside the Capitol building and at various locations in the office buildings around Capitol Hill. Police will announce the program Wednesday.

The hoods, called "quick masks" by their manufacturer, envelope a person's entire head and filter the air the person is breathing. They do not provide an external source of oxygen.

Some protective masks are already kept in the chambers of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, but the new hoods would be available to anyone who is on the Capitol campus at the time of an attack.

Also available will be emergency kits containing items such as water and thermal blankets.

Sources stressed that the placement of the hoods on Capitol Hill was in no way a response to any new threat.

"We shouldn't over-sensationalize this," said one Republican aide. "This is a normal part of the procedure decided shortly after September 11."

"It's part of the plan to make the grounds more secure," the aide added.

Sources told CNN the order for the 25,000 hoods went in shortly after September 11, but officials kept quiet about their existence until enough hoods were in place to meet the needs of the thousands of people who work at and visit the Capitol daily.

"They now feel they have a sufficient store of them," a Senate source said.

Senators were briefed about the hoods Thursday at their weekly Democratic and Republican policy lunches. House members will be briefed on Wednesday morning.

The briefing for senators was conducted by the Senate's sergeant-at-arms and U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terence Gainer. According to Senate sources, Gainer demonstrated how to put on the hoods.

Congressional staff will be trained on how to use the hoods at a later time.




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