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Chemical weapons facility locked down after terrorist threat

Security measures implemented after Sept. 11 at a Utah chemical weapons depot got their first test Thursday after soldiers reported seeing a possible intruder at the site.

Hundreds of federal workers were placed on lockdown for most of Thursday at the Army's Deseret Chemical Depot in Tooele, Utah, following a terrorist alert at the world's largest stockpile of chemical and gas munitions. The terrorist warning was issued in the morning after four soldiers on patrol reported seeing an intruder dressed in black in the heavily secured 19,400-depot compound.

"Depot operations were curtailed and employees are in a standby status," depot officials said in a press release.

A spokesman said employees were prohibited from leaving the buildings they worked in for several hours and supervisors were required to account for the whereabouts of all their workers. The lockdown was lifted by late in the afternoon.

A depot spokesman said an initial search turned up no signs of an intruder, but National Guardsmen, depot security personnel, and local and state law enforcement personnel continued to search the site Thursday. Depot officials said it was possible the person spotted by the soldiers was an employee. They stressed that the area where the chemicals are stored was never breached, nor was there ever danger to depot workers or the surrounding community.

The alert marked the first time the depot had implemented new security measures put in place after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Under the new measures, a warning of an intrusion triggers a lockdown of the site. Depot officials then establish a Joint Information Center to coordinate the release of information to the media and local and state officials. Area schools and local residents were notified about the threat.

The depot, located about 30 miles west of Salt Lake City, is responsible for storing and destroying thousands of tons of World War II-era chemical weapons. Since 1996, the depot has destroyed more than 13,000 tons of chemical agents designed for use in weapons.