Remember that old story of Chicken Little? One state senator says people inside the Iowa capitol may be doomed someday because someone’s cried wolf too many times. On Wednesday morning, the alarm system in the statehouse was activated. Radio Iowa news director O. Kay Henderson was sitting in a senator’s office at a news conference at the time. The warning broadcast throughout the building’s alert system that “an emergency has been reported” didn’t get one soul in the room to move. The news conference continued.
After about five minutes, Henderson asked Senate Co-Leader Stewart Iverson a question: “What if this really is an emergency?” “We need to leave. I see you’re running, Kay,” Iverson quipped, before breaking out in laughter. “Any other questions before we all flee?”
Capitol police told senate officials that people were supposed to evacuate the building, so senators, their staff, lobbyists and reporters walked down one flight of stairs and stood in a hallway, near some doors to the outside. That’s where I ran into a fuming Senator David Miller of Fairfield. “I was just saying this is an illustration where if somebody cries ‘Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!’ too many times, well then, pretty soon people don’t pay attention,” Miller said. “I think that’s what’s going on right now. We’ve had this happen before and people say ‘Well, there’s not a terrorist attack, so why get in a big rush?'”
Over the past two decades there have been dozens of alarms in the capitol when fires were sparked by the workers restoring the capitol — like the time some of the wood on a window sill started smoking because the tool used to heat the varnish so it could be stripped over-heated the wood. The latest alarm was sparked when the warning system detected a fire in a remote, third-floor office, but officials who rushed to the scene found no smoke, and no fire. Another false alarm. “This has happened enough times and now it’s just like, well, why do we want to hurry out of the building?” Miller says.