AoC safety officials trapped in utility tunnels for an hour

The Capitol Power Plant (CPP) utility tunnels were closed for several days after two Architect of the Capitol safety officials became trapped in them last week, according to members of the 10-man tunnel crew.

The incident, which was confirmed by the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) yesterday, occurred Thursday when safety personnel failed to follow proper procedures, causing them to become trapped inside a tunnel for about an hour, said tunnel supervisor John Thayer, who viewed the memo directing the agency to close the tunnels.

“A CPP employee was escorting two central safety personnel through a tunnel when they passed through a door that locked behind them near [the Government Printing Office],” AoC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said in an e-mail. “The CPP employee radioed for assistance; however, in the meantime, GPO police arrived and escorted the employees out of the tunnel.”

She would say only that the officials were conducting a safety inspection.

“They followed proper protocol, and the event was resolved,” Malecki said, declining to comment further on the incident, citing security concerns.

A spokeswoman for the GPO, or Government Printing Office, said that agency’s officers responded after a security alarm was triggered.

Thayer said the memo, which AoC Chief Operating Officer Stephen Ayers sent to employees, singled out the safety personnel for failing to follow their own procedures inside the tunnels.

“Ayers authorized that all the tunnels are secured until further notice until new regulations can be followed — especially our safety officials,” Thayer said.

Malecki said the order was given to close the tunnels Friday “to ensure that the most recent policies and procedures had been fully communicated to employees and contractors who enter the tunnels and efforts are thoroughly coordinated.”

The tunnels were reopened yesterday at 6 a.m.

“We don’t feel that the safety employees and the contractors are following the same rules that apply to us,” Thayer said.

He added that, in addition to failing to follow proper procedures for confined-space entry, they also did not take the proper monitoring equipment to monitor for heat stress.

Malecki contended the employees followed proper entry procedures and had required equipment.

The utility tunnels, which house pipes that provide steam and chilled water to heat and cool the Capitol campus, can have a temperature of more than 100 degrees in some areas.