Friday, May 05, 2006

The perils of publicity

"Lives were at risk. Doctors could not get into the building. The evening shift personnel, also, could not get into the building. There were operations that needed to be performed and people were really at a standstill because of this."

That from the spokeswoman of Los Angeles' V.A. Medical Center after a promotional stunt for "MI:3" went horribly awry.

The plan was to conceal digital audio players in 4,500 randomly selected newspaper boxes around Los Angeles and Ventura County. When newspaper buyers opened the racks, the six inch long, two-and-a-half inch wide red plastic boxes -- connected to activator switches on the news rack doors -- would play the easily-recognizable "Mission: Impossible" theme song.

Despite the simplicity of the plan, the digital audio players and the red, white and black wires leading to their activator switches did not stay concealed. One newspaper buyer saw the device and switch, thought it was a bomb and called authorities. After an inspection of the newspaper rack could not determine whether the device was explosive, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department bomb squad blew up the newspaper rack.

Authorities received numerous reports of other L.A. Times news racks containing what callers believed to be bombs. Perhaps the most serious was in West Los Angeles, where as many as 300 people, including some 50 patients, were evacuated from the Veterans Affairs Administration's Ambulatory Care Center. A newspaper buyer had reported a suspicious object in the news rack inside the main hospital building.

Darryl Blackwell, the chief of police for the V.A.'s Greater Los Angeles Health Care System, said two floors of the building's west wing were closed for almost two hours, which "severely disrupted" patient care.

Travel on the 405 Freeway -- the busiest highway in the nation, which runs through the West Los Angeles V.A. campus -- was also disrupted as traffic was stopped to make way for emergency vehicles.

Maybe we should just go ahead, quarantine Tom Cruise and be done with it.

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