S.F. bomb scares prompt use of emergency center

A series of early morning bomb scares in five different locations Thursday had city officials open the Emergency Operation Center for about four-and-a-half hours.

The Police Department reported Thursday that it received three calls, believed to be from the same caller, between 6:30 and 6:55 a.m. The caller indicated that there were bombs at City Hall, the Westfield San Francisco Center shopping mall and the “San Francisco Tribune.” There were two other unrelated scares at the Hallof Justice at 850 Bryant St. and St. Anthony Foundation, a homeless outreach center in the Tenderloin.

The only report wherein a suspicious device or package was found was the Hall of Justice, where a duffel bag had been left on a newspaper box outside the building. The bomb squad was called to that scene, removed the package with a robot and X-rayed it. The bag was found to be harmless.

“Somebody left something behind and we’ll try to find its owner,” police spokeswoman Maria Oropeza said. She said the bag contained a piece of identification. The report of that incident was not called in, Oropeza said. Rather, an officer spotted the bag and raised the alert at about 9:20 a.m.

The City’s Emergency Operations Center opened at 9:25 a.m. in response to the Hall of Justice incident.

“We opened the Emergency Operation Center as a caution, given the events that are going on in the world at the moment, and we used it as an opportunity to test our procedures,” Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Adleman said.

None of the scares that were called in turned out to have any merit. A 6:40 a.m. call reporting a suspicious package at City Hall sent officers searching the premises with bomb-sniffing dogs, but by 7:40 a.m., they determined there was no device and no threat.

St. Anthony Director John Weeks said police had responded at about 9 a.m. to a report of a woman who claimed to have a bomb in her backpack. He said the woman didn’t enter St. Anthony and that an anonymous caller had made the report, but, “there was somebody walking around saying she had a bomb.”

Westfield spokeswoman Danielle Coan refused to comment on the incident, saying only, “The safety of our shoppers is our No. 1 priority.”

As for the “San Francisco Tribune,” no such paper exists. Police said they forwarded the call on to the Oakland Police Department and alerted the San Francisco Chronicle. The spokesman for Oakland police did not return a call seeking comment.

amartin@examiner.com Melanie Carroll, Bonnie Eslinger and Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report.

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