Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of packages are shipped daily using a variety of mail carriers that transport the piece of mail to its intended destination. The high volume of mail that is processed each day makes it extremely difficult for carriers to give proper attention and observation to potentially suspicious packages or suspicious mail that ends up in their facility. There are always potential threats that are posed in either suspicious letters, packages, and unknown substances that can include a variety of risks to human health. In recent news there have even been high profile cases that consisted of dangerous packages that were sent to famous individuals through mail carrier, and this has led to an increase in suspicious package procedures and training for mail carriers and first responders.
In this article we are going to discuss the dangers of suspicious packages and how first responders can prepare for this type of incident through procedures and specified training for suspicious package identification and resolutions.
Issues with Suspicious Mail & Packages
When it comes to suspicious mail found in the mail carrier, the chances are pretty unlikely – but that does not mean the chances are completely eliminated. Depending on the incident, each will have unique signs and indicators that a first responder must be able to identify by applying a specific checklist that was provided to them in training. Suspicious mail can potentially contain a plethora of dangerous materials including chemical agents, explosives, and biological agents that are intended to harm the recipient and others in the area of the deployment.
The inherent risks and threats of suspicious mail found in postal carriers produces has been enough cause to revamp training and procedures to ensure that in the face of this type of incident, first responders are equipped to effectively and successfully handle that potential scene.
What Makes a Package Suspicious?
Did you know that the United Stated Postal Service reported that they handled 150 billion pieces of mail in 2018? Of the 150 billion pieces of mail that were handled, USPS inspectors responded to 2,282 incidents of suspicious items. Unlike famous politicians and other high-ranking officials, most people do not have trained personnel or companies that can examine their mail for potential trouble. Therefore, the job of mail inspectors is vitally important to public health.
When it comes to detecting whether a package or piece of mail looks suspicious there are certain common characteristics that will be obvious. These characteristics include the following:
- Lopsided or uneven
- Excessive postage
- No postage
- Leaks, stains, powders, etc.
- Foreign writing, postage or mailing address
- Wrapped in string
- Generic titles
- Ticking, vibration, or other sounds
Suspicious Package Checklist
Analyzing and assessing packages and mail for suspicious characteristics can be complex. There are a number of characteristics and signs to look for when trying to determine if a package is ‘suspicious looking’. Once you have identified that the package or mail is suspicious than you will need to go through a checklist of actions that you will need to implement to safely protect yourself and others from the potential dangers that lurk within this piece of suspicious mail. This suspicious package checklist includes the following:
- If you suspect that the package is compromised or contains potentially harmful substances within it than you will need to leave the mail where it was found – try to avoid touching it or cleaning up any mess produced from the package (like substances that leaked out of the mail).
- Contact Emergency Responders to assist in the scene to ensure the safety of all individuals that are present. First responders will immediately clear the scene of all persons and keep others away from the package or mail.
- Instructions will be given to all of those that handled or were exposed to the suspicious mail to quickly wash their hands or other exposed skin with soap and water.
- Compile a list of names of those that were in the immediate area of the mail piece or substance.
- Block off the area surrounding the suspicious piece of mail and be sure to shut off all equipment in the area including HVAC systems.
- Take action and direct other law enforcement or emergency responders as needed to resolve the situation.
Suspicious Package Training
Mail carriers, as well as first responders have all been trained in the identification and response to suspicious mail that they come into contact with while in the carrier sorting facility. The top mail carriers like the United States Postal Service (USPS) screen mail and packages every single day, and they are taught to properly screen all mail for suspicious characteristics when they first arrive into the mailrooms sorting area. The staff that is tasked with sorting the mail by hand should conduct a screening right away as they are the ones that are most likely to detect suspicious packages.
When a suspicious package is identified, workers will go into the procedures that they are taught right away to determine the status of the package before it is shipped to the intended sender.
Procedures for Dealing with Suspicious Packages
The procedures that are set in place for mail carriers when it comes to a suspicious package is something that has been laid out and given to these workers to ensure the safety of the workers on the job. When a mail sorter comes across a suspicious package, they will need to conduct the following procedures to ensure safety of all those surrounding the package.
- Evaluate the building to determine the potential risks to those in the area of the workplace.
- Establish clear lines of communication between the mail center security coordinator, management, and the security office.
- Develop a screening procedure for incoming letters and packages that are delivered into the sorting area.
- Establish procedures for isolating suspicious letters and packages.
- Train mail center, security, and management staff to validate all packages.
Decontaminating Suspicious Package Found Containing Chemicals
Suspicious packages can be found with a variety of different substances that can be a potential threat to public health and to the environment. In a suspicious package there can be explosive devices found, biological agents, or even dangerous chemical agents that can impact human health and greatly affect the environment. Chemical threats can be found in letters and packages, some of which will contain a powdery or oily substance that will alert the mail carrier or receiver of potential danger within the mail. If a chemical threat is sent by mail, there are a few steps to take to deal with the scene in the safest manner.
- Gently place or lay the letter/package contents down and avoid touching any further items or people.
- Turn off fans and HVAC systems to reduce air flow that will spread the chemical agent throughout the environment.
- Contact Emergency Responders to come to the scene to properly handle and decontaminate this chemical agent.
- Utilize a decontamination solution to properly contain and neutralize the agent. The challenges with chemical threats are the difficulty in identifying the exact chemical agent at play – as each chemical will require a specific decontamination solution. However, with FAST-ACT decontamination solution you can easily decontaminate a wide variety of chemical agents without the need to identify the agent beforehand.