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Suspicious Packages – Protocols and Procedures

Monday, January 17th, 2011
cartoon truck with package inside

Be vigilant to screen packages.

For several companies and buildings, security procedures surrounding such packages are either lax or nonexistent. To reduce security risks, many owners and managers wisely route deliveries through a security or screening area before packages are delivered directly to tenants.

Unfortunately, this preventive measure is necessary since the potential threat from packages and letters being used to harm individuals is very real. Given the massive volume that flows through the U.S. Postal Service and companies such as UPS and FedEx, potential terrorists or other disgruntled individuals have considerable anonymity sending packages.

One of the most famous mail bombers is Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber. A disgruntled former professor and ecological terrorist, Kaczynski mailed and delivered packages containing explosives for nearly 20 years. Using different tactics to hide the origination address of his various packages, he was able to avoid detection even given an enormous law enforcement manhunt.s

Building managers should institute procedures to help identify and stop potentially harmful packages.

Delivery procedures:

  • All packages should be received in a central location that is staffed by individuals trained in identifying suspicious packaging.
  • Hand delivered packages warrant extra scrutiny and should be properly examined before opening.
  • Front desk personnel and security should keep track of the typical schedules for postal and delivery staff, to help determine if something is out of place.

Train your mailroom or front desk staff on ways to spot an odd or suspicious package. Here are some red flags:

  • Inaccuracies including misspellings of someone’s name
  • Packages sent to an employee who has not been at the company for some time
  • Boxes which are not addressed to a specific person
  • Excessive markings such as “confidential,” “do not x-ray,” or other odd warnings
  • Any odor or stains. As the publicity around the “Anthrax Letters” grew in 2001, mailrooms around the country increased their vigilance to properly screen incoming mail.
  • Excessive weight, protruding wires, or any ticking or mechanical sounds are very clear warning signs to evacuate the building.

Mailroom and delivery receipt personnel should be properly trained to handle suspicious packages.

  • The first rule – don’t open it!
  • Handle the package with care. Avoid shaking or bumping the package.
  • Encourage employees to be critical.
  • Do not create an environment where workers are hesitant to raise suspicions.
  • For larger mailrooms, considering reserving an area for suspect packages, preferably a small room with a door.
  • Isolate the package from other workers.

Establishing clear protocols and a chain of command are critical for any potentially dangerous situation, where training and structure can save lives. Have a written plan in place so the mail clerk can notify a supervisor and building management.

Management should work with security to inform the local authorities. Set rules for when evacuating the building is warranted, and make sure the threat from suspicious packages is part of your comprehensive evacuation plan. An overabundance of caution is needed for optimal safety, so make sure your building management and tenants work together to properly screen and identify packages.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.