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Posts Tagged ‘suspicious packages’

The Persistent Bioterrorism Threat

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Security experts such as Graham Alison, who is the funding dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and an expert on nuclear proliferation, point to the comparative ease of acquiring bioterrorism materials as opposed to the technology required to actually make a nuclear device. This ease of accumulation makes it considerably more likely that nations will respond to bioterror-detonations or spread before a nuclear attack. And bioterror attacks have already occurred in this country, and continue to happen, with a recent Washington D.C. anthrax attack making the news.

A key tactic for preventing the widespread spread of bacterial weaponized agents is the production of vaccines. However, creating a new vaccine faces many hurdles. There are some successes and shortcomings for efforts to build and stockpile vaccines:

  • Enough smallpox vaccine exists to inoculate every U.S. citizen.
    There is enough anthrax vaccine to cover three major metropolitan areas.
  • The organization of Health and Human Services points to a severe lack of urgency with the United States Government’s efforts to stockpile vaccines and prepare for potential calamities.
  • According to the New York Times, the cost for the pharmaceutical industry to produce a new vaccine averages about $1 billion. Vaccines are not typically money-makers for these companies, which often focus on drugs that require habitual usage—such as cholesterol treatment medications.

Another key component of managing the risk of bioterror is to protect buildings and personnel:

  • HVAC systems pose a severe risk to their very function. They circulate and recycle air throughout buildings, making them the perfect vehicle for contamination.
  • Companies can improve HVAC filtration, protect outdoor air intakes, and secure building blueprints that would show HVAC details.
  • Buildings with tenants whose companies utilize industrial chemicals should ensure physical access to these chemicals is severely restricted.
  • Restricting access of unannounced visitors and couriers is vital to providing some separation between the public and tenants.
  • Establish a “safe haven” where employees can congregate after an attack is eminent.

How to prepare for the threat of bioterrorism

During the anthrax attacks of 2001, many postal and mailroom staff members were not able to recognize the risks of suspicious packages, even after opening the contents and discovering powders.

Handling suspicious packages requires several key steps:

  • Identify unopened packages that might deserve extra scrutiny. Look for signs such as handwritten or badly written address information, excessive postage, markings such as “Confidential,” mismatched postmark/return address, or misspellings.
  • A powdery substance, oily stains, or excessive packaging can be signs of potential bioterror substances in the package.
  • Don’t open questionable packages! This advice seems rudimentary. But you should instruct tenants and mailroom staff that no package is worth injury.
  • Handle the package gently, without shaking the contents.
  • Do not smell the package.
  • Keep the unopened package in a secure area that has adequate ventilation.
  • If you come in contact with a suspicious package or substance, immediately wash your hands and possibly discard clothing if possible.
  • Avoid touching your face when you are handling the package.
  • After calling law enforcement, record as many details as possible about the package. Did you notice a new delivery driver, or an unusual shipping carrier? Any details can give law enforcement time to develop evidence.

In the event your building or staff members are involved in an attack, you should take certain steps to limit damage. Designated employees should call the local FBI office to report the incident and coordinate investigation efforts. Affected individuals should be quickly quarantined while they wait for medical personnel. It is important to provide first responders with as many details as possible so they can arrange HAZMAT or other protections.

The threat for bioterrorism is real. Through proper planning, and open communication with agencies such as the CDC and FBI, you can do your part to identify and prevent attacks from occurring.

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.

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.