Mail Center Security
Security is extremely important to State Mail Center operations both large and small. Lack of security can result in theft of supplies, postage, mail, and valuable information about your business contained in sensitive mail. When reviewing your mail center policies and procedures, the word is Prevention and Common Sense.
The issue of a terrorist attack in our workplace was practically unheard of, but now that such an event has become reality, we must be aware of what we receive in the mail. We must be prepared to implement procedures to ensure the safety of our employees and coworkers. The mail center is the focal point for businesses and government agencies, and is often the most overlooked when applying security policies and procedures. A comprehensive and effective mail center security program should include policies and procedures to reduce risks and losses.
This section highlights recommended security awareness related to Biological, Chemical, and Radiological Threats (including Anthrax) and Mail Bombs. The following are guidelines only and are not intended to meet the needs of every mail center, therefore only implement those recommendations that fit your situation.
- What constitutes a suspicious letter or parcel?
- What should I do if I receive a suspicious letter or parcel in the mail?
- What should I do if I receive a suspect anthrax threat by mail?
- How can I limit physical exposure of the Mail Center to suspect anthrax mailings?
- Verification of suspect package by addressee and/or sender.
- Sample questions to ask the addressee or ender during the verification process.
- Establish an isolation area for suspicious packages including bombs
WHAT CONSTITUTES A SUSPICIOUS LETTER OR PARCEL?
Some typical characteristics, which ought to trigger suspicion, include letters or parcels that:
- Have any powdery substance on the outside.
- Are unexpected or from someone unfamiliar to you.
- Have excessive postage, handwritten or poorly typed address, incorrect titles or titles with no name, or misspellings of common words.
- Are addressed to someone no longer with your organization or are otherwise outdated.
- Have no return address or have one that can't be verified as legitimate.
- Are of unusual weight, given their size, or are lopsided or oddly shaped.
- Have an unusual amount of tape on them.
- Are marked with restrictive endorsements, such as "Personal" or "Confidential."
- Have strange odors or stains
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I RECEIVE A SUSPICIOUS LETTER OR PARCEL IN THE MAIL?
- Do not try to open the mail piece! Handle with care! Again do not open, shake, bump, smell, touch, or taste!
- Isolate the mail piece immediately.
- Evacuate the immediate area.
- Call the Capitol DPS (463-3333) or local 911 if outside the Capitol Complex to report that you've received a letter or parcel in the mail that may be a bomb, or contain biological, or chemical substances.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I RECEIVE A SUSPECT ANTHRAX THREAT BY MAIL?
- Do not handle the mail piece or package suspected of contamination. Do not shake or empty the contents of any suspicious envelope or package;
- If possible, double bag the letter or package in zipper-type or zip-lock type plastic bags using latex gloves, or some other type of container to prevent leakage of contents; If you do not have a container, then COVER the envelope or package with anything (e.g., clothing, paper, trashcan, etc.). DO NOT REMOVE THIS COVER;
- Then LEAVE the room and CLOSE the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering the area (i.e., keep others away);
- Notify your supervisor, who should immediately contact the Capitol DPS, local police, safety office, or a designated person, who will arrange to collect the letter/package and assess the threat situation;
- Make sure that damaged or suspicious packages are isolated and the immediate area is cordoned off.
- Ensure that all persons who have touched the mail piece wash their hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to their face;
- List all persons who have touched the letter and/or package. Include contact information and have this information available for the authorities. Provide the list to the DPS or local police.
- Place all items worn when in contact with the suspected mail piece in plastic bags, and have them available for law enforcement agents. If possible change clothing in the workplace, and DO NOT let anyone else touch the clothing.
- As soon as practical, shower with soap and water.
- Notify Center for Disease Control (CDC) Emergency Response at 770-488-7100 for any questions, or if you require further information, you can access their web site at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/anthrax_g.htm
HOW CAN I LIMIT PHYSICAL EXPOSURE OF THE MAIL CENTER TO SUSPECT ANTHRAX MAILINGS?
- Identify a single point of contact to open mail.
- If possible, DO NOT open mail in area where other personnel are present.
- Have appropriate gloves and masks available for individual use.
- Screen all mail for suspicious packages.
VERIFICATION OF SUSPECT PACKAGE BY ADDRESSEE AND/OR SENDER
Before calling the police, security personnel should attempt to find out if the addressee of the suspicious package has any knowledge of the item or its contents. If the addressee can positively identify the suspect item, it may be opened by security with relative safety. If the sender must be contacted to identify the item and contents, a management decision must be made as to the reliability of the information.
BELOW ARE SAMPLE QUESTIONS TO ASK THE ADDRESSEE OR SENDER DURING THE VERIFICATION PROCESS:
- Is the addressee familiar with the name and address of the sender
- Is the addressee expecting a package from the senderIf so, what is the approximate size of the item
- Ask the sender to fully explain the circumstances surrounding the sending of the parcel, and to describe the contents. At this point, management and security must make a decision whether to proceed to open the parcel or not.
- If the sender is unknown, is the addressee expecting any other business correspondence from the city, state, or country of origin of the package
- Is the addressee aware of any friends, relatives, or business acquaintances currently on vacation or on business trips in the area of origin
- Has the addressee purchased or ordered any merchandise from any business concern whose parent organization might be located in the city, state, or country of origin
If the verification process determines that the sender is unknown at the return address, or the return address is fictitious, consider that as a very serious indication that the parcel may be dangerous.
ESTABLISH AN ISOLATION AREA FOR SUSPICIOUS PACKAGES INCLUDING BOMBS
When the mail screening process identifies a suspect item, it is essential to rapidly remove personnel from the area and the potential hazard from the workflow. The suspect piece should either be left alone or placed in an area of isolation. Security personnel and the mail center coordinator should jointly evaluate the spaces or areas available around the mail center. If the suspect piece is moved, ensure the location offers a degree of isolation where a parcel may be placed pending verification and/or the arrival of the police. Here at the SSSD, our mail operation is relatively remote and suspicious mail is left in-place, pending an evaluation by officials from the Department of Public Safety or City of Austin. In selecting and creating the isolation area, the following points should serve as general guidelines:
- The isolation area should be easily accessible from the mail screening area.
- While hand transporting a suspect postal item from the screening area to the isolation area, it should not be necessary to move into or through areas of high employee population or heavy traffic.
- If at all possible, access to the isolation area should not involve the opening of doors, climbing of stairs, or passage through areas of clutter or poor illumination.
- The total distance from the mail screening area to the isolation area should not exceed 50 yards.
- The isolation area should, whenever possible, be located outdoors and sheltered from the elements (a covered loading dock or an open shed area).
Law enforcement personnel should interview all potential victims and document their names, addresses, and phone numbers.
Decisions to provide treatments for Biological Threat Agents should be made by public health authorities; Consider mental health counseling for potentially exposed persons.
It is important that sample results be relayed to exposed persons once available to either initiate additional medical procedures if tests are positive or to eliminate fears and anxiety if tests are negative.
If explosive devices are ruled out and the evaluation for potential chemical, biological, or radioactive source material is negative, then response continues as a law enforcement investigation.
The above information was excerpted from other sources including websites listed below. For additional safety information please visit these websites and bookmark for quick reference (include your various suppliers/vendors):
- Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
- US Postal Service
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- General Services Administration (GSA)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF)