Suspicious packages revive postal worker fears
The U.S. Postal Service is reminding workers how to track for suspicious packages after the discovery of three parcels containing low-grade incendiary devices in Washington, D.C. and Maryland -- incidents that have reminded some of the anthrax mail scare almost a decade ago.
Postal employees should pay special attention the shape, look, address and packaging of potentially dangerous parcels, according to a memo sent Friday to workers across the Washington region:
Shape: Is it lopsided or uneven? Is it rigid or bulky?
Look: Are there oily stains, discolorations, or crystals on the wrapper? Does it have a strange odor?
Address: Is there a return address? Are there restrictive markings? Are there misspelled words? Is it addressed to a title rather than to an individual? Is it an incorrect title? Is it poorly typed or written?
Packaging: Is it sealed with tape? Is there excessive tape? Is there excessive postage?
Workers are reminded to follow the Postal Service's three-step action plan -- Package, People, Plan -- if a suspicious package is found:
Package: DO NOT handle the package or letter. Leave it where it is! Isolate the area. Do not try to clean it up, move it, or place it in a plastic bag. Make a mental note of any information that might be useful (size, shape, look, address).
People: Clear the area. Inform employees in the immediate area so they won't disturb the suspicious package, letter, or substance. Notify a supervisor immediately. All employees in the area near the package should wash their hands and any other exposed skin with soap and water immediately, even if they didn't touch the package or letter. The area should be cordoned off. Air conditioner, fans and equipment should be turned off.
Plan: Contact your supervisor, who will contact the Inspection Service. Follow your emergency plan. Know who to contact if your supervisor isn't available. In an emergency - such as smoke, fumes, vapors, or employees exhibiting medical symptoms - evacuate the area and call local emergency responders.
"With something like this, it does make you think about what happened, especially if you worked in Brentwood," said Ray Robinson, executive vice president of American Postal Workers Union Local 140, which represents thousands of postal workers across the region.
"Brentwood" refers to the massive Northeast Washington mail processing facility where postal workers first found anthrax spores in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Two employees, Thomas L. Morris Jr. and Joseph P. Curseen, died from the exposure; the building was renamed in their honor. Their deaths sparked years of mistrust still simmering today between management and a rank and file concerned that they're too often kept out of the loop.
Ten years later, management is responding faster when incidents occur, Robinson said Saturday. "If anything happens anywhere, they at least call in employees and talk to them and tell them what's happening."
Looking for suspicious mail and packages "is part of every employee's training and its re-enforced on a regular basis -- this was the case even before Anthrax," USPS spokeswoman Sue Brennan said late Friday in an e-mail. "I remember getting this information when I was a craft employee -- its part of the job. The goal has always been to keep employees safe - to keep customers safe and to keep the U.S. Mail safe."
Before e-mail, postal officials blasted similar messages to the rank and file by fax and by using an internal postal television network, Brennan said.
The reminders are helpful, but some workers still worry they won't learn the whole story.
"There's always fear that people may not be telling us everything," Robinson said. "We're the people working in the buildings, and so we should know whatever is going on."
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| January 8, 2011; 11:50 AM ET
Categories: Postal Service
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