Safety, Security, Training

Properly Handling Mail and Packages Inside Your Facility

Though the likelihood of a suspicious and/or malicious package being sent to your facility is incredibly rare, it’s better to have workers that can recognize and address a potential threat. Because it’s easy to get complacent about how U.S. Postal Service (USPS) mail and packages from various delivery companies come into a facility, make sure you have a policy in place that details the process of how these items are collected, screened, sorted, and delivered, and what to do in the event of a potential emergency.

Close-up of a cardboard package on a conveyor belt in a warehouse.

The handling of USPS mail and packages delivered from familiar companies like FedEx and UPS is often given to mailroom or clerical employees with little to no training on how to handle them if there is an unusual situation. While actual bombs and real poisons like anthrax sent in packages or letters are exceedingly rare, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to receive them.

The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, killed 3 people and wounded 23 people with package bombs he sent from 1978 to 1995. Bruce Ivins, PhD, a civilian U.S. Army lab researcher, terrorized this country and our mail system with anthrax-laced letters he sent around the East Coast from 2001 to 2008. His letters killed 5 people and sickened nearly 2 dozen people with anthrax exposure symptoms. Kaczynski was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, and Ivins killed himself right after the FBI interviewed him.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (founded in 1776, offers its “Poster 84—Suspicious Mail or Packages” for businesses to install in their mail rooms.

It offers this advice:

“Protect yourself, your business, and your mailroom.

“If you receive a suspicious letter or package:

  • Stop. Don’t handle.
  • Isolate it immediately.
  • Don’t open, smell, or taste.
  • Activate your emergency plan. Notify a supervisor.

“Watch for:

  • No return address.
  • Restrictive markings.
  • Sealed with tape.
  • Misspelled words. Badly typed or written.
  • Unknown powder or suspicious substance.
  • Possibly mailed from a foreign country. Excessive postage.
  • Oily stains, discolorations, crystallization on wrapper.
  • Excessive tape.
  • Strange odor.
  • Incorrect title or addressed to title only.
  • Rigid or bulky.
  • Lopsided or uneven.
  • Protruding wires.

“If you suspect the mail or package contains a bomb (explosive), or radiological, biological, or chemical threat:

  • Isolate area immediately.
  • Call 911.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.”

One of the primary security training concerns is how to prevent mailroom or mail-handling employees from exposing others to toxins or an explosive device, as they carry the package around the facility, showing others or seeking advice as to what to do with it. It’s critical that they keep the package in one location and call qualified people over to inspect it who can decide if an evacuation or a decontamination is necessary. Company security practitioners, local law enforcement, the fire department, and federal agencies like the Postal Inspectors or the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATFE) agents may need to get involved to both make the package safe and conduct an investigation as to who sent it, to whom, and why.

All employees who handle company mail and packages should always wear rubber gloves and have personal proactive equipment (PPE) like dust masks and eye protectors available in their work areas. They must be reminded to remain vigilant every day, because most of the time, the processing of mail is routine, regular, and even boring. While many threateners today tend to use electronic means to make their demands known—using e-mails, voicemails, and social media postings—they may use powder-filled letters, boxes with fake bomb pieces inside, or angry rants on paper, delivered to a specific target in the company or just to the company in general.