Suspicious Mail Protocol

What should you do if you receive a suspicious parcel? First, don’t panic. Second, immediately contact NMU Public Safety at 911. Also:

  • Do not handle the mail or package.
  • If powder or other substance spills out of an article DO NOT CLEAN IT UP.
  • Notify your supervisor immediately.
  • Make sure that the suspicious article is isolated and the immediate area is cordoned off.
  • Ensure that anyone who touched the article washes their hands with soap and water.

Be assured that U.S. Postal Service constantly monitors mail for suspicious looking articles. Additionally, NMU Mail Services inspects all in-coming mail during sorting. While there is no need to be paranoid about strange packages, there is safety in being cautious. Being alert for unusual mail can be a valuable safety tool.
The following are some indicators to consider in determining if a letter or package received via U.S. Mail is "suspicious."

  • Unexpected or from someone unfamiliar to you
  • Addressed to someone no longer with the university or is otherwise outdated
  • Addressed to title only or incorrect title with name
  • Has no return address, or has a return address that cannot be verified as legitimate
  • Is of unusual weight, given size, or is lopsided or oddly shaped; has excessive tape or string
  • Is marked with restrictive endorsements, such as "Personal" or "confidential"
  • Has strange odors or stains, or protruding wires; has powder on surface or powder spills from article
  • Shows a city or state in the postmark that doesn't match the return address
  • Misspelled words
  • Excessive postage

Additionally, here is basic information on anthrax since many of the most recent national mail crimes have involved this substance:

  • Anthrax is a acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis most commonly occurs in hoofed mammals (cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes) can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals, tissue from infected animals, or spores. Anthrax is most common in agricultural regions where it occurs in animals. When it affects humans, it is usually due to an occupational exposure to infected animals or their products. Workers exposed to dead animals and animal products from other countries where anthrax is more common may become infected with B. anthracis (industrial anthrax).
  • Spores can live in the soil for many years.  Anthrax in wild livestock has occurred in the United States.
  • Anthrax spores can be produced in a dry form which may be stored and ground into particles which when inhaled can cause disease.
  • Infection can occur in three ways:
    • cutaneous (skin)
    • inhalation, and
    • gastrointestinal (ingestion)
  • Humans can become infected with anthrax by:
    • handling products from infected animals (hair, wool, hides, flesh, bone meal)
    • inhaling anthrax spores
    • eating undercooked meat from infected animals. But note that it is rare to find infected animals in the United States.
  • Symptoms usually occur within 7 days of exposure and vary depending on how the disease was contracted.
    • Cutaneous:
      • most (about 95%) anthrax infections occur when the bacterium enters a cut or abrasion on the skin
      • can happen when handling contaminated wool, hides, leather or hair products (especially goat hair) of infected animals
      • skin infection begins as a raised itchy bump that resembles an insect bite . within 1-2 days develops into a fluid-filled blister and then a painless ulcer, usually 1-3 cm in diameter, with a characteristic black necrotic (dying) area in the center.
      • lymph glands in the adjacent area may swell
      • deaths are rare with appropriate antibiotic therapy
    • Inhalation:
      • initial symptoms may resemble a common cold
      • after several days, the symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems and shock
      • inhalation anthrax is usually fatal
    • Intestinal:
      • intestinal disease form of anthrax may follow consumption of contaminated meat
      • characterized by acute inflammation of the intestinal tract
      •  initial signs are nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever
      • followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea
  • Anthrax can be found globally, but is more common in developing countries or countries without veterinary public health programs. Certain regions of the world report more anthrax in animals than others: South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.
  • Direct person-to-person spread of anthrax is extremely unlikely to occur. The disease can't be contracted by touching or visiting patients with inhalation anthrax
  • In countries where anthrax is common and vaccination levels of animal herds are low, humans should:
    • avoid contact with livestock and animal products
    • avoid eating meat that has not been properly slaughtered and cooked
    • an anthrax vaccine has been licensed for use in humans
    • vaccine is reported to be 93% effective in protecting against anthrax (not widely available to civilian population)
  • In postal facilities, when a suspected anthrax-containing parcel is found follow procedures listed in MI 860-1999-3, Emergency Response to Mail Allegedly Containing Anthrax and your local Emergency Action Plan
  • To treat anthrax, doctors can prescribe effective antibiotics (penicillin, doxycycline, ciproflaxin. To be effective, treatment should be initiated early and should continue for at least four weeks after exposure. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal. Decontamination can be accomplished by boiling contaminated articles in water for 30 minutes or more and using some of the common disinfectants, such as chlorine.

This is an official CDC Health Advisory
Distributed via Health Alert Network
October 12, 2001, 21:00 EDT (9:00 PM EDT)

HOW TO HANDLE ANTHRAX AND OTHER BIOLOGICAL AGENT THREATS

Many facilities in communities around the country have received anthrax threat letters. Most were empty envelopes; some have contained powdery substances. The purpose of these guidelines is to recommend procedures for handling such incidents.

DO NOT PANIC

Anthrax organisms can cause infection in the skin, gastrointestinal system, or the lungs. To do, so the organism must be rubbed into abraded skin, swallowed, or inhaled as a fine, aerosolized mist. Disease can be prevented after exposure to the anthrax spores by early treatment with the appropriate antibiotics. Anthrax is not spread from one person to another person.

For anthrax to be effective as a covert agent, it must be aerosolized into very small particles. This is difficult to do, and requires a great deal of technical skill and special equipment. If these small particles are inhaled, life-threatening lung infection can occur, but prompt recognition and treatment are effective.

Suspicious Unopened letter or PACKAGE MARKED WITH THREATENING MESSAGE SUCH AS "ANTHRAX":

  1. Do not shake or empty the contents of any suspicious envelope or package.
  2. PLACE the envelope or package in a plastic bag or some other type of container to prevent leakage of contents.
  3. If you do not have any container, then COVER the envelope or package with anything (e.g., clothing, paper, trashcan, etc.) and do not remove this cover.
  4. Then LEAVE the room and CLOSE the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).
  5. WASH your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face.
  6. What to do next…
    • If you are at HOME, then report the incident to local police.
    • If you are at WORK, then report the incident to local police, and notify your building security official or an available supervisor.
  7. LIST all people who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized. Give this list to both the local public health authorities and law enforcement officials for follow-up investigations and advice.

Envelope with powder and powder spills out onto surface:

  1. DO NOT try to CLEAN UP the powder. COVER the spilled contents immediately with anything (e.g., clothing, paper, trashcan, etc.) and do not remove this cover!
  2. Then LEAVE the room and CLOSE the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).
  3. WASH your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face.
  4. What to do next:
    • If you are at HOME, then report the incident to local police.
    • If you are at WORK, then report the incident to local police, and notify your building security official or an available supervisor.
  5. REMOVE heavily contaminated clothing as soon as possible and place in a plastic bag, or some other container that can be sealed. This clothing bag should be given to the emergency responders for proper handling.
  6. SHOWER with soap and water as soon as possible. Do Not Use Bleach or Other Disinfectant on Your Skin.
  7. If possible, list all people who were in the room or area, especially those who had actual contact with the powder. Give this list to both the local public health authorities so that proper instructions can be given for medical follow-up, and to law enforcement officials for further investigation.  

QUESTION OF ROOM CONTAMINATION BY AEROSOLIZATION:

For example: small device triggered, warning that air-handling system is contaminated, or warning that a biological agent released in a public space.

  1. Turn off local fans or ventilation units in the area.
  2. LEAVE area immediately.
  3. CLOSE the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).
  4. What to do next:
    • If you are at HOME, then dial "911" to report the incident to local police and the local FBI field office.
    • If you are at WORK, then dial "911" to report the incident to local police and the local FBI field office, and notify your supervisor.
  5. SHUT down air handling system in the building, if possible.
  6. If possible, list all people who were in the room or area. Give this list to both the local public health authorities so that proper instructions can be given for medical follow-up, and to law enforcement officials for further investigation.