Category Archive: Mail Screening

Updated: Bomb Threat Guidance 2013

Posted on June 25, 2013

OBP_DHS DOJ Bomb Threat Guidance Image

Did you hear the one about a forgetful British bridegroom who made a hoax bomb threat rather than admit he’d neglected to book the venue for his wedding? He was sentenced to a year in jail.

What should you do if your organization receives a threat? The FBI and DHS released a new “pocket” bomb threat guidance document available here. It provides a two-page overview to help  you deal with bomb threats: planning and preparation, your “emergency toolkit”, what you should do if you receive a threat, how to assess the threat and the possible responses.

Now is a good time to review, or to think through your own plans. Our own Emergency Planning: Disaster and Crisis Response Systems for Jewish Organizations has a longer chapter discussing the issue. Learn how to handle a phone threat with this checklist.

Finally, read an New York Times account of an October 15, 2012 bomb threat (with an actual pipe bomb) to the Home Depot store in Huntington, NY. The store’s bomb threat plan was put to good use.

Mail screening: best practices

Posted on May 31, 2013

Make sure that you and your employees are vigilant!

The recent ricin-laced mailings should serve as a reminder that organizations and leaders should be vigilant about their mail screening processes. This is especially true for Jewish organizations taking public positions on gun violence.

A comprehensive “Best Practices for Mail Screening and Handling” guide from DHS is available here. Check out Safe Mail Handling from DHS and find the USPS page on mail security, including suspicious mail and packages, here.

Posted in Mail Screening

More on our plates: suspicious letters

Posted on April 17, 2013

From the FBI: A second letter containing a granular substance that preliminarily tested positive for ricin was received at an offsite mail screening facility. The envelope, addressed to the President, was immediately quarantined by U.S. Secret Service personnel, and a coordinated investigation with the FBI was initiated. It is important to note that operations at the White House have not been affected as a result of the investigation.

Additionally, filters at a second government mail screening facility preliminarily tested positive for ricin this morning. Mail from that facility is being tested.

Any time suspicious powder is located in a mail facility, field tests are conducted. The field and other preliminary tests can produce inconsistent results. Any time field tests indicate the possibility of a biological agent, the material is sent to an accredited laboratory for further analysis. Only a full analysis performed at an accredited laboratory can determine the presence of a biological agent such as ricin. Those tests are currently being conducted and generally take 24 to 48 hours.

The investigation into these letters remains ongoing, and more letters may still be received. There is no indication of a connection to the attack in Boston.

The targets of these suspicious letters were the President and a Senator and there is no reason to believe that Jewish institutions are at risk. However, we recommend that all institutions (and businesses) that have mailrooms should review their mail screening and handling procedures with staff.  Please advise your mailroom personnel not to handle letters or packages that look suspicious (discoloration, stains, or emits an odor).  Personnel should immediately leave the area and dial 911. Personnel should make sure that no one re-enters the area until the NYPD/FDNY Hazmat Unit declares it safe.

Read Safe Mail Handling from DHS and find the USPS page on mail security, including suspicious mail and packages, here.

Posted in Mail Screening

Update: White powder through the mail

Posted on April 30, 2012

Update: Preliminary investigation revealed all suspicious letters received in Manhattan offices today to be non-toxic.  Additional testing of the substances is pending. Several of the envelopes had the following return address:

400 Sunrise Highway, Amityville, NY  11701

If you receive mail with this return address, call 911 immediately.  DO NOT OPEN the envelope or handle it further.

Several envelopes containing a white powder were sent to offices (not Jewish)  in Manhattan locations today.  Reminder: all businesses that have mailrooms should review their handling procedures with staff.  Please advise your mailroom personnel not to handle letters or packages that look suspicious (discoloration, stains, or emits an odor).  Personnel should immediately leave the area and dial 911. Personnel should make sure that no one re-enters the area until the NYPD/FDNY Hazmat Unit declares it safe.  For more information NYPD SHIELD at 718-615-7506 or www.nypdshield.org.

Find the USPS poster giving tips on how to spot suspicious mail and packages here.

More tips for package screening

Wall Street Journal, “Focus on Cargo Security Steps”, November 1, 2010

We continue to advise Jewish institutions to carefully screen their mail and packages. Be suspicious of any item coming from an unknown sender, especially unknown senders from overseas.

If you receive a package from an unknown sender and suspect that it could be an explosive device or it may contain a hazardous substance, do not disturb it, do not try to open it. Leave the room, close the door and call 911.  For specific steps see steps below.

The packages from Yemen discovered last week were designed to be hard to detect, even with an x-ray device. They prove that terrorist tactics are evolving and adapting to our security measures.

Although none of the following suggestions can definitively “rule-in” or “rule-out” a shipment, think about the following before opening any parcel:

  • Was the delivery from an expected shipper? Did your usual UPS driver deliver the package? Was the package from one of your regular vendors? (e.g., The NYPD received a call this week about a printer toner delivery to a Jewish institution. The caller was questioned and told that, because they had ordered the toner and it came from their usual office supply company, the shipment should not be considered suspicious.) Even if the package is from a regular supplier, did it come from the right address. Did it come from overseas?
  • Even without sophisticated equipment you can often tell when something is wrong. Use your “Just Doesn’t Look Right” instincts.
    • Was the package professionally packed? People who regularly order over the internet can probably answer this question.
    • Did someone tamper with this box? Does it appear that the package was opened and resealed? Are there additional layers of tape or different tape and/or fasteners? Are there cut marks on the packaging?
    • Was the package one of a dozen or all by itself?
  • Talk to your mail carrier, FedEx and UPS deliverer. They are your first line of defense and they probably know what kind of packages they deliver to your facility. Ask them about any briefings received about the screening done at their central facilities. Let them know, in a friendly way, that you are “counting on them”.

Recommended mail protocols (from previous post)
We recommend that organizations consider and adopt formal mail screening protocols, appropriate for their organization, staff and building. Your protocols should consider that a variety of hazards can arrive by mail, including explosives and toxins.

Your protocols may include steps, such as:

  1. Larger organizations should continue to screen and x-ray their mail. The USPS best practices for mail center security can be found here. It contains an excellent chapter, “Protect Your Business from Package Bombs and Bomb Threats”.
  2. All organizations, large and small, need to examine all mail and packages, whether delivered via the post office, UPS, FedEx, other carrier or hand delivered.
  3. Whether or not your organization has a mail room, designate and train specific people to screen your organization’s mail. Make sure that they know what your screening protocols are and know what to do if they find anything suspicious.
  4. Screen your mail in a separate room. That way if you find anything suspicious, you can easily isolate it.
  5. If you believe that an envelope or package contains a hazardous substance (e.g., an unknown white powder) instruct your screener to avoid inhaling the particulates, wash his/her hands with soap and room temperature water and isolate him/her in an adjoining, designated area away from the substance and await instructions from the first responders (This will take some planning. You don’t want anyone walking past the other employees and possibly contaminating them).
  6. If you deem an item to be suspicious: 
    • Do not open it.
    • Do not shake it.
    • Do not examine or empty the contents.
    • Leave the room.
    • Close the door.
    • Alert others in the area.
    • Call 911.
    • Shut down your HVAC (heating, ventilation and cooling) systems, if possible.
    • Consider whether you want to vacate your premises.

If you have a specific question about a package mailed to you, you can contact:

USPS POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICE
PO BOX 555
NEW YORK NY 10116-0555
Phone : 877-876-2455
Thanks to MSA Security for many of these ideas.Check out more security, counterterrorism and emergency preparedness guidance at: www.jcrcny.org/securityresources.