In late November 2018, a Royal Mail sorting office in Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim was evacuated after the discovery of a package containing a suspicious powder. Following their internal procedures, the area was cordoned off and the emergency services were called. Investigations revealed it was a non-hazardous substance.
This is far from the only example of suspicious mail being handled by staff. Training in how to deal with such situations is very important and could prevent a chemical or biological attack from harming people.
What Makes a Package "Suspicious"?
If possible, all letters and packages should be opened with a letter opener or using another method that doesn't disturb their contents. There are certain signs that a package has been tampered with or contains something it shouldn't. A lot of it comes down to instinct – if you're in doubt, it's better to have it checked rather than risk opening it.
Suspicious physical aspects of the package, such as discolouration, residue on the packaging or envelope, unusual size or weight, or excessive tape on the outside can all be signs that something is wrong.
Unusual labelling such as excessive postage, wrong addresses, being addressed to the wrong person or no-one specifically, misspellings and being marked with "confidential" or similar messages could all arouse suspicion, especially if more than one of these signs are present.
If you do receive a suspicious letter or package, it's important to stay calm and alert the police immediately. Don't touch the package. Leave the room, closing all doors and windows, but try to stay separate from other people until you have been medically examined.
In the vast majority of cases, suspicious letters and packages will turn out to be harmless. However, it pays to be vigilant, follow the correct procedures and report your concerns if you receive a suspicious item in the mail.
Emergency Response eLearning from DeltaNet International
We offer a collection of 5 minute short courses on handling workplace emergencies, including our course on Suspicious Items.