Postal Security: Detecting Bio-Chemical Hazards and Weapons


By: Jim Kouri, CPP

In October 2003, an envelope marked “Caution: Ricin Poison” was discovered at an airmail facility in Greenville, South Carolina. Ricin is a poison that, in certain forms, can cause death.

The U.S. Postal Service has emphasized to its employees to be on the alert for “suspicious mail” that may pose a threat and has developed guidance for them on how to identify and respond to such mail, in order to protect them from harm. Postal inspectors and emergency responders help in the responses to suspicious mail by performing an initial assessment of the threat it poses.

Postal Service personnel identified the envelope in question in Greenville as suspect and took some initial actions in response, such as moving it to a room away from employees. However, personnel did not speak with postal inspectors or emergency responders about the envelope until 12 hours after its discovery.

Subsequently, a multiagency response took place. Key efforts included testing of the envelope and its contents, monitoring the health of employees and the public, sampling the facility for contamination, and communicating information to employees and unions.

At the time of the 2003 incident, the Postal Service had in place several guidelines on identifying and responding to suspicious mail–which emphasized steps to take, such as not moving an identified envelope or package, to protect employees. However, during the response, postal personnel did not fully follow this guidance, and a lack of consistency and clarity in the guidance may have been a contributing factor.

For example, the instructions in the suspicious mail guidelines were not consistent, and it was not clear whether one guideline applied to nonanthrax scenarios. In addition, the Postal Service had some guidance on communicating with employees and unions regarding suspicious mail incidents, and its efforts to inform them about this incident generally followed this guidance.

However, a lack of specific instructions on who should provide and receive information and when may have contributed to some communications issues that arose.

Since the incident, the Postal Service has made a number of changes in its guidance that have improved its consistency and clarity. For example, it issued new, simpler uniform guidelines on identifying and responding to suspicious mail and has emphasized these guidelines in monthly talks to employees.

However, current guidance does not fully address issues raised by the incident because some key elements are lacking. For example, training for managers does not present all the guidance they may need to decide whether a piece of mail is indeed suspicious and response actions are warranted.

Also, the Postal Service has not provided managers with explicit guidance on communicating with employees and unions regarding suspicious mail incidents. Such guidance is important to ensure that employees and unions are kept informed, particularly when a mail piece is suspected of posing a biological or chemical threat and is sent for testing.

Sources: US Postal Service Protection Department, US Government Accounting Office, American Society for Industrial Security, National Association of Chiefs of Police



Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org). He’s former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed “Crack City” by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He’s also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He’s a news writer for TheConservativeVoice.Com. He’s also a columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he’s syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. He’s appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com. Kouri’s own website is located at http://jimkouri.us

About The Author Jim Kouri, CPP:
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he's a columnist for The Examiner (examiner.com) and New Media Alliance (thenma.org). In addition, he's a blogger for the Cheyenne, Wyoming Fox News Radio affiliate KGAB (www.kgab.com). Kouri also serves as political advisor for Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor Michael Moriarty. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He's a news writer and columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he's syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. Kouri appears regularly as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Fox News Channel, Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, etc. To subscribe to Kouri's newsletter write to COPmagazine@aol.com and write "Subscription" on the subject line.
Website:http://jimkouri.us

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.