In the last week, a rash of suspicious packages has popped up across the globe. Parcel bombs from two unrelated terrorist plots (one linked to al-Qaeda and the other to a Greek urban guerilla group) were discovered in Britain, Dubai, Germany and Greece. Most of the suspicious packages containing explosive materials were detected and disarmed successfully, and the two that did explode in Greece did not cause any injuries.
While a suspicious package or envelope may not carry an explicit message, there are a number of signs that can alert you to the possibility that it could contain an explosive device or a poisonous substance such as anthrax.
How is the package bundled?
If the package is tied with a string, masking tape or is wrapped in a rudimentary fashion, it should raise a warning flag. Be on the lookout for strange odors, powdery substances, oily stains and leaks. Also be suspicious of any crystallization or discoloration on the packaging material.
What could be inside the package?
Be wary if the package appears unusually rigid, bulky or lopsided with protruding wires and/or aluminum foil. It probably goes without saying that ticking, vibrating or other similar sounds should warrant attention as well.
Do the labels seem correct?
Labels on suspicious packages may not look professional. They might have many misspelled words; incorrect or generic titles; be handwritten or poorly typed; or addressed to no one in particular, to someone unfamiliar or to someone who is no longer with your organization. However, terrorists that are capable of engineering a well-planned bomb plot are also likely to create a professional-looking label. If you are not expecting the package, check to see if there is a return address and verify that the company or address exists.
Are there other markings?
Be cautious of restrictive inscriptions such as “Personal,” “For [insert name] only,” “Confidential” and “Do not X-ray.”
Is the postage appropriate?
Check the postmark to see if it matches the return address. In addition, excessive postage, non-canceled postage and no postage at all could mean that the package wasn’t ever inspected.
If you receive a suspicious package or envelope:
- DO NOT OPEN the suspicious package or envelope! Keep it isolated on a stable surface. Fight the urge to investigate it any further, as additional handling only puts you and those around you in more danger.
- DO NOT use cell phones or two-way radios near the suspicious package or envelope. They can act as bomb detonators.
- Alert others. Force everyone to leave the area, close the doors and prevent anyone else from entering.
- Contact your crisis team and security/law enforcement officials and evacuate the building.
- Suspicious packages may contain chemical, biological or radiological materials, so anyone who has handled or been in close proximity to the package should be evacuated to a separate location. All equipment, especially the ventilation system, should be shut down if at all possible.
- If you have handled the package, wash your hands with soap and water immediately.
- Create a list of the people who were in close vicinity to the suspicious package – first responders will need this if the package does contain hazardous materials.
Marlia Fontaine-Weisse is the Content Manager for Preparis.