Protocol for identifying and handling suspicious packages/mail and what to do in the event of a hazardous discharge at JMU

The University and the Campus Police have been asked by the Virginia Department of General Services (DGS) to provide guidelines to JMU staff in order to assist you in handling mail delivered directly to your offices. Below you will find a list of general guidelines for handling suspicious mail that provide a process for the handling of potentially contaminated mail or packages.

In general, it is important that employees who handle mail become familiar with the guidelines. For those departments or offices with access to a separate room or facility for handling mail, it is recommended that it be opened away from general traffic and on a surface dedicated to the mail operation, when possible. Limited access to the mail operation area is also suggested. DGS recommends that the mail operation work area be cleaned daily. A solution of 10 parts water and 1 part bleach, prepared daily, should be sprayed on the work surface. After the solution sits for 10 minutes, wipe dry. Please be advised that strong bleach solutions may damage work surfaces. Employees handling mail should wear protective gloves at all times.

Attached are listings of "things to look for" when inspecting and opening mail or packages that are delivered to your offices. It is very important that mail and packages are carefully screened and opened appropriately. Following this list will help employees identify suspicious packages and open the mail more carefully.

DGS has also published detailed guidelines on their website. These guidelines provide comprehensive instructions on handling mail in a controlled, centralized environment. If you have further questions or concerns about handling mail, contact the Campus Police Department at 540.568.6913.

General Guidelines for Handling Suspicious Mail

1. As a precaution, all employees processing mail should wear protective gloves. Since some people are allergic to latex, nitrile gloves are recommended.

2. If you have identified a suspicious package. DO NOT handle, shake or empty it. Do not carry to other areas or show it to other people. If anything spills out, DO NOT try to clean it up.

3. Cover any spilled contents immediately. You can use clothing, paper, or a trashcan. Do not remove the covering materials from the spill.

4. Notify your supervisor immediately. Notify Building Manager and/or Laboratory Technician - if in Miller (Tom Gallaher-Chemistry 540.568.3683, John Gordon-Radiation 540.568.8759), Burruss (Dr. Robert Walters 540.568.6683) or CISAT A1/A2 (Dr. George Coffman 540.568.2767). Call the Campus Police at 540.568.6911 or 540.568.6913. If your building is located off campus, contact your local authorities immediately. The appropriate police officer will respond and make a threat assessment.

5. Isolate all suspicious packages and cordon off the immediate area. If possible, place the envelope or package in a plastic bag or some other container to prevent leakage. All personnel should leave the room. If possible, turn off airflows, such as fans or air conditioning in the room.

6. Ensure that all persons who have touched the mail wash their hands with soap and water. Make a list of anyone who has handled the mail. Include contact information and provide this to the responding public safety officer.

7. As soon as practical, employees who may have come in contact with any contamination should shower and place all clothing in plastic bags. The clothing should be made available to the police officer responding to the reported incident. Contain the potentially impacted individuals to ensure that they receive proper medical attention.

8. Attempt to verify the sender and/or the legitimacy of the package (i.e. ask the recipient if he/she was expecting a package that matches the suspect package's size and shape).

9. Public Safety (Police and/or Safety Engineer) will notify Local Emergency Response Authorities, Harrisonburg Fire Department, HazMat Team 911 and Dr. Bob Atkins, team advisor, at 540.568.6679.

Things to Look for When Inspection Mail

  • Origination postmark or name of sender is unusual, unknown, or no return address is given; if given, can't be verified as legitimate.
  • Shows a city or state in the postmark that does not match the return address.
  • Excessive or inadequate postage.
  • Mailed from foreign country.
  • Handwriting of sender is not familiar or indicates a foreign style not normally received by recipient. 
  • Addressed to title only or incorrect title; addressed to someone no longer with your organization.
  • Misspellings of common words or names.
  • Restrictive markings, i.e., "PERSONAL, EYES ONLY," or "SPECIAL DELIVERY."
  • Handwritten or poorly typed addresses.
  • Rub-on block lettering. 
  • The letter is lopsided, unusually thick or contained in an uneven envelope.
  • Excessive weight; the letter or package seems heavy for its size.
  • Excessive security material such as masking tape, string, etc.
  • Damaged envelope(s) or package(s).
  • Rigid or bulky packaging.
  • Stiffness or springiness of contents; protruding wires, aluminum foil or components; oily outer wrapping or envelope; feels like it contains powdery substance (When checking, do not bend excessively.).
  • Oily stains, discoloration; package/letter emits an odor, particularly almond or other suspicious odors.
  • Crystallization or powdery substances on wrapper.
  • Ticking sound.

Things to Look for When Opening Mail

  • Powders (any color)
  • Soil
  • Sand
  • Liquids of any kind, any color
  • Oily or soapy residues
  • Sticky or adhesive substances
  • Flakes
  • Crystals
  • Fibers

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