Postal Service to Change How It Handles Suspicious Packages

According to the GovExec newsletter, the government’s General Accounting Office has issued a report critical of how the U.S. Postal Service handles suspiciouos and potentially dangerous packages. Following the GAO’s recommendations, the USPS is implementing a beefed-up training plan that includes Web-based, video and written instructions for its employees.

The training changes were precipitated by a specific incident:

GAO based its recommendations on an analysis of how employees at a Greenville, S.C., airmail facility reacted to the midnight discovery of an envelope marked: “Caution: Ricin Poison.” Ricin is a biotoxin derived from castor beans and can kill people within 36 to 72 hours of exposure.

In that case, Greenville employees initially treated the package like a routine shipment of a hazardous substance because it contained a warning label. Employees took some precautions, including moving the envelope to a secluded room and double-bagging it. But it took half a day for the facility manager to notify postal inspectors of the package, which ended up containing a metal vial that did test positive for ricin.

The incident ended without any confirmed cases of ricin exposure to workers. But it illustrated that employees did not follow all the procedures in place for handling suspicious packages, GAO reported. In addition, they failed to immediately identify it as a danger, the auditors said.

The emphasis of the new training program is on rapid response once a suspicious or dangerous parcel has been identified.

“Once we identify a potentially dangerous package, USPS employees will be instructed to expedite delivery to the intended victim in order to protect postal workers and facilities,” said Francis X. Carlton, a training consultant. “Once we complete this program, you won’t find a vial of deadly ricin sitting around in a post office for two or three days, potentially threatening the lives of innocent mailmen and -women.”

In related news, the USPS has issued new guidelines in Arabic and Farsi on how to properly label a package carrying hazardous substances, or a suspicious package containing a bomb, radiological substance, or biological or chemical agent meant to do harm, in order to expedite handling and ensure the parcel reaches its intended target.


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