Suspicious packages: What to look for

January 22, 2020

According to the US Postal Service annual report, in 2017 the US Postal Inspection Service responded to 2,282 incidents of suspicious items, substances, powders or liquids in the mail or at postal facilities. This statistic reveals that incidents related to suspicious packages occur more frequently than it seems.

A suspicious package can take on a variety of forms, such as a letter, package, or unattended backpack. Suspicious packages can include life-threatening chemical, biological or radiological hazards. An explosive or other life-threatening items can be enclosed in either a parcel or an envelope.

Given this possibility, it is important to know how to determine if a package is suspicious. According to the US Postal Service, signs to look for include any of these:

  • An excessive amount of tape used to seal the package
  • Oily stains, discolorations, or crystallization on the wrapping
  • Strange odors
  • Misspellings or typos on labels
  • An inordinate number of stamps used (which may mean it was sent from another country)
  • Restrictive markings such as the word “personal” on the front

One of the recommended techniques when receiving a suspicious post or package is to follow the 4 C’s procedure, confirm, clear, communicate and control.

  • Confirm 

First, you need to actually confirm your suspicion by following the typical characteristics of a suspicious shipment or with the help of a professional team.

  • Clear

Clear the room where the package was found, then start on evacuating the rest of the building or facility.

  • Communicate

Start by telling your work colleagues where the hazard is located, and where they need to go during the evacuation.

  • Control

The suspicious package should be in a cordoned-off area. This is crucial, because the police may want to conduct a controlled process.

Additional tips, as recommended by the US Department of Homeland Security, include:

  • Do not open the letter or package, or open it any further
  • Do not shake the letter, package or parcel or empty what’s inside
  • If possible, carefully cover the suspicious item with clothing, a towel or a trash can
  • Shut off any fans which may “circulate the material” inside the package

The safety of your staff and the security of company property is a top priority. For more information on security, or for help with personnel and package screening, contact Vanguard Resources.