Japan / Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni / News Stories

Signed, sealed, delivered: What to do if it looks suspicious

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — In a message from the U.S. Postal Service to Americans in 2001, John E. Potter, postmaster general with USPS, stated the USPS places the highest priority on the safety of customers, employees and the security of the mail.

As the busy holiday season comes around, a time when millions of letters, packages and postcards, make their way to family members and loved ones, the safety and well-being of service members and civilians around the world continues to be paramount.

It is vital that service members and civilians be vigilant and aware of what to do if someone encounters one or more of the elements of a suspicious package or envelope.

According to Staff Sgt. Shane Hall, mail clerk with the southside post office, there are different characteristics to the two main types of threats found in a suspicious package.

“For a possible explosive, we look for improper packaging; the package may be sloppily put together, misshapen or the wrong supplies may have been used to package the item,” said Shane Hall. “For a possible chemical or biological threat, there may be a noticeable residue or powdery substance coming out of the seams.”

Sometimes suspicious characteristics of a package or letter can be subtle.

In other instances, there can be more obvious indications that make an item suspicious or unsafe.

Misspelled or no return address, sealed with tape and excessive postage are potential indications of a suspicious envelope.

“A lot of times, someone will see a package with too much postage,” said Hall. “The person sending the package probably really wanted the package to get to where it was going and didn’t want to go to a post office and mail it.”

For packages, suspicious indicators include oily stains or discolorations, excessive tape, strange odor, rigidity, bulkiness, lopsidedness or even protruding wires.

“Any time someone sees a suspicious item, it should be treated like an improvised explosive device,” said Hall.
Each postal clerk aboard the station is trained to handle the situation if someone comes across a suspicious item in the mail room.

“First of all, we try to identify if the package is an exploding or chemical threat,” said Hall.

Once the package or letter has been identified as suspicious, the mail clerks follow steps and procedures to deal with the threat.

“In the post office, we isolate the letter or package,” said Hall. “The junior Marines are trained to isolate the item because they are more likely to come into contact with it. They are hands on with every piece of mail that comes through the post office. If they find it, they’ll pull other Marines away from it and let their supervisors know. Then, we’ll clear the building and call PMO.”

Service members and civilians are recommended to follow the same steps at home and in the workspace to ensure the safety of loved ones and co-workers.

“If someone sees a weird looking item and they think it may explode, they should keep themselves and loved ones away from it and let authorities know,” said Hall.

In order to ensure packages or letters service members and civilians send to their loved ones do not appear suspicious, the USPS Web site outlined tips on how to properly wrap a package and send a letter.

The advice is not only to ensure safety, but also to ensure the package or letter gets to where it was intended to be sent.

“A package should be no more than 70 pounds,” said Lance Cpl. Dorian Hall, mail clerk with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron. “All the seams should be taped. The package should also have sufficient mailing and return addresses, as well as correct postage.”

Packages sent internationally are subject to customs examinations in the destination country.

According to Dorian Hall, senders are required to complete a customs form to declare the contents and value of the item being mailed.

“Customs has to screen the package because there are certain places someone can’t ship certain items to,” said Dorian Hall. “It also states what is in the package so that if a package looks suspicious, they can open the package and see that what’s inside is exactly what it was said to be.”

Some examples of commonly used items restricted or considered to be hazardous under USPS regulations include
perfumes, nail polish, flea collars or flea sprays, aerosols, bleach, pool chemicals, paints, matches batteries, fuels or gasoline, airbags, dry ice, mercury thermometers, cleaning supplies, items which previously contained fuel, glues and fireworks.

It is good practice to be vigilant and aware of what can and cannot be sent in the mail to ensure the package being sent does not appear suspicious.

In the unfortunate circumstance someone does encounter a suspicious package, the USPS Web site outlines simple instructions: Stop. Don’t handle the item. Isolate it immediately. Don’t smell, open or taste. Activate an emergency plan and notify proper authorities.

Originally published: Marines.mil

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