Handling Suspicious Mail Guidelines

Recommendations of the FBI, U.S. Postal Service, and the Centers for Disease Control for identifying and handling suspicious mail and dealing with powder spills from letters and packages are listed below. Although any threatened use of a biological agent must be treated seriously, experience has demonstrated that most threats are likely to be hoaxes. Disease can be prevented after exposure to anthrax spores by early treatment with the appropriate antibiotics. Anthrax is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person.

  1. How to Identify Suspicious Packages and Letters - Notify Security at x7777 if you receive a suspicious letter or package. Some characteristics of suspicious packages and letters include the following:
    • Excessive postage
    • Handwritten or poorly typed addresses
    • Incorrect titles
    • Title, but no name
    • Misspellings of common words
    • Oily stains, discoloration or odor
    • No return address
    • Excessive weight
    • Lopsided or uneven envelope
    • Protruding wires or aluminum foil
    • Excessive security material such as masking tape, string, etc.
    • Visual distractions
    • Ticking sound
    • Marked with restrictive endorsements, such as "Personal" or "Confidential"
    • Shows a city or state in the postmark that does not match the return address
  2. How to Handle Suspicious Unopened Letters or Packages
    • Notify Security at x7777. Security will notify NYPD via 911.
    • Do not shake or empty the contents of any suspicious envelope or package.
    • Do not pass the letter or package to others to look at.
    • Place the envelope or package in a plastic bag or some other type of container to prevent leakage of contents.
    • If you do not have any container, cover the envelope or package with anything (e.g., clothing, paper, trashcan, etc.) and do not remove the cover.
    • Notify co-workers and students in the immediate area. If possible, try to avoid contact with others.
    • Leave the room and close the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).
    • Wash your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face. Do Not Use Bleach or Other Disinfectant on Your Skin.
    • List all people who were in the room or area when the suspicious letter or package was recognized. Give this list to Security, law enforcement officials and public health officials for follow-up investigations and advice.
  3. What to Do if Powder Spills Out of an Envelope
    • Immediately notify Security at x7777 so they can notify Facilities to turn off local fans or ventilation units in the area. Security will also notify NYPD via 911.
    • Do not try to clean up the powder. Cover the spilled contents immediately with anything (e.g., clothing, paper, trash can, etc.) and do not remove the cover.
    • Advise co-workers and students in the immediate area. If possible, try to avoid contact with others.
    • Leave the room and close the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).
    • Wash your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face. Do Not Use Bleach or Other Disinfectant on Your Skin.
    • Remove heavily contaminated clothing as soon as possible and place in a plastic bag, or some other container that can be sealed. This clothing bag should be given to the emergency responders for proper handling.
    • Shower with soap and water as soon as possible. Do Not Use Bleach or Other Disinfectant on Your Skin.
    • If possible, list all people who were in the room or area, especially those who had actual contact with the powder. Give this list to both the local public health authorities so that proper instructions can be given for medical follow-up, and to law enforcement officials for further investigation.
  4. What to Do if a Room is Contaminated by Aerosolization - Anthrax or other biological agents can also be delivered in an aerosol form. In order to be effective it must be aerosolized into very small particles. This is difficult to do, and requires a great deal of technical skill and special equipment. The following steps should be taken if informed that an unknown substance has been released in this manner:
    • Immediately notify Security at x7777 so they can notify Facilities to turn off local fans or ventilation units in the area. Security will also notify NYPD via 911.
    • Advise co-workers and students in the immediate area. If possible, try to avoid contact with others.
    • Leave the area immediately.
    • Close the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).
    • If possible, list all people who were in the room or area. Give this list to both the local public health authorities so that proper instructions can be given for medical follow-up, and to law enforcement officials for further investigation.