Business Mail Security

It’s a great time to review your mail handling procedures to be sure your business can deal with threatening letters and packages.

Like other governors, mayors and public officials around the country, Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell proclaimed October as “Crime Prevention Month.”

“Keeping our communities safe is the responsibility of each and every citizen,” Rendell said. “We can enhance public safety by becoming more involved within our communities, by promoting crime prevention efforts and working in tandem with law enforcement.”

The National Crime Prevention Council developed “Crime Prevention Month” in 1984 to encourage grassroots collaboration efforts to prevent crime across the country.

Although crime has dropped nationally, there are still swindlers, armed robbers and other crooks planning to rob and steal from businesses and individuals.

Small business owners should also be prepared to deal with people that threaten your business, workers, and customers. A case in point is the man who was accused of sending anthrax hoaxes and bomb threat letters.

Roland Prejean, 43, was charged by the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut with allegedly mailing scores of anthrax hoaxes and bogus bomb threat letters.

“This defendant is alleged to have sent more than 50 letters nationwide, in which he threatened to kill numerous victims, by shooting them, bombing the buildings in which they work or exposing them to a substance that he claimed was, but was not, anthrax,” said David B. Fein, the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut. “The letters victimized both private citizens and public servants, and resulted in the evacuation of a post office, a town hall and a public school. Such threats cause significant diversions of law enforcement resources, inflict fear in the victims, and result in substantial disruption of public and government services, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”   

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Prejean was arrested after he turned himself in to law enforcement authorities in North Dakota. He agreed to be transported to Connecticut to face charges of mailing threatening communications, and with making threats, through the use of the mail, to kill, injure, or intimidate any individual, or to damage or destroy any building by means of an explosive.

If convicted, he faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years on each individual charge.

According to the federal criminal complaint, Prejean began writing a series of threatening letters to numerous recipients, including a private individual, a Connecticut probation officer, a Connecticut Superior Court Judge, a judge in Utah, several individuals from the Connecticut Valley Hospital, his former roommate, and a Post Office in Connecticut.

In the letter to the post office, Prejean alleged to kill a particular postal carrier as well as everyone in the Post Office. Also in the letter, Prejean claimed that he had planted a bomb.

The letter caused the evacuation of the Post Office, the town hall and a public school. The Connecticut State Police Emergency Services Unit searched the Post Office but they did not find any explosives.

Another letter was mailed to a Connecticut Superior Judge in New London that included a substance that was represented to be “Liquid Anthrax.”

Prejean mailed the letters during a cross country drive from Connecticut to North Dakota. In some of these letters he placed a white powder that he represented to be anthrax, but was in fact baby or talcum powder.         

A business owner should ask if his or her business has procedures in place to respond to threatening letters, be they a hoax or a true threat. Remember that Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, killed three people and injured 23, and Bruce E. Ivins, the man who mailed anthrax-laced letters beginning in 2001, killed five people.

As I’ve noted here before, for more than 20 years I was the administrative officer of a Defense Department command in Philadelphia. I was responsible for all security programs for the command and I was responsible for all mail and shipping operations as well.

Shortly after the horrific terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and our headquarters, the Pentagon, the first Anthrax letter in that deadly series was received. I recall how upset our employees were about handling the mail. We quickly instituted additional procedures and new and improved security measures to meet these threats.

Today the U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers a good set of mail security procedures. Of course, not all businesses or mail operations are the same, so business owners should adopt procedures that fit his or her place of business.

Below are some of the suggested mail security procedures:

Appoint a person responsible for mail operations. Create, update and/or review SOPs, Security Procedures, Disaster Plans, and Operating Plans. Keep a backup copy of your plans off-site. Train personnel in policies and procedures relative to mail security, i.e. biological, chemical, weapons or natural disasters. Establish incoming/outgoing personal mail procedures. Train employees to spot the tell-tale signs of a suspicious package. Have procedures on handling suspicious packages.  

Notify internal and external customers, as appropriate, of steps taken to ensure safety of mail. Install video cameras inside and outside the facility. Keep the area for processing incoming and outgoing mail separate from all other operations, if feasible. Conduct training, emergency preparedness drills, and information update meetings. Ensure appropriate emergency access numbers are posted by or on every phone. Such numbers should include: call 911; CDC at 770-488-7100; local Postal Inspector; or local police or fire department. Maintain updated employee lists (name, address, phone/cell phone), and keep back-up copy off-site. Secure your mail center. Prevent access by unauthorized persons, and keep locked whenever possible, especially when no one is on duty. Maintain a sign-in sheet for persons entering and leaving the mail center, including times of arrival and departure.

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