Services - Managing Powder Threats

Procedures for the Management and Containment of Powder & Biological Threat Devices.

The purpose of these guidelines is to assist organisations in the design and implementation of procedures for the handling of powder & biological threats in the form of devices transported via the mail.   Terrorist or criminal incidents of this nature are extremely rare. However, if there is a concern that a suspect biological/chemical package has been received, sensible steps can be taken to minimise the risk of exposure and the possibility of harm. The overall message is to remain calm.

Action on the finding of a suspicious unopened letter/package marked with a threatening message such as “ANTHRAX”.

  1. Do not open shake or empty the contents of a suspicious envelope or package.

  2. Leave the object where it is, if the item is in an X-ray machine – leave in the machine. Avoid disrupting the contents further.

  3. Immediately notify the Security/Manager by telephone, they in turn will contact the Emergency Services who will provide assistance. The police will want to speak to the identifier/ finder of the item.

  4. If it is possible to isolate the air conditioning to the immediate area do so. If not consideration should be given to isolating the air conditioning to the whole building. Consider Server rooms etc

  5. Leave the room and close the door (do not turn lights off or lock doors), if possible cordon off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e. keep others away until security arrives to manage the incident).

  6. Security should isolate the area/floor. This may take the form of stationing officers in the lift lobbies and the fire escape stairs; this may need the assistance of fire marshals to prevent people accessing the controlled zone.

  7. Those identified as having been potentially in contact with the device to be directed by security to a designated wash down zone as close to the immediate area as possible. Hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and water to prevent spreading of any powder. Personnel should remain there until help arrives. This is to prevent possibly contaminate of additional personnel. List all people who were in the room or area where this suspicious letter or package was recognised.  Give the list to both the local public health authorities and Police for follow-up investigations and advice.   Finally…..  

  8. Wait for emergency services – if the item does contain something suspicious, they will be able to offer appropriate treatment immediately lowering the risk of illness.

    Action on the finding Envelope/package leaking powder or other suspicious substances.  

    1. Do not open shake or empty the contents of a suspicious envelope or package.

    2. Leave the object where it is, if the item is in an X-ray machine – leave in the machine. Avoid disrupting the contents further. If a container is not readily available, then cover the envelope or package with something (e.g. clothing, paper, waste bin etc) and do not remove the cover. 

    3. Immediately notify the Security/Manager by telephone, they in turn will contact the Emergency Services who will provide assistance.

    4. If it is possible to isolate the air conditioning to the immediate area do so. If not, can the air conditioning to the whole building be shut down? Consider Server rooms etc

    5. Leave the room and close the door (do not turn lights off or lock doors), if possible cordon off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e. keep others away until security arrives to manage the incident).

    6. Move immediately to a pre-designated room nearby (next door or opposite) in which there should be washing facilities – if none are available, a bucket or bowl with bottles of water, liquid soap and paper towel is recommended.

    7. Remain there until security arrives to confirm you can move to another location. We don’t want to possibly contaminate further personnel so keep those affected separate from others

    8. If possible, list all people who were in the room or area, especially those who had contact with the “powder”. Provide this list to the local public health authorities so that proper instructions can be given for medical follow-up and Police for further investigation.

    9. Wait for emergency services – if the item does contact something suspicious, they will be able to offer appropriate treatment immediately lowering the risk of illness

        Some signs that may highlight an item as being a potential threat.

    • Discolouration, crystals or surface, strange odours or oily stains

    • Envelope with powder or powder-like residue

    • Excessive tape or string; encouraging opening at a specific point

    • Unusual size or weight given size

    • Lopsided or oddly-shaped envelope

    • Postmark that does not match return address

    • Restrictive endorsements such as "Personal" or "Confidential"

    • Excessive postage

    • Handwritten, block-printed or poorly-typed addresses

    • Incorrect titles

    • Title but no name

    • Misspellings of common words

    • No return address

    • Addressed to individual no longer with organisation

    What to consider if you are an Employer, Building/Security Manager  

    Consideration should be given to what contingency plans you need for handling mail and suspect packages. Response plans in the event your organisation receives a suspect letter or package. Ensure that plans are regularly rehearsed. Health and safety at work legislation, including the Biological Agents Directive, clearly states that when selecting preventative measures to control risks to employees and others, employers must select from a hierarchy of measures. These are set out below; The first step is to review the current risk assessment and procedures for handling mail in the organisation. Review the possibility, however small, of the business receiving suspect packages. As part of any contingency planning consider measures to quickly trace a suspect letter or parcel back through the mail handling system. This will highlight anyone in the workplace who may have been exposed to a risk to their health and safety and in turn enable them to be treated promptly. When undertaking risk assessments in the workplace and implementing adequate control measures, involve employees in the process and provide them with relevant information on what the risks are and steps needed to ensure they are adequately controlled. The hierarchy of control measures you need to consider includes:

    • Prevention of exposure (e.g. restricting the numbers of employees handling the mail)

    • Engineering controls (e.g. filters on machinery and air extracting systems)

    • The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g. masks or gloves).

    • PPE should only be considered if the risk assessment indicates that it is appropriate after all other controls have been addressed. When considering PPE to control risks it is important the equipment selected is suitable for the task being performed as well as for the risk being considered. PPE is only effective if it is used properly, so employees need proper training on good hygiene and the use, storage and disposal of the equipment.

      Additional information is available via the Public Health England website

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