Survey Says: Anthrax Anxieties

Whatever the source, the nation is clearly struggling with how best to deal with the apparent use of the mail to transport anthrax (and goodness knows what else). This week we asked readers, "Has your firm undertaken any new or special handling procedures for your mail? Are YOU treating it any differently?"

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of this week’s respondents (over 77%) have taken some precautions, with increased communications and latex gloves for mailroom personnel the most common actions. Those that have as yet taken no action tend to be smaller firms and/or firms outside of major metropolitan areas.

And, as unsettling as these current outbreaks are, it may be worth considering that some 30,000 Americans will likely die – from the FLU this season. As for the preparations underway, some VERBATIMS will give you a flavor:

“Throughout our organization, 35 offices nationwide, only one person per office will open the mail. They are required to wear latex gloves and a mask. We have received one bomb threat (at an office on the Canada/US border) and a very suspicious piece of mail (at our office near the JFK airport, but after our new measures were in place). Needless to say we are being cautious in our handling of all mail received.”

“Not at all, but we’re such a small company that it is virtually inconceivable that we would be a target for any terrorist activity.”

“We’ve issued a policy to everyone on mail handling stressing what to look for, and what to do if you see something suspicious. Except for the “Big Guys” that are blessed with assistants, all the rest of us open our own mail. The more you hear, the more you can’t help but wonder if we should issue gloves and masks to everyone for mail opening purposes.”

“Don’t know anything company wide yet, but all new employment ads are stating only resumes received via e-mail and fax will be considered. (Prior ads without this disclaimer resulted in hundreds of letters.) Some may think this is a bit rash, but some people out there still send resumes in hand written envelopes without a return address. This in the past was a sign that the resume would end up in the circular file. Now this envelope is not even being opened!”

“Since we are a medical organization less than 10 miles from DC, yes. The general manager himself brought latex gloves and masks to the staff that are responsible for opening the mail. Had a suspicious package delivered yesterday to one of our centers. Police called, building evacuated. Box contained one heart monitor.”

“After September 11th, our safety committee started working on disaster Plans. As we made the list, we equated “epidemic” with “nuclear Disaster,” “volcanic eruption,” earthquake,” and “tidal wave.” All very unlikely happenings in Pennsylvania. It was not long before we had to rethink what the safety committee did and did a rough outline of mail and package handling. We consulted with our mail handler to flesh out the procedure. It is basically this:

All mail and packages will be cleared by staff that regularly handles them. Those individuals would be most likely to notice something that appears irregular. Mail and package handlers wear rubber gloves. Mail that is known to us is distributed. We call the recipient if we are unsure of the letter or package. Irregular mail is opened in an open air setting.

The procedure continues with contamination procedures, roughly based on our standard emergency procedure.

(I keep hoping that I’m having a psychotic episode, and none of this is real…)”