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Is Your Mail-room Your Facility’s Achilles Heal
By William Sturgeon
Published: 01/17/2011

Mailroom Learning from Others

Once again other people’s misfortunes can help us get prepared for another possible emergency situation (s). United State Postal Offices have experienced flammable packages being sent through the USPS to governmental officials. In all of these instances, the facilities had to be evacuated and some employees were slightly injured.

What can anyone operating any type of a criminal justice facility learn from these events? I have put together checklist to help CJ facilities prepare for similar events or events that could be even more serious.
  • Review the facility’s Emergency/Contingency Plans, and insure that the plans address emergency situations within the confines of the mail-room.
  • Insure that the facility’s mail-room personnel know ‘Exactly’ what to do if they should discover a suspicious package (s).
  • Insure that mail-room personnel are trained on what should be considered suspicious. (Train mail-room personnel that it is better to be “safe than sorry”.)
  • Is there an area, outside of the secure area, where the mail-room could be relocated? (In this post September 11th world, it is better not to bring uninspected packages into the secure area of the facility. (Those agencies planning new facilities should plan to have an area outside of the secure area for searching mail.)
  • Should there be an explosion in the facility’s mail-room, what are the facility’s policies and procedures - are they ‘operationally functional’, that is, will they work in a real life event? Has the mail-room staff been trained in these policies and procedures?
  • Should there be an unknown powdery substance released in the mail-room, what are the facility’s policies and procedures - are they ‘operationally functional’, that is, will they work in a real life event? Has the mail-room staff been trained in these policies and procedures?
  • What are the policies and procedures for the remainder of the staff?
  • Are there ‘operationally functional’ plans in place to evacuate the facility should that be needed?
  • Are there decontamination plans in place should they be needed? Are those plans ‘operationally functional’, that is, will they work in a real life event? Insure that the mail-room staff is trained in these policies and procedures?
  • Are there evacuation plans in place should there be an emergency incident in the mail-room? There should be more than one plan to evacuate the facility. The evacuation plans should be dependent on the following
  • Where is the emergency incident?
  • What is the emergency - does it require the evacuation of the entire facility or just sections of the facility?
  • Where are the assembly points for those who evacuate the facility? (This is a very important aspect of Emergency / Contingency Plans because if the facility cannot account for everyone, they may risk the safety of staff going back into the facility looking for the missing.)
  • Are there plans to relocate the operations of the affected facility to another facility should it be necessary? (If the facility should be contaminated for any period of time, these plans will be necessary.)
  • Have all of the mail-room Emergency/Contingency plans been tested for “operational functionality” and have there been drills so that deficiencies can be corrected?

As a rule, normal security for a mail-room is to separate and do a cursory search of incoming mail for contraband such as weapons, drugs, etc. in a correctional facility, justice center, police stations, and/or courts.

In today’s post 9-11 world, every facet of a criminal justice agency’s operations is susceptible to attack. The most current assaults on the system have been incendiary packages being sent through the United States Post Office. I would caution everyone:
  • To be on the lookout for these types of packages from other parcel carriers
  • To instruct the families of the staff not to open any suspicious packages received at their homes.

In the development of the facility’s Emergency/Contingency Plans, it is crucial to identify external resources and how those resources are incorporated in the plans. Some areas that I would recommend be considered are:
  • What external resources will be needed to deal with the various incidents (Be very specific - e.g., high-rise firefighting equipment, HAZMAT decontamination equipment, bomb squad, bomb removal vehicle, etc.)
  • How far away from the facility are the external resources located?
  • How long will it take the external resources to reach the facility? (Because so many correctional facilities, sheriff sub-stations and state police barracks are built away from urban centers, a factor that needs to be incorporated into the facility’s Emergency / Contingency plans. Additionally, the facility has to plan on how it will control the event until external help arrives. A Sturgeon Note: If on average it takes the external agency one hour to respond to your request for help, add 20% to the response time.)
  • Does the facility have the equipment and other resources needed so that the external resources can perform their duties? (Some of these resources could be fire hydrants or sufficient water supply, an area where decontamination equipment can be set-up, etc.)
  • Where does the facility fall in the order of importance should other agencies or facilities need the same resources? This is crucial for a facility to know so that they can plan for time lapse. (In many rural areas, there are fewer HAZMAT trained personnel. It is reasonable to say that correctional facilities will have a lower status than a school, courthouse, or nursing home.)
  • In rural areas, EMS and fire service personnel are volunteers, and depending on the time of day of the incident, could determine the response time.

With proper policies, procedures, planning, and training, a facility can help reduce the vulnerability of the mail-room and/or mitigate any damages to the facility should there be an incident.

Visit the Bill Sturgeon page

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