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Chemical and biological threats

How to handle anthrax and other biological agent threats

Official (CDC) Health Advisory October 12, 2001.

Many facilities in communities around the country have received anthrax threat letters. Most were empty envelopes; some have contained powdery substances. The purpose of these guidelines is to recommend procedures for handling such incidents.

Do not panic

  1. Anthrax organisms can cause infection in the skin, gastrointestinal system, or the lungs. To do so the organism must be rubbed into abraded skin, swallowed, or inhaled as a fine, aerosolized mist. Disease can be prevented after exposure to the anthrax spores by early treatment with the appropriate antibiotics. Anthrax is not spread from one person to another person.
  2. For anthrax to be effective as a covert agent, it must be aerosolized into very small particles. This is difficult to do, and requires a great deal of technical skill and special equipment. If these small particles are inhaled, life-threatening lung infection can occur, but prompt recognition and treatment are effective.

Possible events

A. SUSPICIOUS UNOPENED LETTER OR PACKAGE MARKED WITH A THREATENING MESSAGE SUCH AS "ANTHRAX":

  1. Do not shake or empty the contents of any suspicious envelope or package.
  2. PLACE the envelope or package in a plastic bag or some other type of container to prevent leakage of contents.
  3. If you do not have any container, then COVER the envelope or package with anything (e.g., clothing, paper, trash can, etc.) and do not remove this cover.
  4. Then LEAVE the room and CLOSE the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).
  5. WASH your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face.
  6. What to do next...
    • If you are at HOME, then report the incident to local police.
    • If you are at WORK, then report the incident to local police, and notify your building security official or an available supervisor. (On base, contact base security.)
    • LIST all people who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized. Give this list to both the local public health authorities and law enforcement officials for follow-up investigations and advice.

    B. ENVELOPE WITH POWDER AND POWDER SPILLS OUT ONTO SURFACE:

    1. 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 this cover!
    2. Then LEAVE the room and CLOSE the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).
    3. WASH your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face.
    4. What to do next...
      • If you are at HOME, then report the incident to local police.
      • If you are at WORK, then report the incident to local police, and notify your building security official or an available supervisor. (On base, contact base security.)
      • 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.

      Question of room contamination by aerosolization 

      For example: small device triggered, warning that air handling system is contaminated, or warning that a biological agent released in a public space.

      1. Turn off local fans or ventilation units in the area.
      2. LEAVE area immediately.
      3. CLOSE the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).
      4. What to do next...
        • If you are at HOME, then dial "911" to report the incident to local police and the local FBI field office. (On base, contact base security.)
        • If you are at WORK, then dial "911" to report the incident to local police and the local FBI field office, and notify your building security official or an available supervisor.
        • SHUT down air handling system in the building, if possible. (On base, contact local BCE desk and state it is an emergency.)
        • 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.

        How to identify suspicious packages and letters

        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, discolorations 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

        Other resources

        Documents to download

        Click the icon to download the sample. [Help]

        This file is in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. Click here to download.  This file is in Microsoft Word format. Click here to download.  FBI Mail Handling Guidelines Advisory Poster
        This file is in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. Click here to download.    Marsh Risk Consulting Risk Bulletin: Suspicious Mail
        Sample Letters from National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)
        This file is in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. Click here to download.  This file is in Microsoft Word format. Click here to download.  Alert for parents to the possibility schools may experience an anthrax hoax
        This file is in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. Click here to download.  This file is in Microsoft Word format. Click here to download.  Response letter in the event a school receives suspicious mail
        This file is in Microsoft Word format. Click here to download.  Your Questions About Anthrax - A sample letter to staff

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