Copycat terrorist hoaxes heighten safety awareness

University of Alaska Anchorage had a scare in the mailroom on Oct. 16. A mailroom employee found a suspicious envelope that was stained, heavily taped on the back and had the same to and from address illegibly written in pencil. Given the recent publicity of some U.S. mail found containing lethal anthrax bacteria, UAA's General Support Services wanted to take all precautions.

“This is the first time [in our office] something like this has stood out,” Dr. Jim Cummings, GSS manager said. “But the staff was very alert and did a good job of bringing the incident to a conclusion without scaring people.”

Tony Harkey, GSS property and mail supervisor, was one person who handled the envelope. He placed it in a Ziploc bag and called the University Police Department, who upon inspecting the questionable envelope called the Anchorage Police Department. APD took it to be examined in a lab and later called the university to confirm that the envelope was not hazardous.

“We work with the U.S. Postal Service, university police and UAA's Environmental Health and Safety department to develop and train employees on safe mail handling procedures,” Harkey said.

Since the mailroom scare, rubber gloves have been offered to mail-handling employees to help rid fear and concern.

“We're the first line of defense for screening incoming mail,” Cummings said. “We're doing nothing different today than we did two weeks ago.”

Ninety percent of all mail addressed to UAA comes through the GSS mailroom – at least 30,000 pieces weekly. The new director of marketing and communications for the university, John Dede, commends the mailroom for the way it handled the incident, and says there is no cause for alarm.

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“The likelihood that [terrorists] would target UAA or Anchorage is very remote, because they want mass-media exposure,” Dede said. “There's no cause for hysteria, but heightened awareness now is probably a good idea.”

If the parcel IS suspicious:

  • Don't open it; Isolate the parcel.
  • Evacuate the immediate area.
  • Call the UPD (APD if off campus) to report that you've received a parcel in the mail that may contain biological or chemical substances.