School safety considerations for mail handling, suspicious packages, and bomb threats

Posted by on October 26, 2018

The good news in related to 12 bomb-like packages sent to current and former elected officials, along with CNN, is that one person is in federal custody as of the time of this writing. Thank you to our law enforcement professionals and other first responders across the nation for their hard work.

This incident raises school security and emergency preparedness issues we first discussed around the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. How should schools reduce risks for mail handling, dealing with suspicious packages, unusual powders or substances in mail, and related concerns in light of domestic and international terrorist attacks?

Several recommendations school administrators and school safety leaders may consider include:

  • Do not allow students to open school mail. Limit the opening of mail to one individual staff member. Have this person open school mail in a room separate from open, main office areas.  Staff who wish to open mail with protective (latex-type) gloves should be allowed to do so if they desire. Educate school staff, especially the person who opens school mail, so that he/she is familiar with issues related to suspicious packages.
  • Work with custodial and maintenance personnel to establish procedures for quickly shutting down heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems if necessary.
  • Review procedures for handling suspicious items such as envelopes with power substances that may be found in hallways, stairwells, restrooms and other areas of the school.  Anticipate that, unfortunately, some hoax incidents may occur.  However, all threats should be treated seriously.  Firm, fair, and consistent consequences, both administratively and criminally, should be sought including for hoax scares and students should be informed of the seriousness of such offenses.
  • Review lockdown and evacuation procedures.  Note that you may have to have a simultaneous lockdown of one section of the building while evacuating other parts of the school, so both lockdowns and evacuations may need to occur at the same time.
  • Create “Shelter in Place” plans to supplement lockdown and evacuation plans. Identify safe area in building to relocate students, preferably with no windows.  Confer with local fire, HAZMAT, emergency management, and police officials for specific advice.

This week’s incidents should serve as a reminder to school leaders and school safety officials of the importance for continued vigilance not only when high-profile incidents happen elsewhere in our society, but on a day-to-day basis when the headlines are not filled with specific incidents.

Stay safe!

Ken Trump

National School Safety and Security Services

Experts You Can Trust! 

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