The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday June 8th

Campus Officials Respond to Mail Threats

DPS officials have received numerous phone calls about suspicious mail, but so far all have proved harmless.

But the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Environment, Health and Safety have responded to about 20 emergency calls on campus regarding suspicious mail in the last week.

In every case, the DPS officers determined there was no credible threat.

University Mail Services, the sole recipient of all University mail, said regardless of the precautions it takes, its system is not foolproof.

"We are doing our best to screen and watch for suspicious packages, but it is incumbent on faculty and staff to be alert," said Tommy Brickhouse, manager of University Mail Services.

EHS Director Peter Reinhardt said the reports of suspicious mail were made by faculty, staff and students.

The deans' offices at the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine each received two of the 20 suspicious pieces of mail last Wednesday.

Reinhardt said people are being cautious about the mail they receive in light of the recent anthrax scares.

"We are cautious because we never know when it may be a credible threat," Reinhardt said.

University Mail Services staff are also being careful to look for "red flags" when manually sorting mail, Brickhouse said.

The service's five main indicators to identify a suspicious package are the lack of a return address, handwritten mailing addresses, irregular or bulky packaging, excessive postage and items marked "personal" or "confidential."

Brickhouse said the lack of a return address, the typewritten address labels and the incorrect addressees on the packages received by the two deans' offices should have been caught by University Mail Services.

"They just slipped through," he said.

All faculty and staff on campus also received an e-mail from the DPS, EHS and University Mail Services last week, informing them of safety precautions to take when handling mail.

The e-mail urged anyone who receives a suspicious package to not handle it and to call 911 immediately.

When an emergency call is received, both DPS and EHS officials respond. After arriving on the scene, DPS officers decide whether there is a credible threat while the EHS hazardous material staff treats the suspicious mail as infectious waste.

The staff members wear gloves and masks while placing the questionable mail in a plastic bag, and they hold it for 30 days as a precautionary measure.

Many office assistants and work-study students in campus offices are taking further preventative measures, including wearing latex gloves to open mail.

"I think it is quite scary because there really are no specific targets," said freshman Vanessa McCall, who opens mail in the dean's office at the College of Arts and Sciences.

Reinhardt said it is natural for people who open campus mail to be concerned about the possibility of anthrax exposure.

"We are not trying to promote any undue fear," he said. "However, we want to be ready for any credible threat."

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