ON SITE RESPONSE  |  INCIDENT SPECIFIC GUIDANCE

How to deal with a suspect item

The vast majority of suspect items turn out to pose no risk. However it is your job to ensure the safety of yourself and your people.

The guidance below will help you assess the risk that the item presents, and to manage the situation if further action is required.

Assess the risk

Answer these three questions

1. Have there been any immediate physical reactions?

NO.

Proceed to question 2.

YES. There have been minor physical reactions, such as skin irritations.

Take care when handling the package.

  • Ensure the item has been set down carefully on the nearest flat surface – the floor will do. Do not try to cover it or put it in a bag. Do not bend, squeeze, flex or pinch the item.
  • Warn people in the immediate vicinity that a suspect package has been found and that you are in the process of determining if there is any danger.

Proceed to question 2, but take care when handling the package.

YES. People are in need of urgent medical attention.

Take immediate safety measures.

  • Ensure the item has been set down carefully on the nearest flat surface – the floor will do. Do not try to cover it or put it in a bag. Do not bend, squeeze, flex or pinch the item.
  • Establish a 20m exclusion zone and restrict movement on the floor to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Isolate all those who were working within the 20m exclusion zone (you may have to make arrangements for them to wash their hands).

Call and support the police.

Follow the guidance outlined on the call and support the police page.

2: Are there any physical signs that the package may be suspicious?

NO.

Proceed to question 3.

YES. It looks like it could be a postal bomb.

The following are typical characteristics of a postal bomb. Check the suspicious package against this list:

  • Dimensions: A letter bomb is unlikely to be less than 3mm (1/8”) thick or to weigh less than 43g (1oz).
  • Balance/weight: Is the packet evenly balanced? Lopsided packages should be treated with suspicion. Packages disproportionately heavy for their size could contain an improvised explosive device.
  • Holes or stains: Packages with grease stains or pinholes in the wrapping should be treated as suspect.
  • Smell: Some explosive materials smell of marzipan or almonds.
  • The flap: Is the wrapping completely stuck down? A small gap at the end of the flap may mean a postal bomb.
  • Type of envelope: Experience shows letter bombs are usually found in ‘jiffy’ bags or similar. Tubes have been used – sealed heavily at one end.
  • Contents: If, in addition to the signs above, the appearance suggests the package could contain a book or video cassette it should be treated as suspicious.

If the item matches any of the characteristics above, note the category along with any distinguishing marks or features.

Proceed to question 3, but take care when handling the package.

YES. It looks like it could be a powder package.

Royal Mail Group legitimately carries a wide variety and volume of powder substances, which due to poor packaging may leak but do not cause a risk.

There is no uniform size or shape of package that can be used, hence no generic guidance can be provided. But a package may be thought to be suspicious because you wouldn’t expect to see that type of powder leaking from that type of package.

Make a note of any distinguishing marks or features.

Proceed to question 3, but take care when handling the package.

YES. The package has official-looking symbols on it.

Royal Mail Group carries many officially marked items. These items carry official-looking symbols denoting chemical, bio-hazardous or dangerous goods contents.

Make a note of any distinguishing marks or features, and proceed to question 3.

YES. There is no package, only loose powder.

In some cases, loose powder may be discovered without a package having been seen.

Proceed to question 3.

3: Does the package appear to have been sent maliciously?

NO.

Continue below to review your answers.

YES. The package has suspicious postage or markings.

  • Packaging/postage: Has lots of wrapping or sealing been used or has excessive postage been paid?
  • Markings: Restrictive endorsements, such as ‘personal’ or ‘confidential’ or no return address may indicate a suspicious item.

Continue below to review your answers.

YES. The package addressed to a likely target.

  • National or local government figures or officials, politicians, members of the judiciary.
  • Famous people or those in the public eye, such as leaders of business or trades unions, scientists and medical researchers.
  • Organisations such as the Ministry of Defence, science laboratories, or high-profile companies.
  • Buildings connected to national or local government, scientific and medical research, places of worship or the courts.

high-profile-recipient

Continue below to review your answers.

Review your answers
If you answered 'NO' to all the questions above

Close the incident

If you answered 'YES' to any of the three risk assessment questions above

Record details of the item

As far as possible, and without placing yourself at any risk, record the following details:

  • Delivery address
  • Return to sender address
  • Postmark on package
  • Postage details

Call CPC and get their advice

Call CPC and talk them through the incident, and your assessment based upon the questions above. Ask their advice on how to proceed.

If CPC do not believe the item poses a risk

Close the incident

If CPC agree that the package may pose a risk

Choose the most appropriate scenario from the options below

If in doubt at any stage always call Central Postal Control (CPC)

Central Postal Control deals with issues on a regular basis and will be able to talk you through how to deal with any situation.

0345 266 1060