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Emergency Management

Suspicious Packages

Preparing for Emergencies
Guidelines for the Proper Handling of Suspicious Packages

Letters containing Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) have been received by mail in several areas in the United States. In some instances, anthrax exposures have occurred with several persons becoming infected. To prevent such exposures and subsequent infection all persons should learn how to recognize a suspicious package or envelope and take appropriate steps to protect themselves and others.


  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 contagious (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.

Identifying Suspicious Packages and Envelopes

Some characteristics of suspicious packages and envelopes include the following:

  • Inappropriate or unusual labeling
    • Excessive postage
    • Handwritten or poorly typed addresses
    • Mispellings of common words
    • Strange return address or no return address
    • Incorrect titles or title without a name
    • Not addressed to a specific person
    • Marked with restrictions such as "Personal," "Confidential" or "Do not x-ray"
    • Marked with any threatening language
    • Postmarked from a city or state that does not match the return address
  • Appearance
    • Powdery substance felt through or appearing on the package or envelope
    • Oily stains, discolorations or odor
    • Lopsided or uneven envelope
    • Excessive packaging material such as masking tape, string, etc.
  • Other suspicious signs
    • Excessive weight
    • Ticking sound
    • Protruding wires or aluminum foil

If a package or envelope appears suspicious, DO NOT OPEN IT!

Handling of Suspicious Packages or Envelopes

  • Do not shake or empty the contents of any suspicious package or envelope.
  • Do not carry the package or envelope, show it to others or allow others to examine it.
  • Put the package or envelope down on a stable surface; do not sniff, touch, taste or look closely at it or at any contents which may have spilled.
  • Alert others in the area about the suspicious package or envelope. Leave the area, close any doors and take actions to prevent others from entering the area. If possible, shut off the ventilation system.
  • WASH hands with soap and water to prevent spreading potentially infectious material to face or skin. Seek additional instructions for exposed or potentially exposed persons (resources listed on reverse side).
  • If at work, notify a supervisor, security officer or emergency officials. If at home, call your local non-emergency number and the proper officials will be dispatched. Try to avoid tying up 911 lines unless you have an immediate emergency.
  • If possible, create a list of persons who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized and a list of persons who also may have handled this package or lefter. Give this list to both the local public health authorities and law enforcement officials.

Important Numbers for Lincoln & Lancaster County

Non-Emergency (Police, Fire, Medical) 441-6000
Emergency 911
Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department 441-8000
Lincoln-Lancaster County Department of Emergency Management 441-7441

Online Resources:

For more information or presentations on a number of topics contact us at: 402-441-7441