Mailroom Screening


The University receives a large amount of mail on a daily basis which offers an attractive route in which to mount an attack upon our organisation or individuals. Mail can be received via the LU Mailroom or delivered direct to Departments, Support Services etc.

Letter bombs, which include parcels and packages or anything delivered by post or courier, have been a popular terrorist device for many years.

Letter bombs may be explosive or incendiary (the two most popular kinds), or chemical, biological or radiological (CBR). Anyone receiving a suspicious item is unlikely to know which type it is, so procedures have to take into account every eventuality.

A delivered item will probably have received fairly rough handling in the post, so any device is unlikely to function through being moved, but any attempt at opening it may set it off. In contrast, even gentle handling or movement of an item containing CBR material can lead to the release of contamination. Unless delivered by courier, an item is unlikely contain a timing device.

These devices can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. A well-made letter bomb or package will look innocuous but there may be tell-tale signs for staff who are alert to the possibility of attack. These are listed below. Bulky deliveries (e.g. office equipment, stationery and catering supplies), are also a potential vulnerability. This risk can be reduced through measures such as matching deliveries to orders, only accepting those which are expected, using trusted suppliers wherever possible, maintaining vigilance and inspecting deliveries.

General protective measures

Whilst this advice applies particularly to staff in the LU Mailroom, it is also relevant to all staff who may be the recipients of such items, as well as staff who may receive hand and courier delivered items. Any suspect item should be treated seriously, however the great majority will be false alarms and a few may even be hoaxes. A suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the risks to Schools, Departments or Support Services from bombs or suspicious packages, will identify the likely threats to each site and the appropriate protective measures to be taken.

Staff who handle and open mail and other deliveries should be aware of the indicators that a delivered item may present and the appropriate action to take in an emergency. (See below).

How to identify a suspicious package; (letter bomb).

The first ten points may help to indicate the presence of materials for a Chemical or Biological device. Note however, that Anthrax letters sent in the United States in the Autumn of 2001, were conventional in external appearance, and although the return addresses were false, they appeared legitimate on superficial examination. The letters were not bulky or in any way distinctive until opened.

  1. The item is unexpected or of unusual origin or from an unfamiliar sender.
  2. There is no return address or the address cannot be verified
  3. The item is poorly or inaccurately addressed e.g. incorrect title, title but no name, spelt wrongly or addressed to an individual no longer with the organisation.
  4. The address has been printed unevenly or in an unusual way e.g. by dry transfer instant lettering such as “Letraset” or “Uno Stencil”.
  5. The writing is in an unfamiliar foreign style.
  6. There are unusual postmarks or postage paid marks.
  7. A “jiffy” bag, or similar padded envelope, has been used.
  8. The item seems unusually heavy for its size. (Most letters weigh up to about 28g or 1 ounce, whereas most effective letter bombs weigh 50-100g and are 5mm or more thick).
  9. The item has more than the appropriate value of stamps for its size and weight.
  10. The item is marked “personal” or “confidential”.
  11. The item is oddly shaped or lopsided
  12. The envelope flap is stuck down completely (a harmless letter usually has an un-gummed gap of 3-5 at the corners).
  13. There are protruding wires.
  14. There is a pin-sized hole in the package wrapping or the envelope.
  15. There is a smell – particularly of almonds or marzipan.
  16. The item feels and looks like a book.
  17. There is an additional inner envelope, and it is tightly taped or tied.

How to identify a suspicious package; (Chemical/Biological device).

The effects of chemical agents may be immediate within a few hours, while those of most biological agents may not be apparent for several days. A small radiological device (i.e. a letter or small package) is unlikely to cause immediate ill effects and people may not realise they have been exposed to it until sometime afterwards.

It is difficult to provide a full list of possible Chemical/Biological products because of the nature of the materials. However, some of the more common and obvious indicators are as follows:

  • Warnings on the letter or package.
  • Unexpected granular, crystalline or finely powdered material (of any colour and usually with the consistency of coffee, sugar or baking powder), loose or in a container or leaking.
  • Unexpected sticky substances, sprays or vapours.
  • Unexpected pieces of metal or plastic, such as discs, rods, small sheets or spheres.
  • Strange smells, e.g. garlic, fish, fruit, mothballs, pepper, rotten meat, faeces, urine. Remember, if you detect a smell, do not sniff it. Remember to, that some threat objects and materials are odourless and tasteless.
  • Stains or dampness on the packaging.
  • Sudden onset of illness or irritation of the skin, eyes or nose.

What action to take when a suspicious package is identified

If you discover a suspect package please follow the following emergency procedures.

  • Stay calm and contact LU Security; (222141, 888 internal phones, 0800 526966 free-phone). Report all details of the item, it’s location and what it looks like, what the item is doing; e.g. ticking, leaking, smelling etc, and if the item has been opened prior to it being deemed suspicious.
  • If you are holding the item, put it down on a cleared, easily accessible flat surface.
  • Keep it separate so it is easily identifiable.
  • Do not move it, leave it where it is.
  • Clear the immediate area and each adjacent room, including rooms above and below. The quickest means of doing this, may be to use the fire alarm. To avoid unnecessary panic, to move from room to room, asking people to leave with their belongings. All occupants should gather at the designated assembly point for the building.
  • If the item has been opened and a suspected chemical compound is released which contaminates people, do not allow them to leave the building, move those directly affected to a safe location near to the incident and keep those individuals separate from those not involved.. Ensure all doors and windows are closed and any air conditioning or air circulation units and fans are turned off in that location.
  • Those contaminated, must keep their hands away from their nose or mouth. Emergency medical advice must be sought immediately if individuals start to display health effects. Thorough washing is only advised where an individual suffers acute discomfort quickly after exposure. Copious amounts of water must be used.
  • Witnesses and informants must remain available to give their accounts to the police. The accuracy of observations must be preserved and witnesses must be encouraged to record their observations in writing. They should be discouraged from discussing the incident or observations with others prior to the arrival of the police

Emergency contacts

LU Security (24 hour); (01509) 222141.

888 (internal phones)

0800 526966 (free phone)

Leicestershire Constabulary; 101 or 999

East Midlands Ambulance Service and Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service; 999 (prefix external calls with 9 from an internal line).