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Incendiary packages

Three recent incidents involving incendiary packages mailed to officials in Washington, DC, and Maryland have the Postal Service reminding its employees to remain vigilant against threats from suspicious parcels and letters.

On Jan. 6, two packages sent to Maryland government offices in Annapolis and Hanover were found to contain incendiary material. A day later, a similar parcel addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ignited while it was being processed by the Postal Service’s government mail annex in northeast Washington.

Fortunately, no one was injured in any of the incidents, which authorities believe are related.

The two Maryland packages were addressed to Gov. Martin O’Malley and state Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley. State police report that both of the Maryland packages contained notes reading, “Report suspicious activity! Total [expletive]! You have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The notes were signed “-X-”.

Authorities have not said whether the Washington package sent to Napolitano contained a similar note. The facility where that parcel was discovered was created specifically to process mail addressed to federal government officials following the anthrax attacks in 2001, which killed two postal employees at the District’s Brentwood mail facility.

In light of the Maryland incidents and before the Washington package was discovered, the Postal Service instructed managers to hold mandatory stand-up talks on recognizing and handling suspicious mail.

“Sadly, letters have been used as weapons for almost as long as there have been postal services,” National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric V. Rolando said. “Now that these latest threats have emerged, all of us need to make sure we’re familiar with the Service’s guidelines.”

The talk encouraged all employees to pay special attention to package characteristics, such as shape, look, address and packaging.

Once a suspicious letter or package has been identified, employees should think of the three “P’s”: Package, People and Plan.

The Postal Service’s Poster 84 outlines these procedures.

“We are all keeping an eye on this unfolding situation,” NALC Director of Safety and Health Manuel L. Peralta Jr. said. “Our members can be confident that this union will make sure the Postal Service does what is necessary to keep postal employees and the American people safe.”