Campus police teach how to deal with suspicious mail

By Susan Latham, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday October 26, 2001

Sherief Ibrahim of the University of California police department’s bomb squad has an unusual package with him Tuesday.  

It’s an empty cardboard box addressed to a chancellor who no longer works at the university. The words “urgent” and “important” are written on the front. There is no return address. 

“My policy at home is if I get something without a return address, I don’t open it,” said Ibrahim. He says if he thinks it’s his in-laws, he will call and ask them before opening the package. 

One of the most obvious indicators of a bomb inside a package is how it feels when you pick it up.  

“If two-thirds of the weight (of the package) is on one-third of the package, that is a No. 1 concern for me,” said Ibrahim.  

Other indicators include excessive postage, misspelled words, wrong title with names and oily stains on the wrapper. 

Ibrahim’s message is part of several brown bag presentations being held on campus this week by the police department’s Threat Management Division.  

No immediate threat is known to the campus say officials. They are just trying to take precautions and educate people on what to do if something were to occur.  

“Several people have had concerns about different letters and packages that they have received. None of them have proven to be a biological or explosive threat,” said Lieutenant Adan Tejada of the UC Police department, “We don’t have any information that Berkeley is a target.” 

A false alarm occurred last Wednesday afternoon when a wing of the Haas School of Business was evacuated for several hours after a mail clerk reported an unknown white powder to the campus police. The powder tested negative for Anthrax and classes resumed on Thursday. 

Tejada says there is a cross section of people attending the brown bag sessions including people whose primary job is to handle mail, building coordinators and interested individuals. 

“The chancellor’s office has put an emphasis on asking people who handle mail to come to these presentations. When I asked the question earlier to the crowd more than three quarters of the people said they handle mail,” said Tejada. 

Both Ibrahim and Tejada told the crowd it is important not to panic and the possibility that they might get exposed to antharax is very slim. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only a small number of cases become infected even after exposure. 

“The likelihood of actually getting exposed to anthrax is much less than the likelihood of getting the flu,” said Tejada, “but it’s good to be concerned and keep your eyes open.” 

The first main thing to do if you suspect anthrax in a letter is put it inside some kind of plastic protector, like a Ziploc bag, and contact the police, said Tejada. 

“We want doors closed in that room. Don’t let anybody else in that room. Wash your hands and face, and keep all together, all the people in the room (at the time of exposure),” said Tejada.  

In the case of a bomb threat the first thing to do is put the suspicious item down, open the windows to allow the pressure of the explosion to go out the window. 

David Hernes, building manager of Evans Hall, says two weeks ago they had a suspicious package in the mailroom at the math department where he works.  

A professor became suspicious when he didn’t recognize the sender of a large package. In the end it turned out to be four large manuscripts from a Canadian University. 

As he left the Tuesday meeting Hernes said the only thing he would change in his department is to go out and get some Ziploc bags.  

Otherwise he said, “We’re doing the things we’re supposed to do.”