Posted on 4/26/2012 7:15 AM by Rob Pennington

We can all remember holding a lit firecracker in our hand just before we threw it into the air. What we did in those few seconds had a profound effect on the outcome immediately or, if the throw didn’t go as planned, the activities of the next few minutes or hours as we tended to our blast injury. Those first few seconds counted.


Workers who receive or come across suspicious packages in their workplace are much like you holding that firecracker in the few seconds before the throw. Their ability to recognize a problem and take the correct actions in the first few minutes will directly affect the outcomes in the minutes and hours to follow.


Since the terrible events of 9/11 government offices, postal facilities, universities and commercial buildings – many of them housing both public and private sector critical infrastructure, have been the targets of an element of society that attempts to instil fear or terrorize the law abiding staff and occupants of these facilities. Potential Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) materials and packages are sent in the mail, with couriers or simply placed by the perpetrator. The packages may contain hazardous/toxic materials, powders, liquids and explosives.


They rarely come with proper documentation so it’s imperative that your staff is aware of the safest way to approach these and gather information that will be required by first responders who will ultimately “clear” the package or facility.  The intent of these criminal acts often find no threat to public or workplace safety, yet if not handled properly in the first five minutes, almost always leads to a costly business disruption, that also reflects poorly on corporate reputation.


A suspicious package or material handled improperly may require first responders to close your facility for extended periods of time until they are able to gather the information they require to deal with the potential CBRNE event.


The quick actions of onsite staff, building management and the more information that can be gathered safely for first responders the better. Their actions in the first few minutes of discovery will determine the actions of first responders during the first few minutes of their arrival.


There have been far too many incidents where well-meaning staff have received or come across a package that is suspicious only to open it or move it to another location for further examination. Ideally the staff member would have recognized the potential CBRNE or suspicious package and taken the proper actions to deal with it. Proper training will give your staff the tools and resources to act safely as they take the important first steps to mitigating the event safely and quickly.


Proper training for employees within corporate mailrooms, Executive Assistants, and building security teams will give your staff guidelines to follow in order to keep them safe and to keep your downtime to a minimum – Protecting your assets and your bottom line.


The first few minutes of an event are a bit like holding a firecracker just before you throw it. Making the wrong decisions or handling it improperly will determine what happens next and how long the recovery will take.


Rob Pennington is Senior Advisor, National Life Safety Group.