What is "suspicious"?

Since 2001, there have been a limited number of incidents involving agents of terror (e.g., Anthrax and Ricin) sent through the mail. The following guidelines are intended to help identify suspicious materials and to provide procedures to follow in the event of receiving suspicious mail. A suspicious letter or package is one that is unexpected or unknown, with the following characteristics:

  • Excessive postage.
  • Misspellings of common words.
  • Excessive weight.
  • Rigid envelope.
  • Foreign mail, airmail, or special delivery.
  • Hand written or poorly typed address.
  • Restrictive markings such as confidential, personal, etc.
  • Excessive securing - material such as masking tape, string, etc.
  • Incorrect titles.
  • Oily stains or discoloration.
  • Visual distractions.
  • Lopsided or uneven.
  • Titles but no names.
  • No return address.
  • Protruding wires or tinfoil.

Procedures for suspicious letter or package

If you receive a suspicious letter or package, immediately dial 911 or the Virginia Tech Police 540-231-6411. DO NOT cover, insulate, or place the package into a cabinet or drawer.

Do not investigate on your own. Do not shake or bump the package or letter. Isolate the package, placing it in a sealable plastic bag, if available. Calmly alert others in the immediate area and leave the area, closing the door behind you. Wash hands and exposed skin vigorously with soap and flowing water for at least 20 seconds. Antibacterial soaps that do not require water are not effective for removing anthrax or other threatening materials. Dial 911 and give the operator your exact location. Wait for police to respond. Do not leave the building unless instructed to do so by public safety personnel. A local dispatcher will initiate a response and contact other local, state and federal authorities, as appropriate.

General precautions for handling mail

Any staff member who handles mail in bins, bags, or other bulk containers - either from the US Post Office or distributing to an entire department or a number of offices - must participate in a training program. If the package or letter is not suspicious, please adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Face the package or mail away from you before opening it.
  • Cover cuts or abrasions with bandages. If bandages are not sufficient, gloves are an alternative. Be aware that it is possible to have an allergic reaction to latex gloves. A better alternative is vinyl or nitrile gloves. Avoid gloves that are lined with powder.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water (not waterless antibacterial soap) for at least 20 seconds after opening the mail.

Pranks and hoaxes

Pranks or hoaxes involving false threats of agents of terror, including Anthrax or Ricin, disrupt lives, create serious safety concerns, and tax valuable University and community resources. They create illegitimate alarm in a time of legitimate concern. The University and law enforcement authorities take all such actions very seriously. The University has adopted a "zero tolerance" policy and will aggressively investigate any such incidents. Any individual found responsible for such acts will be subject to University disciplinary action, up to and including separation from the University, and prosecution under State and Federal law.