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NEWS | Aug. 1, 2013

Officials advise how to treat suspicious packages

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

A suspicious package may be nothing more than a harmless unattended item, but it's important that anyone who makes the discovery follow the proper protocol in reporting it, Joint Base San Antonio security forces officials said.

The first rule of thumb is to leave the package alone, Master Sgt. Leif Gisselberg, 902nd Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge of operations, said.

"If you find something that seems out of place, see if there's anyone around the area it might belong to, but don't touch the package," he said. "Do not disturb it in any fashion."

Gisselberg said to "gather as much visual data" about the package as possible, including its size, dimensions, color, markings, sounds and odors - "anything and everything about it.

"Then leave the area and contact security forces," he said.

Master Sgt. Robert Brinson, 802nd Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge of operations, also advised to "keep everyone away from the item until emergency personnel arrive."

That means notifying a nearby building's facility manager, if possible, or its occupants, Gisselberg said.

"You want to keep people away, at a safe distance," he said. "You don't want to jeopardize anyone's safety."

Gisselberg said it's also important for people near the site to comply with emergency responders' instructions.

Determining that a package is suspicious depends on "multiple things," Brinson said. They include no return address, excessive postage, misspelled words, strange odors, oil stains or discoloration, excessive tape and a ticking noise.

Other red flags are that the package is mailed from a foreign country and that it's addressed to someone's title, not a person, he said.

Emergency responders who arrive on the scene follow their own protocol, Brinson said.

"The fire chief and security forces lead will meet and establish the appropriate cordon for the size of the package and get the affected area evacuated," he said. "Explosive ordnance disposal specialists will access the package and determine its hostility. If it is deemed hostile, it will be controlled detonated."

One of the most recent reports of a suspicious package at Randolph - a mailed item - occurred last month at Air Force Personnel Center, Gisselberg said.

"The hazmat response team responded and declared it was not a threat," he said.

Another report of a suspicious package occurred in April when a parcel was found outside the medical clinic, Gisselberg said.

"We took all the necessary precautions, such as evacuating the clinic and calling the EOD unit at Lackland," he said.

The package turned out to be a box of clothes, but the reporting person "did the right thing" by calling security forces, Gisselberg said.

Brinson said most suspicious packages turn out to be "unattended items."

"Most of the time, the flight sergeant will evaluate the package and see that it is not hostile," he said.

The bottom line, Gisselberg said, is that "the safety of everyone on base is our top priority on every response and course of action we develop.

"We err on the side of safety," he said. "We go through a process and keep people safe."