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Responding to suspicious packages

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- A recent suspicious package discovered at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., resulted in 13 people being decontaminated and special measures put into place -- reaffirming the importance of being vigilant when dealing with suspicious mail and packages.

Suspicious package responses are fairly common occurrences at military installations and every base has its share of calls from concerned members of the public.

"There are crucial steps that everyone must be aware of and actions that all members should take immediately," said Capt. Joseph Yakubik, 28th Security Forces Squadron operations officer. "The immediate actions can be summed up in four words: recognize, record, retreat and report."

Recognize. People should always be aware of their surroundings and positively identify any packages or items out of the ordinary such as suspicious devices.

"If you see an unattended package at any location, take the initiative and attempt to identify the owner," Yakubik said. "For example, if you see an unattended backpack or handbag at the food court that may have been forgotten or left behind, simply asking people in the immediate area may help to determine the owner. On the other hand, if it appears to be a suspicious package or has protruding wires, oily stains, is tightly taped, made of irregular packaging, or has foreign postmarks, there are steps that should be taken."

Record. Individuals who encounter items of this nature should record all pertinent information about the object. This step includes identifying the exact location and noting precise details about the object.

Retreat. Once the characteristics have been recorded, the next step is to clear the immediate area around the device and direct everyone to retreat to a distance at least 500 feet away from the package. "Under no circumstances should anyone touch or attempt to move the suspicious item," Yakubik said.

Report. Once everyone is away from the package, it is imperative that a base's defense operations center be contacted immediately. The caller should be a minimum of 25 feet away from the suspicious package in order to prevent a possible electronic signal detonating the device. When reporting the package to security forces, callers must provide all details about the package -- size, color, markings, exact location, etc.

The captain added that no one should ever touch or attempt to move the suspicious item while waiting for the security personnel and firefighters to arrive. Once on scene, the first responders will handle all other follow-on actions.

"Awareness of threats and proper training should be a concern for all personnel," Yakubik said. "Everyone must understand that any call received about a suspicious package can impact a large portion of the installation, especially if an area is evacuated as emergency responders react to the needs of the situation. That is why it is vital that everyone understand the differences between an unattended package and a suspicious package. However, if doubt exists with any package, do not hesitate to clear the area and call the base defense operations center."
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