Post of­fice back to work

D.C. em­ploy­ees re­turn a day af­ter a pack­age ig­nited.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY CAROL MORELLO, KAFIA HOSH AND ED O’KEEFE

Postal work­ers re­turned to their jobs Satur­day at a District pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity where a pack­age ig­nited the day be­fore, res­ur­rect­ing un­easy mem­o­ries of the 2001 an­thrax mail scare that killed two of their col­leagues and changed the way Washington han­dles mail.

At the V Street an­nex in North­east, where the pack­age emit­ted pop­ping noises and smoke be­fore erupt­ing in a brief flash of flames Fri­day, em­ploy­ees head­ing home dur­ing a shift change expressed con­cern that they had not been evac­u­ated swiftly enough. The in­ci­dent un­scored a sense of siege, com­ing a day af­ter two sim­i­lar parcels con­tain­ing low-grade in­cen­di­ary de­vices flared up and singed the fin­gers of Mary­land em­ploy­ees han­dling mail at state govern­ment build­ings.

Dena Briscoe, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­can PostalWork­ers Lo­cal 140, met with about 40 em­ploy­ees of the V Street an­nex Satur­day morn­ing to dis­cuss the lat­est string of in­ci­dents. She de­scribed them as somber, shaken and anx­ious.

“It brings back feel­ings from the an­thrax hap­pen­ing,” she said, re­fer­ring to the fret­ful weeks in late 2001 when postal work­ers found an­thrax spores in the mail pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity in Brent­wood. Thomas L. Mor­ris Jr. and Joseph P. Curseen died fol­low­ing the ex­po­sure. To­day, their names are on the build­ing. Their deaths sparked a mis­trust of man­age­ment by

em­ploy­ees who thought their wel­fare was an af­ter­thought.

James Pick­ett Jr. is not con­vinced that man­age­ment learned any­thing.

A mail pro­cess­ing clerk at the fa­cil­ity, he said he was stand­ing a few feet from the pack­age — ad­dressed to Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano — when it ig­nited af­ter a worker tossed it into a bin.

“An em­ployee yelled out a pack­age had ex­ploded,” said Pick­ett, a 33-year vet­eran of the Postal Ser­vice. “It was kind of scary.”

Pick­ett said he im­me­di­ately left and urged oth­ers to join him. But it took 45 min­utes to get ev­ery­one out­side, he said. “I think that’s un­ac­cept­able,” Pick­ett said.

Don Red­mond, a 40-year-old mail pro­cess­ing clerk from District Heights, didn’t work Fri­day, but he said the in­ci­dent trans­ported him back to 2001 when he was as­signed to the Brent­wood fa­cil­ity. He said that his co-work­ers seemed “on edge” dur­ing the Satur­day morn­ing meet­ing with union of­fi­cials. “Ev­ery­body was still try­ing to get over the ini­tial shock,” he said.

‘A prime tar­get’

Law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties re­vealed few new de­tails Satur­day, other than to say that two of the in­ci­dents are def­i­nitely con­nected.

“We’re fairly con­fi­dent all three in­ci­dents are re­lated,” said Rich Wolf, a spokesman for the FBI field of­fice in Bal­ti­more, where its Joint Ter­ror­ist Task Force is lead­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion en­com­pass­ing fed­eral and state law en­force­ment agen­cies.

TheMary­land parcels were ad­dressed to Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley (D) and to state Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Beverley K. Swaim-Sta­ley. Each con­tained an iden­ti­cal, coarse mes­sage: “Re­port Sus­pi­cious Ac­tiv­ity! To­tal [ex­ple­tive]! YouHave Cre­ated A Self Ful­fill­ing Prophecy. -X-”

Au­thor­i­ties have not said whether the pack­age in the District had a mes­sage.

Many cus­tomers also expressed un­ease at what usu­ally is an un­event­ful chore.

Dan­ger com­ing through the mail slot is “a re­al­is­tic part of liv­ing inD.C.,” Doug Stroock, 35, a con­sul­tant from North­west, said as he helped a friend tote pack­ages from the Na­tional Cap­i­tal post of­fice. “We are a prime tar­get.”

Af­ter last week’s se­cu­rity threat, Stroock said his em­ployer held an in­for­mal meet­ing about mail safety, fo­cus­ing on “ be­ing safe, keep­ing an eye out for un­usual” things.

Dur­ing the an­thrax scare in 2001, over­bur­dened haz­mat units scur­ried across the re­gion an­swer­ing dozens of emer­gency calls from govern­ment build­ings, em­bassies, of­fices and res­i­dences where a let­ter aroused sus­pi­cions.

Since then, all mail to govern­ment build­ings is screened, and many pri­vate busi­nesses set aside well-ven­ti­lated rooms for mail to be opened.

Few ran­dom tar­gets

Postal of­fi­cials dis­trib­uted a memo late Thurs­day re­mind­ing work­ers to be on the look­out for, among other things, lop­sided, bulky or rigid pack­ages con­tain­ing oil stains, dis­col­orations or crys­tals on the wrap­ping.

USPS spokes­woman Sue Bren­nan said that look­ing for sus­pi­cious mail and pack­ages “is part of ev­ery em­ployee’s train­ing and it’s reen­forced on a reg­u­lar ba­sis — this was the case even be­fore An­thrax. . . . The goal has al­ways been to keep em­ploy­ees safe, to keep cus­tomers safe and to keep the U.S. mail safe.”

Au­thor­i­ties de­scribed in­ci­dents in­volv­ing dan­ger­ous de­vices sent through the mail as rare. Only 13 cases were recorded be­tween 2004 and 2009, ac­cord­ing to Frank Schissler, spokesman for the U.S. Postal In­spec­tion Ser­vice’sWashington di­vi­sion.

“ These types of in­ci­dents are usu­ally done by a sender who has a griev­ance against a spe­cific in­di­vid­ual, or mak­ing a po­lit­i­cal state­ment,” he said in an in­ter­view, not­ing that pub­lic of­fi­cials or jilted lovers are the most fre­quent tar­gets. “It’s rare that ran­dom peo­ple are tar­geted; it al­most never hap­pens.”

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