• James Willis, Jr.

The Forgotten Peril in the Mail

We hear a lot about active shooter situations, but what about bomb threats

In 2015, the FBI recorded 20 active shooter incidences and 400 bombing incidences.

Americans tend to take things for granted. This may well be one of the most obvious statements ever made, but, have you ever considered why we take certain things for granted? There’s a plethora of reasons that one could point to, from changes in society, in technology, or “millennials”, etc. However, the primary reason is simply, “out of sight, out of mind”. Think about all the things that occur in our daily lives with little effort, attention, or action on our part, a myriad of unseen services, including the delivery of letters and packages.

Mail and delivery services are one of those functions which seem to just happen. When we want to send something, we place it in the mailbox or take it to the post office and it just sort of disappears, only for it to reappear at the proper destination. Though item or service may change, the basic process remains essentially the same for all deliveries. As a rule, people tend to only think about postal and delivery services when the system breaks down or gets delayed, even by a day. Though few Americans take the time to actually write a letter anymore, this hasn't lessened our reliance on the mail and delivery services. On the contrary, in today’s world where with one-click of a mouse button and you get anything you want delivered to your door, mail and delivery services have never been busier.

However, the lack of attention paid to such services and the levels to which people are willing to allow “take-for-granted” services into their lives, create systemic weaknesses. Weaknesses which can be exploited. Assuming that all take for granted services and conveniences are harmless and friendly is like leaving the gate to the castle open and unguarded.

The recent bombings which terrorized the residents of Austin, Texas this March are a striking example of this weakness. On the morning of March 2nd, Anthony Stephan House was killed when he went to pick up a package at his house. Ten days later, on March 12th, at almost the same time as the first bombing, teenager Draylen Mason was killed and his mother injured when opening up a package in their home. Later that same morning, a 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera was injured opening another package. As both House and Mason were African-Americans and apparently attended the same church, it was considered that there was a possible racial motive involved. This was compounded by the fact that Herrera's explosive package seemed to have arrived at her location by mistake. However, this notion was questioned when two white men in their early 20's were injured inspecting a package left by a roadside sign on March 18th. Two days later, in the early morning hours, a package addressed to an Austin address exploded in a FedEx package facility, injuring a FedEx employee. Upon searching other regional FedEx facilities that same morning, another package was identified as a bomb and successfully defused. When investigators learned that both packages were mailed by the same individual, the law enforcement quickly tracked down Mark Anthony Conditt, a young man in his early 20’s. Conditt killed himself in his car by detonating one of his packages while parked on the side of the road before he could be arrested.

Conditt’s almost month-long reign of terror was possible because he, like many other terrorists who have engaged in mail bombings through the years, exploited the built-in weaknesses of the mail system and people's ambivalence towards it. While active shooter situations have captured the national conscious over the past few years, in terms of terrorism Americans are more likely to be killed or injured in a bombing than in shootings or kidnappings. In the past few years there have been bombings or attempted bombings at the Boston Marathon (2013), Wichita Kansas (2013), New York City (2016), Bloomington Minnesota (2017), and now Austin Texas among many others. These blasts happen in public spaces & airports, offices & schools. Even shopping stores are targeted, just last year a man in Florida was arrested for trying to plant 10 explosives in regional Target locations, and just now (April 5th, 2018) two explosives rocked a Sam’s Club store in California.

For most Americans, seeing a package at the front door is not a strange sight. Indeed some people can even forget that they ordered something, only to be reminded when it arrives. While at home, it is important to ensure that you know for certain that you know who sent you the package before you bring it into your home or open it. Double check that you are expecting a package that you ordered, call relatives or friends to see if they sent you a surprise package. Double check that the package was indeed sent to you before you open it. If you do not recognize the sender from the package, it is important that you establish contact with them before handling it too much. In the name of safety, a surprise package can wait another 5 minutes on the porch before you place your trust and wellbeing in the hands of the sender.

The same goes for the workplace; vigilance is the key. Receiving a package you didn’t order or expect should give you a moment's pause and heighten your awareness. Again, when you receive a package you didn't expect, verify who sent it and why. Before opening, look at the address and if it is from someone you do not know, contact them that verify that they did indeed send you a parcel. If mailings and deliveries are handled by a mailroom, they should employ a similar system. When a package arrives in the mailroom, they should contact the intended recipient and verify the delivery was expected. If not, they should take the above steps to establish the intent of the sender. If a package arrives that isn't addressed to a particular person, then that parcel should be treated with seriousness, care, and reasonable concern.

It is important to remember that bombings are a real threat to all. From the Unabomber to the Boston Marathon attack, and the Austin incidents, remember that threats can and do come from any location, and in any shape. It’s also important to remember that you shouldn’t live in fear of bombings just as you shouldn’t live in constant fear of an active shooter. Remaining vigilant and on aware of hazards should not take away from enjoying life, or as is the case with many deliveries, the joy and pleasure of opening a new package. But, if you add a little extra caution, you can help ensure that feeling will remain for many packages to come.

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