U post office employees stay calm handling mail

by Justin Ware

As the nation’s snowballing fear of anthrax rolls closer to an avalanche, University postal service employees and customers remain, for the most part, calm.

The University Academic Health Center had a scare with a suspicious package Tuesday that proved to be a false alarm. One day later, it was back to business as usual for the post office located in the basement of the same building.

“I feel pretty safe,” said an employee, who did not want her name used.

The U.S. Postal Service’s East Bank annex, located on the second level of the Phillips Wangensteen Building, consists of two small rooms not much larger than the average bathroom.

The amount of apprehension in the annex is relative to the size of the office.

“I don’t think people really care,” the employee said.

Michele Lorenz, an annex representative from the Twin Cities Student Unions, said there have been no new guidelines enacted since the anthrax letters were sent to news organizations and government officials.

However, the annex’s package drop site had several federal regulations posted near it. A postal employee said those regulations were put up during the past week.

Lorenz denied the existence of any new regulations and said as far as the current guidelines, “they increased the strictness about a year ago.”

Lorenz said those guidelines had to do with senders personally dropping off packages weighing more than one pound.

She said postal safety practices were a concern after an incident involving a bomb on a plane last year.

“The (Federal Aviation Administration) dropped a bunch of rules on us that we had to follow,” said Dan Passe, manager of the University Avenue post office.

Passe said the regulations are restricted information and would not comment on the extent of them.

Aside from last year’s modified FAA rules, Passe said not much is different.

“Outside the usual safety video we show employees, we’re not concerned,” he said.

Health center employees who witnessed firsthand Tuesday’s scare were not as passive about the dangers of biologically contaminated mail.

“If there’s no return address, I’m not going to open (the package),” said Tom Zuchars, a secretary in the Department of Medicine.

“Yesterday (the Health Center) had the bio-medical signs up,” Zuchars said, “It was pretty freaky.”

But for the most part, patrons of the small post office said they were not concerned with postal terrorism.

“It’s something I don’t think about,” said Cindy Anderson, a former Fairview employee.

Anderson, a former postal employee, said she might be concerned if she still worked for the post office.

The U.S. Postal Service has instructions on its Web site explaining what procedures a person should take if they come across a questionable package.

According to the Web site, suspicious letters or parcels: Have a powdery substance on the outside, are from unfamiliar mailers or have unfamiliar return addresses, are unusually sized or oddly shaped or have an unusual amount of tape on them.

The University’s Morris campus issued new guidelines for mail handling Wednesday. No mail will be delivered there without a return address, and all such letters will be sent to a dead letters office, according to a statement from Mary Huebner, a post office employee.

Tom, a postal employee who requested his last name not be used, said he thinks he might have delivered Tuesday’s suspicious package to the AHC. He said he has always given careful attention to suspicious mail.

Tom said the recent events don’t bother him. He has greater concerns working among disgruntled postal workers.

“I work for the post office where people get shot,” he said. “I’m not too worried about what’s inside the packages.”


Justin Ware welcomes comments at [email protected]