After the item is X-rayed, it should be transferred to a chemical fume hood for opening. The miniature continuous air monitoring system (MINICAMS) is a real-time chemical detector located within the hood to sample the air for contaminants. Meanwhile, the area around the fume hoods is simultaneously tested for chemical threats by an automatic chemical agent alarm (ACADA) system. After an item is opened and cleared as free from contamination, it is again bagged and decontaminated for another layer of testing — and then stored for two days while chemical and biological samples are analyzed by a laboratory and deemed to be "all clear."
After notification is received that the items do not possess any chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive threats, they need to be distributed to intended recipients in accordance with U.S. Postal Service (USPS) regulations (39CFR24) and federal transportation regulations (49CFR100-185).
Comprehensive database and tracking systems are used to seamlessly track an item, with all information being archived to improve handling and data gathering for investigatory procedures. All waste generated within facilities, as well as clothing and personal protective equipment, is deemed potentially contaminated. This accumulated waste should be boxed and shipped as medical waste through various contractors to its final location, where it is burned.
Maximizing Safety Investments
To ensure the safety of both clients and staff, organizations must be prepared to make a considerable investment in time, materials and finances. Unlike other processes and procedures shown to save a percentage of operating costs, reduce manpower or result in cost savings, hazardous material handling and mail decontamination procedures are highly preventive and may increase costs on paper.
But in these situations, safety is money: A single incident of contamination within an organization's facility by anthrax or other biological threats could result in a complete "shut down." Buildings could be closed for months — and thousands of dollars could be lost:
- After an anthrax attack in 2001, the Hart Senate Office Building shut down for dozens of days, accumulating more than $14 million of cleanup costs.
- Anthrax-contaminated mail discovered in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey shut down USPS facilities in both cities and required months of testing for both workers and facilities for contamination.
- The Capitol complex was completely shut down for 11 days after a bio-terrorism attack.
- Nearly 10,000 workers in New Jersey and New York received preventive medical treatment in the wake of anthrax scares.
When lost productivity due to a "shut down" or even an incident is considered, product management becomes a realistic alternative to saving a simple dollar in the near term. Ultimately, implementing "safemail" and "safefreight" decontamination procedures is not about saving a few dollars or reducing costs — it is about preventing catastrophe and ensuring the survival of organizations involved in the logistical transport, processing and delivery of mail and freight.
About the Author: Tom Bauer is senior vice president for operations for Dayton-based SoBran. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .