A vibrating box, a leaking solution and a loose powder all signal “danger” in a mail room. Yet, all three were found at the Stuttgart Army Airfield mail distribution node during the week of Feb. 14.
German and American emergency responders investigated the three suspicious packages and found them to be harmless. However, the investigations resulted in a serious, negative impact on the Stuttgart military community.
The vibrating box was a massage cushion with the batteries inside it. The solution came from an improperly packed bottle of liquid Vitamin B. The powder — which resulted in a full-scale emergency response — turned out to be fertilizer.
Combined, these incidents cost approximately $10,000 in manpower and closed the mail node for nearly five hours, said Mindy Sehra, chief of the USAG Stuttgart Administrative Services Division.
Every time a German fire truck is requested, the garrison pays about €1,000 per hour for its use, Karraker said. Two German fire trucks and one garrison fire truck were used Feb. 17, “The community pays for that,” he said.
The powder investigation involved the German police, fire brigade and chemical response team, in addition to garrison Military Police, the fire department and hazardous material personnel.
Most importantly, the three incidents could have been avoided, Sehra said.
“One of the questions [mail] clerks ask is, ‘Have you taken the batteries out of anything you’ve packed?’” she said.
Mail clerks also ask “Does the parcel contain anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous items?” If the answer is “yes,” the mailer must describe the type of materials in the parcel and write them on the customs form so mail personnel receiving the shipment are not caught unaware.
It is also important to tightly wrap any powders being shipped, such as flour and baking powder, Sehra said. “Make sure you tape it up correctly so that it doesn’t fall loose,” she said.
Like powders, liquid items should be wrapped tightly and taped to prevent spillage, added U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Postmaster Mark Karraker. “A lot of people don’t realize how much handling mail goes through [when] coming overseas,” Karraker said. “If you’re mailing anything that might leak, please pack it in plastic.”
Community members can help further by notifying the Postmaster of any expected shipments of liquids or powders, and ensure that friends and family stateside wrap items correctly before mailing them to Germany.
Improperly mailed items often become suspicious packages. Karraker said there have been 10 full-scale responses to suspicious packages in USAG Stuttgart in the past two years and smaller package investigations about once a week. None involved actual threats. However, last month was the first time Karraker had three packages investigated in one week, he said.
The investigations backed up the mail process for the entire community.
“It affects everyone,” said Richard Berrios, supervisor for the SAAF mail distribution node. “Any one-hour response can turn into a three-hour delay for the entire community of mail.”