Saturday, October 13, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Suspicious mail
brings HPD
to hospital

Isle anthrax anxiety begins to rise

By Mary Adamski

Concern about a suspicious envelope in the mail, postmarked from Qatar, brought a police bomb squad and the Honolulu Fire Department hazardous materials crew to a Honolulu hospital yesterday.

The alert at Shriners Hospital for Children and other recent false alarms demonstrate that Hawaii residents share the nationwide anxiety about their vulnerability to terrorism.

Also, a box sent to an Iolani Avenue apartment and a suspicious box at a Makiki apartment building were among several false alarms yesterday.

Local agencies repeated earlier warnings and guidelines for dealing with suspicious mail and parcel deliveries after a third reported case of anthrax on the mainland heightened the alarm.

"There has been no confirmed incidence of mail containing anthrax in the nation," said local U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Felice Broglio. Nevertheless, the post office here has renewed cautionary information to the people whose job it is to handle the 2 million pieces of mail that pass daily through the main postal center near Honolulu Airport. Its advice about suspicious parcels can be found at

The state Department of Health has received calls from local residents and has sent a few samples for laboratory testing. Dr. Philip Bruno, division chief of the communicable disease branch, said: "We've been getting many calls from the public concerned about anthrax cases on the mainland all week. Actually, since Sept. 11 it's become common. We respond depending on what they tell us. If what they describe meets the criteria for a suspicious package, we follow protocol, which starts with calling law enforcement."

Bruno said callers "are asking some very intelligent questions ... What is it? How can I catch it? What are the symptoms? Is there a vaccine? They are concerned but not overly distressed." Health officials give guidance based on Centers for Disease Control and Postal Service information, he said.

Frank Arakaki, state House of Representatives sergeant-at-arms, said an FBI advisory about potential mail threats was distributed to legislators' staffs at the state Capitol this week in advance of the special session later this month.

John Cummings, Oahu Civil Defense education and training officer, said he sent out a flyer this week to each city department using information from the Postal Service Web site.

Cummings said city, state and federal agencies have been trained to respond to alerts such as an anthrax scare through the Metro Medical Response System, which was established in Hawaii in 1996 under a congressional domestic preparedness initiative.

"Some of the training exercises for the Asian Development Bank conference were specific to letter and bomb awareness," he said. "A big focus was to train the trainer so, for example, the Fire Department folks would take it and teach it in-house, and police personnel are doing the same, and so on for each agency."

Broglio said characteristics that might trigger suspicion about a package or envelope would include its being from an unfamiliar sender or with no return address.

That applied in two recent alarms. The 8-by-11-inch envelope received at Shriners Hospital carried a return address from an unknown sender in a Middle Eastern country. What it contained remains a mystery. After emergency units had a look, hospital officials decided to destroy it in the facility incinerator without opening it.

Big Island emergency units responded last week when a resident was edgy about an unexpected parcel with no return address. It could be traced because it was metered mail and turned out to be from a company that had sent the resident a camera earlier, then sent a cable for it in a second box. When contacted "they said, oh darn, we forgot to put the return address on," Broglio said.

While law enforcement agencies deal with public concerns, the postal service is making sure people on the front line are prepared. "For our employees, we shared how the anthrax bacteria works. We caution people to always be careful, to be alert and aware. We want to be sure they aren't worried, don't get distracted and into an accident." She said each letter carrier delivers about 1,000 pieces of mail a day.

Before events of the last month, there had been 60 mail threats or hoaxes across the country this year, including mention of anthrax and others, according to the postal service.

"People should us common sense," the postal spokeswoman said. "The likelihood is very remote that anyone will receive anything."

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin