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President's Message: Keeping the campus safe, from mailroom to classroom

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October 16, 2001
To the Campus Community:

With anthrax in the headlines, a number of people on campus are expressing concern about the safety of campus mail and of the staff who handle it. First, let me tell you that we have not had any incidents or threats. What follows is an update about our approach to campus security - including more than mail issues -- in these difficult times. I think that you will feel better to know that we have been taking a number of safety precautions. We are working comprehensively - and, I believe, very effectively -- to keep this a safe place to work and study. I hope that the following information will give you confidence in our efforts.

Mail: All mail delivered to the campus mail room is being scanned by an X-ray machine, using equipment identical to that used at airports. As part of our heightened security efforts, Chief Wible has assigned public safety officers to operate the scanners. If mail room staff see a piece of mail that is not intact, they will not forward it to you, but will notify Public Safety. We do not scan Federal Express or UPS packages that are too large to fit through the X-ray machine. However, Fed Ex scans its own packages.

We are one of very few campuses to have another very significant security resource: a trained explosives detection dog. The dog is now being used to sweep the mail room and receiving area on a regular basis. We will also use it to check immediately on any suspicious object on campus.

Mail Handling Workshops: To provide fuller information about handling mail safely, our Department of Human Resources is sponsoring hour-long Mail Handling Information Sessions in the Student Center on Thursday, Oct. 18 (9, 10,1 Rosa Parks Rms. B-C) and Friday, Oct. 19 (1,3 Jack Adams Hall). All campus employees, as well as student work study and student assistants, are invited.

When you receive mail, you should take a number of commonsense precautions. First, treat mail much as you would a potential e-mail virus: If you do not recognize the sender, if there is no sender, if the mail is leaking, or if the letter or package looks in any way unusual to you - trust your instincts. Do not open the item, shake it, or examine it further. Leave it where it is and call Public Safety immediately at ext. 82222. If you have touched the letter or package, wash your hands with warm soap and water.

Before handling or opening mail, be alert to such suspicious signs as:

  • No return address
  • Restrictive markings ("Confidential" or "Personal" for example)
  • Excessive postage
  • Misspelled words
  • Addressed to title only or incorrect title with name
  • Badly typed or written

Especially for packages:

  • Protruding wires
  • Lopsided or uneven package
  • Strange odor
  • Oily stains or discolorations on wrapper
  • Excessive tape or string

For additional information on handling mail safely, see the official guidelines just developed jointly by health professionals, the FBI, and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. You'll find them at Click on Terrorism, then Guidelines for Handling Mail. Please feel free to print them out to circulate and share.

I know that this very discussion of hazardous mail can be frightening. Please remember that we have had no incidents on this campus, and that in any case, the risk of contracting any disease from an envelope is extremely low. In the workplaces elsewhere at which contaminated envelopes were received, only a few of the employees who were exposed to anthrax spores have tested positive for the bacterium - and after the first case, all have received prompt treatment with antibiotics and are expected to recover. As you have no doubt read, the disease is not contagious. If you feel the need for more information about it, I suggest the Centers for Disease Control web site, at

Campus security involves more than mail handling, and I want to inform you about some of our other security strategies as well as remind you of additional resources available to you. Since September 11, we have increased Public Safety patrols on campus. We have reviewed our comprehensive Campus Multi-Hazard Emergency Plan. It lays out detailed steps for our response to various emergencies and involves many campus individuals, including building coordinators and volunteers. Public Safety maintains portable X-ray equipment, which, like the dog trained to detect explosives, can be put to use anywhere on campus. Student Health Services stands ready to provide medical advice and information on environmental exposures (call ext. 82754), and our Environmental Health and Safety Department can be contacted for any questions or advice (ext. 81449). If you would like a briefing session in your work area on disaster preparedness and campus safety procedures, Public Safety is ready to provide it. To set up such a session, call ext. 82623.

We remain in close contact with off-campus emergency agencies: the San Francisco Fire Department station located one block from campus, the Office of Emergency Services, and various state and federal agencies, which are providing us with regular updates. All in all, we are working hard and thoroughly to preserve campus security and peace of mind.

In a time of stress, there is nothing more helpful - and reassuring -- than information. This has been a lengthy message, but I believe that you need and deserve full information. I will do my utmost to keep it coming to you.

Robert A. Corrigan

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Last modified February 20, 2002, by the Office of Public Affairs