Tuesday, October 16, 2001
Local Court Workers to Get Anthrax Training for Mail Handling
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Employees in the two largest Los Angeles Superior Court mailrooms will be trained today on how to handle suspicious mail as the court attempts to deal with the increased threat of anthrax being sent through the mail, the court’s top administrator said yesterday.
The court, which handles up to 50 million pieces of correspondence a year, is taking a three-pronged approach to protecting itself against chemical and biological threats received through the mail, Superior Court Executive Officer/Clerk John Clarke said.
The U.S. Postal Service reported yesterday that there has been only one confirmed instance of anthrax sent through the mail. But spores of the potentially deadly disease have been found on mail in New York, Florida, Nevada and Washington, D.C.
Employees in the Superior Court’s primary mailroom and those who handle jury operations, which alone processes over 25,000 pieces of mail a week, will be trained today and court district managers will be trained Friday by Superior Court Director of Security Cecil Mills, a retired judge.
Education, which includes the mailroom training programs, are an integral part of that approach, Clarke said.
The Superior Court is also working to increase awareness among employees and reaffirming an already existing protocol for handling problem materials.
“We want people to have a heightened awareness of everything around them,” Clarke said.
In a memo distributed to all court employees, Clarke urged any employee who comes in contact with suspicious mail, packages or substances to notify the nearest law enforcement agency and their nearest supervisor.
Information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Service describing anthrax and its dangers as well as procedures for handling suspicious mail was also distributed to employees.
Another memo detailing information from the Centers for Disease Control is expected to be distributed to employees today, Clarke said.
Gloves have been distributed to employees who handle court mail, but the number of mail handlers wearing them is very limited, he said.
“We have an advantage in that we are well positioned with our weapons screening,” Clarke said. “In that we are well ahead of the private sector.”
“But where we do need to catch up, like everyone else, is we need to take a look at the biological and chemical weapons,” he said.
Clarke said the Superior Court has not received any credible threats.
Richard Janisch, manager of courtroom operations for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, said Court Clerk Sherri Carter will be giving instructions today to federal court employees on how to handle the mail.
“Right now the mail is being closely looked at, but we’re waiting instructions,” Janisch said.
An employee at the U.S. District Court, the Central District of California, who asked not to be identified, said employees handling mail had been given protective gloves and masks.
Chief Charles Almanza, of the U.S. Marshal’s Office, said security has been increased in all areas for the U.S. District Courts.
At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, mail personnel have been given the opportunity to wear gloves and they have received additional training from government officials on how to handle the mail, spokesman Thom Mrozek said.
“As everywhere else in the country, we are operating under an increased level of security and awareness,” Mrozek said.
Mail service has not been interrupted as a result of the additional precautions, he said.
“People are just more aware,” Mrozek said.
Mayor James Hahn said yesterday his office sent a memo to all city employees advising them to act with caution if they encounter any suspicious packages or letters in the mail.
Yesterday a letter opened by staffers of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. tested positive twice for anthrax.
House and Senate officials have since ordered aides in all congressional offices to stop opening mail until it can be tested.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company