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Mr. Wrong

Dusted

By Joe MacLeod | Posted 10/24/2001

I got dust on the brain. I started out by putting all my mail through an exhaustive examination process involving shaking it up and down and sideways, and then holding it next to my ear to see if I could hear any dust sliding around inside. My Highly Scientific Level II Examination involved putting it up against the window so the light would shine through, and then I would try to look through the envelope without opening it to see if I could see any dust, and then when that didn't work, I'd take a coupla deep breaths and then hold it, and then open the envelope just . . . a . . . little . . . bit . . . and pull out whatever was inside with these metal tongs I got from the supermarket and then stick the contents out the window to let the dust blow off, which I guess was not a very neighborly thing to do and probably just blew all the fucking death-dust back in on me anyway, so there, instant karma, right?

Anyway, then I got the memo on "How to identify suspicious packages and letters," adapted from an Oct. 12 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Alert Advisory:

DO NOT PANIC

Anthrax organisms can cause infection in the skin, gastrointestinal system, or the lungs. To do so the organism must be rubbed into abraded skin, swallowed, or inhaled as a fine, aerosolized mist. Disease can be prevented after exposure to the anthrax spores by early treatment with the appropriate antibiotics. Anthrax is not spread from one person to another person.

Right, why would anybody panic?

HOW TO IDENTIFY SUSPICIOUS PACKAGES AND LETTERS

Some characteristics of suspicious packages and letters include:

· Excessive postage

· Handwritten or poorly typed addresses

· Incorrect titles

· Title, but no name

· Misspellings of common words

· Oily stains, discolorations, or odor

· No return address

· Excessive weight

· Lopsided or uneven envelope

· Protruding wires or aluminum foil

· Excessive security material such as masking tape, string, etc.

· Visual distractions

· Ticking sound

· Marked with restrictive endorsements, such as "Personal" or "Confidential"

· Shows a city or state in the postmark that does not match the return address

Jesus Christ. This little checklist matches about 99 percent of my mail, especially the "oily stains, discolorations, or odor" item.

If you receive an envelope with powder and powder spills out onto surface:

1. DO NOT try to CLEAN UP the powder. COVER the spilled contents immediately with anything (e.g., clothing, paper, trash can, etc.) and do not remove this cover!

2. Then LEAVE the room and CLOSE the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).

3. WASH your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder to your face.

4. Report the incident:

--If you are at WORK, then report the incident to Security at ext. 4444.

--If you are at HOME, then report the incident to local police.

5. REMOVE heavily contaminated clothing as soon as possible and place in a plastic bag, or some other container that can be sealed. This clothing bag should be given to the emergency responders for proper handling.

6. SHOWER with soap and water as soon as possible. Do not use bleach or other disinfectant on your skin.

If possible, list all people who were in the room or area, especially those who had actual contact with the powder. Give this list to Security. Security will give it to local public-health authorities and law-enforcement officials for follow-up investigations and advice.

OK, so immediately my scientific brain gets all hung up on this "ext. 4444" thing. Is that some kind of Universal Government Extension or something? Is "ext. 4444" the extension number the writers of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Alert Advisory figured would read like a generic extension number, kinda like how all the phone numbers in the movies are on the "555" exchange? Whatever. All I know is I get this funny beeping sound when I dial ext. 4444, so I'm not doing that. And if I'm at work, I'm supposed to strip off my contaminated clothing? We just got done with our latest round of sensitivity training, and I'm pretty sure I would be Creating a Hostile Environment if I did that, so maybe I'll just head straight for the shower, soak myself down, and then construct a replacement garment out of an elaborate network of wet paper towels.

If there is a question of room contamination by aerosolization: (For example, a small device triggered, or warning that air-handling system is contaminated, or warning that a biological agent is released in a public space.)

1. If you are at WORK, then report the incident to Security at ext. 4444. If you are at HOME, then dial "911" to report the incident to local police and the local FBI field office.

2. Turn off local fans or ventilation units in the area.

3. LEAVE area immediately.

4. CLOSE the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering (i.e., keep others away).

If possible, list all people who were in the room or area. Give this list to Security. Security will give it to local public- health authorities and law-enforcement officials for follow-up investigations and advice.

If a small device gets triggered in my office, there's no question about "leaving the area immediately." I mean, try and fucking stop me, right? The smell from me crapping my pants will serve to "prevent others from entering."

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