Biohazard drill tests Kingsford mail processing facility readiness

By NIKKI YOUNK

Staff Writer

KINGSFORD – Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Postal Service has worked to ensure that any hazardous materials, such as anthrax, that come through the mail be detected as soon as possible.

Mail processing centers throughout the country have been equipped with the Biohazard Detection System (BDS) for that very purpose.

On Tuesday, postal service officials, local emergency responders, and volunteers came together to simulate what would happen if there were a BDS alert at the Kingsford mail processing center.

“No hazardous materials have been detected at Kingsford, but we want to be prepared so everyone knows what to do in case it does happen,” explained Sabrina Todd, communications and customer relations coordinator for the USPS Greater Michigan district. “It’s for the safety of our employees and customers.”

Todd said that immediately after a BDS alert, everyone in the building would be alerted and evacuated. Local first responders and postal inspectors would be notified.

Inspectors would have the suspect piece of mail removed and brought to a facility for further testing.

In the meantime, emergency responders would set up a command center outside of the building.

Everyone who had been in the building would be directed to go through a decontamination tent. Dickinson County Memorial Hospital has such a tent, which was used in Tuesday’s exercise. The people would then be transported to the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department to take any necessary medication.

Anyone who had been in the processing center in the hours prior to the BDS alert would also be considered at risk. Mail trucks would be recalled and the health department would issue an alert to inform the public.

Pete Schlitt, emergency management coordinator for Dickinson County, and Steve Markham, health department director, were among the local officials who participated in the exercise as part of the command center. USPS officials tested them with different scenarios.

Postal Inspector F.P. Pilon pointed out that while this particular exercise benefited the postal service, local emergency responders were also gaining valuable experience that they could use in other emergency situations.

Todd noted that Tuesday’s exercise was the first of its kind to occur at the Kingsford center since it was made part of the Greater Michigan district several years ago. The district’s two other processing centers, in Traverse City and Grand Rapids, have completed similar exercises.

Nikki Younk’s e-mail address is nyounk@ironmountaindailynews.com.