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Health Hazards - Health Canada Emergency Preparedness Site

Suspicious Packages

Suspicious packages could be delivered to your home or workplace, therefore it is good to be vigilant and know what to do.

You know what kind of mail and packages you usually get.

Look for things that are out of the ordinary. The following might help in identifying a suspicious package:

  • Mailed from a foreign country
  • Fictitious or no return address
  • Strange odour
  • Protruding wires
  • Excessive postage
  • Misspelled words
  • Addressed to a business title only (i.e. President)
  • Rigid or bulky
  • Badly typed or written
  • Special endorsements
  • Lopsided or uneven
  • Oily stains, discolouration or crystallization on wrapping
  • Has noise coming from it, or
  • Is leaking.
The contents of a letter or package may cause concern if:
  • You see powder or a liquid
  • It contains a threatening note, or
  • It contains an object that you did not expect to receive or cannot identify.
If you are worried about a package or letter you have received:
  • Do not open the letter or package.
  • Leave the letter or package where it is.
  • Get everyone out of the room and close the door.
  • Call 911 (or the emergency response number in your area).
  • If applicable, alert building security/superintendent.
  • Wait in a safe place until the police/fire arrive.
If you have opened a suspicious package:
  • Leave the package where it is.
  • Remove any clothing that has powder or liquid on it and seal it in a plastic bag.
  • Get everyone out of the room and close the door.
  • Wash your hands or shower with soap and water.
  • Call 911 (or the emergency response number in your area).
  • If applicable, alert building security/superintendent.
  • Wait in a safe place until the police/fire arrive. The police, other emergency workers and public health authorities will give you advice about what to do next.

Biological Agents

Biological agents are bacteria or viruses that can be deliberately dispersed in such a way as to cause disease and/or death in people exposed to the agents. A person exposed to a biological agent should obtain immediate medical attention. In combating the personal health implications of bio-terrorism, treatment is better than prevention. Taking antibiotics ahead of time is not recommended. This could lead to an increased risk of side effects in the general population, an increase of drug resistance of the bacteria, and a shortage of supplies.If you experience sustained or unusual symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. If you have been exposed or think you might have been exposed to a biological agent, but you are not ill, you should still contact the public health authorities as quickly as possible. Public health officials will assess and manage the risks for anyone that has been potentially exposed to a dangerous substance. If need be, post-exposure treatment with antibiotics might be recommended by health officials.

Bomb Threat

If you receive a bomb threat, stay calm and try to get as much information as possible. Although this might be difficult, try to note any unique features about the voice and any background sounds you hear over the telephone. Keep the caller on the line as long as possible and record every word that is said.
Try to note the following:

  • If the speaker is male or female,
  • If the speaker has an accent,
  • If the voice is disguised, muffled or funny sounding,
  • If the voice is shrill or deep,
  • Any background noises (traffic, bus passing, bell ringing, fax or printer sounds), and
  • Any indoor vs. outdoor sounds, etc.
  • Call the police and building management immediately afterwards.

After you've been notified of a bomb threat, do not touch any suspicious package. Leave the area where the suspicious package was found. Notify the police immediately. After evacuating a building, avoid standing in front of windows or other potentially hazardous areas. Do not block the sidewalk or street, which will need to be kept clear for emergency officials.In the case of an explosion, get out of the building as quickly and calmly as possible. If items are falling off bookshelves or from the ceiling, get under a sturdy table or desk until the situation has stabilized enough for your safe passage. Remember: ensure your own safety before trying to help others.

Chemical Releases

Persons exposed to certain chemicals (household, industrial or war chemicals) could suffer injury, disease or death. Hazardous chemicals can be released by accident or through a deliberate act of criminal intent. In either case, it is important to listen to the directions of emergency responders. Sometimes you should seal yourself inside the building you are in ("Shelter-in-Place"), and sometimes you should move to higher elevations or evacuate the area. Emergency responders are trained to identify hazards and provide appropriate guidance to the public. Chemical agents that could be used by terrorists vary from warfare agents to toxic chemicals commonly used by industry. When an accidental chemical spill occurs, an evacuation of nearby communities is often ordered as a precautionary measure to safeguard the health and safety of local residents. Stay away from the accident. Advise the nearest police services office. Remember to listen to the radio, emergency responders in your area will provide the necessary instructions. If you suspect a chemical substance has been released in a closed area, such as a subway or building, avoid breathing any of the fumes and evacuate as quickly as possible. Immediately contact the closest police, fire and ambulance services. Decontamination might be required before you can receive medical attention. Listen to advice from local officials. Exposure to a chemical substance, may require quarantine and the attention of medical authorities. Because the type of chemical may not be known right away, treatment is based on symptoms. Keep track of symptoms (breathing and heart rate, perspiration, dizziness, skin tone, deliriousness) and communicate them to medical help and public health agencies.

Nuclear Emergency

A nuclear emergency could result from either a threat or an actual accidental or intentional release of potentially harmful radioactive materials. In either situation, the risk to health results with exposure to radiation. It is important to remember that the likelihood of a nuclear or radiological incident of any kind is remote because of the stringent controls in place for the movement and use of radioactive materials. All levels of government, as well as operators of nuclear facilities in Canada, have emergency plans that are ready to be implemented on a moments notice.As with any emergency situation, remain calm. In the event of a nuclear incident of any kind, the degree of risk to health from exposure to radiation would be quickly determined, and the appropriate governments would take immediate measures to limit dangers of exposure. Canadians would be informed immediately of exactly what they should do.You may be told, for instance, to minimize the outside air from entering your home. If so, immediately close doors and windows and turn off air exchangers and heat recovery units. If you were outside around the time of a nuclear emergency, as soon as possible, remove your clothes and seal them in a plastic bag. Rinse your hair and body in the shower then put on clean clothes from a closed drawer or closet. Find your emergency supplies kit, turn off appliances and stay indoors until advised otherwise. Depending on the incident and risk to health, you could be visited by emergency services personnel who would appropriately advise you about actions to take. Listen to the radio or television for information on the actions governments are taking to protect your health and safety and for possible evacuation instructions.