FedEx explosion could reveal vulnerability in shipping process

Austin

A bomb delivered to an Austin-area FedEx Office store could have exposed vulnerability in the way some packages are handled by commercial carriers. Two separate packages got into two separate FedEx sorting warehouses Monday. 

One of the two packages exploded on a conveyor belt inside the Schertz, Texas FedEx location. The other ended up in another FedEx sorting warehouse in southeast Austin. The second package did not detonate and investigators took custody of it late Monday morning. 

Investigators said the package that exploded Tuesday morning was shipped from the FedEx Office store on Brodie Lane in Austin. The same person who shipped that package also shipped the second package, a statement from FedEx shows. 

What law enforcement has not disclosed is when the person dropped off the package at the Brodie Lane location, but it’s likely to have happened sometime between last Tuesday and as late as Monday because of the delivery timing of FedEx’s ground shipping service.  

Investigators said both packages were shipped though FedEx’s Ground Service. That service promises to have packages delivered between one and five days, according to FedEx’s website. Delivery is not available on Saturday or Sunday, the site shows. 

That would put the timeline of the drop off as early as last Tuesday and as late as Monday.

The vulnerability in the process likely could have come in the Ground Service choice used to ship the packages. That service does not require FedEx workers to re-package shipments into the familiar, white FedEx boxes. Shippers are able to use their own boxes. 

Investigators said the package that exploded was supposed to be delivered to an address in Austin. The sorting facility where it exploded is 60 miles away from Austin. 

“Most likely it got sent to that sorting center in Schertz so that it could get combined into van loads or truckloads of similar locations,” Allan Rutter told KXAN. 

Rutter is the head of Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute’s Freight Mobility and Investment Analysis division. Rutter said it’s typical to move packages miles away from delivery addresses for sorting. 

Commercial carriers, like FedEx, also have built-in security elements in the sorting process to identify potentially dangerous packages, Rutter said. A FedEx statement sent out Tuesday afternoon indicated that was the case with the two bomb packages looped into the federal investigation. 

“We have provided law enforcement responsible for this investigation extensive evidence related to these packages and the individual that shipped them collected from our advance technology security systems. The safety and security measures in place across the FedEx networks are designed to protect the safety of our people, customers and communities, and to assist law enforcement as appropriate,” the statement posted on the FedEx Twitter feed stated. 

The two packages, which both contained explosives, apparently made it into both FedEx facilities and one exploded before being detected. The other was detected late Tuesday morning, hours after the 12:30 a.m. explosion in Schertz. 

This investigation, Rutter said, could likely lead to changes in the way carriers handle packages like this in the future, “Some of that may be they want to have a little more control over what package gets into their system and they may be a little more careful about how something gets into a place where they’re now responsible for its movement.”

“Whether it has some effect on the drop boxes, that’s maybe too early to tell, but each carrier’s going to have to make a business decision on the risks associated with those parcels and how much they are in a position to control that access to it,” Rutter said.

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