By Eric M. Johnson
(Reuters) - FedEx Corp <FDX.N> will screen every package at the Texas facility where a parcel exploded on Tuesday, according to a FedEx manager, describing extraordinary steps the company is taking in response to a series of bombings in the state capital.
The package delivery company will also X-ray entire truckloads of parcels at its sorting facility outside Austin, and then divert them elsewhere for sorting and delivery, said the FedEx employee who was not authorized to speak on the record. The source does not work at the sorting facility but was briefed on the situation.
FedEx spokesman Jim McCluskey said he had no immediate comment.
The blast at FedEx on Tuesday was one of five explosions in Texas in the past 18 days. A sixth explosion on Tuesday night did not appear related, authorities said. The five attacks have killed two people, injured others and left hundreds of federal and local investigators scrambling to find the perpetrator and a motive.
Package screening is not routine at the nation's big delivery companies such as FedEx, United Parcel Service Inc <UPS.N> or the U.S. Postal Service. The industry delivers a total of around 40 million parcels in the United States each day, industry experts said. Checking every package on a regular basis would virtually paralyse their operations.
FedEx will carry out the special screenings at the sorting facility in Schertz, Texas where the package exploded, injuring one worker, and at a second location in Austin, where another explosive device was found, the employee said. The second package was turned over to police.
"FedEx in conjunction with the authorities are field X-raying all the packages one at a time," the employee said. "From then on, we will be doing bulk X-rays of entire trailers."
Packages will likely be delayed by a day or two at the facility, and FedEx was re-routing all other packages to its hub in Houston to avoid further delays, he said.
FedEx has provided law enforcement with "extensive evidence from our advanced technology security systems designed to protect the safety of our teammates, our customers and the communities we serve," Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith told analysts on Tuesday after the company reported quarterly financial results.
FedEx will provide authorities with the location where the package was picked up by the driver and the time, the employee said, providing authorities with a wealth of data.
Satish Jindel, a founder of the delivery company that became FedEx Ground and now serves as president of ShipMatrix, which tracks on-time shipments, said it was highly unlikely that the industry would move towards routine screening. Package bombs are rare, he said, making it unrealistic to check every package, every day, considering the enormous cost.
"They don't, they can't, and they shouldn't, and it would be unreasonable and ignorant for this country and for people to expect it," Jindel said. "It would shut the economy down."
For now, the industry will likely rely on employees who are trained to flag suspicious packages, Jindel said.
UPS spokesman Glenn Zaccara said the world's largest package delivery company has security measures in place and was cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation, but declined to comment further.
DHL Worldwide Express [DHL.UL] said it had "standard" security and screening procedures in place and that its security teams were monitoring the situation in Texas.
The U.S. Postal Service uses technology, targeted screening and employee training to stop suspicious packages, spokesman Dave Partenheimer said.
The FedEx manager with knowledge of the incident said the blast appeared to have been set off by a mechanical arm that diverts packages along a conveyer belt. When the arm came out and hit the package, it exploded on the sorter just as it entered a chute, he said.
"The good thing is it went off when it was going down the chute," he said. "The chute actually shielded anybody below from the blast."
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)