Mailroom managers need to tell those who control the budgets for mailroom operations that mailroom security, properly implemented, is not an expenditure, it is an investment. So says mailroom product manufacturer Scanna MSC.
Mailroom managers and staff have been on the front lines for years. Who else in a company has dealt with the uncertainty that can arrive with any letter or delivery on any given day’ The easiest way to defeat physical security is not through the walls, roof, doors or parking garage; it is through the mail. A 27p stamp can evacuate a building and bring an immediate halt to all productivity. Successful anthrax attacks have been rare but mail containing suspicious powders, bomb components, razor blade booby traps, threatening notes, broken glass, excrement, or disturbing hoaxes is not uncommon. There has been a great deal of publicity accompanying the most recent wave of mail terrorism. Publicity can be a dual-edged sword. Exposure of these incidents can raise awareness, prevent tragedies, and even play a role in the identification and arrest of perpetrators. On the other hand, a heightened sense of awareness can lead to panic and over-reaction. Publicity can and does encourage copy-cat acts. Even if such acts involve hoaxes, they are disturbing, threatening, disruptive, and potentially expensive. They instill fear and take a heavy toll on morale. Moreover, an evacuation for a hoax is just as costly as an evacuation for a viable threat. Once, the mailroom manager was primarily responsible for the timely receiving and distribution of incoming mail. Money allocated to new equipment, procedures, and staff was justified on the basis of efficiency and speed. It contributed to the company’s bottom line or its ability to function optimally. Proposed budget items for mailroom security equipment were axed because security equipment didn’t, in an obvious way, contribute to profitability. Today’s mailroom has far greater responsibilities and must be accorded the equipment and cooperation necessary to fulfill its broader role. The mailroom is the first line of defence; it must be able to protect its staff and the other occupants of the building. A mail security programme, in place, must reassure all employees that management is committed to their safety. Unwarranted, costly, disrupting evacuations must be prevented. Should there be an incident, any potentially costly litigation from labor unions or individuals cannot be able to claim that appropriate measures were not taken to provide protection against an attack through the mails. A properly conceived and implemented mailroom security program not only contributes to the bottom line, but also protects the people, property, and profits of an organization. It encourages an environment in which common sense and measured reaction are the rule and panic and over-reaction are discouraged. A mailroom security programme will effectively screen incoming mail and deliveries to identify all suspect items. It will provide reassurance that the balance of material is safe to distribute and for recipients to open. Such a scheme will require awareness, procedures, screening equipment, training. It will require time and money.
Step one: increase awareness. Humans are prone to think in terms of stereotypes. Say ‘terrorist’ to anyone and they are likely, in this year, to think of wild eyes. A terrorist, however, is anyone who sends anything through the mails with an intent to frighten, disrupt, injure. It could be the animal rights activist or the environmental radical, the pro-rights or pro-life extremist, the disgruntled employee, the angry spouse, the disappointed fan, the refused insurance claimant. It could be anyone. They may have a specific target or they may not. They may have a cause or not. They may be the teenager who found out how to build a postal bomb on the internet and decided to do it just to see what would happen. Hazardous items are easy to send through the mail. However, it is impossible for the perpetrator to control the timing of receipt or to control who will open the mail. Your company may not be a target. You may not be a target. Remember: you don’t have to be a target in order to become a victim. Awareness can be raised by displaying posters. Keep them clean and fresh. Display newspaper clippings. Circulate information. Hold short meetings to provide information on recent mail related terrorist activities.
Step two: procedures. It is critical that procedures be developed, communicated to all staff, and rigidly implemented to assure that mail screening is performed properly and effectively. Good procedures, properly implemented, will reinforce, rather than replace, commonsense. Develop procedures that are consistent with your mail volume, space, staff. Define responsibilities at every step. Work out a procedure for identifying suspect items. Identify the steps in either reassuring that the item is safe or in confirming that it remains suspect. If the return address and recipient’s name and address are proper this may be relatively easy. Define a procedure and place to isolate the suspect item. Determine when an outside resource should be notified and by whom. Review any isolation procedures with the appropriate bomb or hazardous materials agency to insure that your procedures mesh with their requirements. Don’t make their work more difficult. Make an evacuation plan.
Step three: equipment. Regardless of the need for security, the pressure to receive and distribute mail quickly will never diminish. It is very difficult to satisfy this pressure safely without the use of equipment. However, money thrown at equipment that is used without proper procedures or that is inappropriate in terms of available staff, is money thrown away. This is particularly common with the use of x-ray equipment. It is not unusual to see mailroom staff run an entire tub of mail, packed tight, or an entire mail sack into a huge x-ray unit and expect that the weary operator or the sophisticated software will, in a brief period, sort through the images and ‘see’ the hazards. Effective bulk examination is difficult to accomplish for man or machine. Just because mail has been exposed to x-ray does not necessarily mean that it has been reliably screened and is safe to open. Ask the judge who lost three fingers after his package, that had been through the x-ray equipment twice, exploded in his hands. X-ray examination must be done thoroughly and deliberately. Effectiveness is greatly diminished when mail is examined in bulk or by x-ray operators that have been working steadily without regular breaks. When it comes to mail screening equipment, bigger is not necessarily better. A combination of types of equipment may be the most effective, efficient and money-wise approach. Relatively inexpensive electronic mailscreening equipment such as Scanna’s SCANMAIL 10K automatically alarms when potentially hazardous items are encountered can reliably screen large volumes of mail quickly. Such equipment can screen, by the handful or bundle, an entire tray or sack in less than a minute. Moreover, this task can be accomplished by an operator with only basic skills. The equipment either alarms or it doesn’t depending on the contents of the mail. There is no subjective evaluation required. Although the SCANMAIL 10k provides an alarm, it doesn’t indicate what might be in the envelope or package. Any item that has caused an alarm can be further evaluated by investigating the return address and the designated recipient. Or, it can be examined with the x-ray equipment such as Scanna’s SCANMAX range. The x-ray equipment is, in this example, used only on items that have caused an alarm or that may be suspicious for other reasons or may be too large for the electronic mailscreening equipment. This examination is likely to be very reliable because the x-ray operator will not have been fatigued by examining a large volume of mail; he will be focused because he knows that he is examining an item that has already caused an alarm; and he will be effective and thorough because he is examining one or a few pieces at a time. This example utilizes relatively inexpensive equipment and staff to perform the large volume screening and then utilizes the more expensive equipment and staff in a way that is cost-effective and security-effective.
Step four: training. It is a mistake to assume that only certain mailroom members need training. To the greatest extent possible mailscreening should be able to be carried out by any staff member. On the other hand, no position should be filled by anyone who is not currently trained and competent in its requirements. Equipment improperly used is either useless or dangerous. Exposing mail to equipment is not the same as screening mail with the equipment. Procedures not remembered, understood or followed are of no value. Remember also that training may not stick. We are humans. Time blurs the edges. Regular refresher training is recommended and need not be expensive ‘ Scanna’s CHECKMAIL mail security CD gives comprehensive advice on dealing with suspect packages in the workplace. Keep all procedures documented and posted. Keep all posted items clean, dusted, and new-looking. Keep the commitment current. The message at all times must be ‘the mailroom is the front line. Security starts here’. For more information on mail security and Scanna’s mailroom and security roadshows.