Ten tips for staying safe in the postroom

In these times of heightened security, it is important that every employee in your firm handling or receiving mail can identify a suspicious letter or parcel. Jason Wakefield, sales director at Todd Research, gives his top tips to ensure your postroom security is as tight as it can be.

Your security risk assessment and the resulting measures put in place will cover how your organisation handles post, including parcels. Here are 10 key areas to consider to ensure you have effective security in this key area.

1. The location of your delivery room

Ensure that the loading bay / delivery room is in an area away from any business-critical parts of the building, such as server rooms, gas utility inlets and air conditioning outlets / inlets. An assessment should be made to see what is around the immediate vicinity of the delivery areas, and actions taken to minimise any potential blast or spread of lethal powders.

2. General loading bay / postroom security

The loading bay / postroom should have an access control system that only allows authorised personnel to enter, backed up with CCTV to give a full audit trail of who goes where and when.

3. Have a single point of entry for all deliveries

Deliveries in most buildings are carried out through the loading bay; however, in a lot of cases, the delivery of smaller items are accepted at the reception area thus circumnavigating any security checks in the loading bay area.

4. The hand sort – identifying the signs that could make a package suspicious

Mail and parcels should initially be sorted by hand in order to identify any of the key signs for identifying a suspicious package. The hand sort should check for one or more of these signs:

  • Shape of package : IEDs or incendiary devices can contain irregular shapes such as power supplies, detonators and trigger switches which would give the package an unbalanced look, feel and weight. If you are suspicious of a package, then handle it carefully.
  • Postmark and stamps: Be suspicious of excessive use of stamps in comparison to the weight of the package. Be vigilant as to where the package has originated from (it may be from a high-risk country).
  • Smell: Certain explosives have a distinctive aroma like almonds that can be sweet and pleasing to the nose; this smell can also be masked by perfumes / aftershaves, coffee etc. Any strong smell should be viewed suspiciously.
  • Oily marks: Explosives can sweat with temperature differences thus leaving greasy or oily marks. Be suspicious of any such marks.
  • Seal: Powdered envelopes such as anthrax, ricin and caustic soda are generally heavily sealed with tape to prevent the escape of powder during the postal process. Also, be suspicious of postal tubes that are heavily taped up just at one end, as human nature would tell you to open it at the end that isn’t heavily taped up, which could be the trigger for an IED.

Before you call security / police for a second opinion, always check with the person to whom it is addressed to see if they are expecting anything that matches the postmark and size of package you are holding.

5. Own an effective x-ray machine for the scanning of parcels and letters

If you do not use an x-ray machine to check all incoming deliveries, then you are relying on guesswork as to whether a parcel / letter is safe or suspect. Older x-ray machines can degrade over a period of time, so a regular assessment on the effectiveness of your x-ray machine should be carried out.

6. Suspect package training

All users should attend a recognised accredited course for the recognition of suspect packages. This training should be carried out every two years so that your staff are kept up to date with the latest devices and methodologies.

7. X-ray user training

X-ray machines have a number of enhancement tools designed to give the user more detail when interrogating an image. Unfortunately, the training on the use of x-ray machines is normally carried out by a senior person and as a result gets watered down as time goes on. Official user and refresher training by the service provider should be carried out every 12 months to avoid this happening.

8. Actions on discovery of a suspect package

A full written action plan should be known by all staff for the discovery of explosives and powders. These procedures should be practiced at all levels.

9. Blast suppression

The use of bomb bins / blankets should be considered, to minimise any damage and to protect the building and the staff within from a potential blast area.

10. Review

All equipment and procedures around the way parcels / letters enter the building and the actions taken upon discovery of a suspicious device, need to be reviewed on an annual basis.

This list is not exhaustive. The processes, procedures and equipment you put in place will depend on your business operation and your risk assessment. For example, some organisations may decide to pre-screen all deliveries off-site before delivering them to their destination; others may not allow personal deliveries for staff. In multi-occupancy buildings, tenants may be required to use the same suppliers for some items to reduce the number of deliveries made. Further assistance is available at the CPNI website. In collaboration with the British Standards Institution (BSI), it has produced guidance on mail screening and security: PAS 972015 Mail Screening and security.

Jason Wakefield is sales director at Todd Research, endorsed partner of the Law Society.