By Don Thordsen
Delivery and Security Manager, Terrorism Liaison Officer
Colorado Division of Central Services
The world has changed. There are threats around every corner, including the mail – whether public or private sector, individual or business, in the wrong hands mail can be weaponized – equaling the wrong kind of power. That is why everyone needs to know the advantages of securing mail for safety of yourself, customers, and employees.
What would you or a business associate do if something were included in an envelope – powder, a weapon, a bomb? What are the steps to take to keep yourself and others safe? It is not always the biochemist developing anthrax and sending it to random government agencies or businesses – most of the time it turns out to be a homegrown individual who wants to disrupt the flow of business and government.
Are they looking for fame or looking to do real harm? Could this be former employees that want to get even by putting laundry detergent or sugar in an envelope, sit back, and watch as everybody panics. What about the individual that was affected by a decision by your company that effected their personal life, a change in banking hours, a change in healthcare, political association, a personal relationship. Either way, this disrupts the everyday schedules, causing downtime, safety concerns, and unnecessary stress.
So what precautions should one take?
1. Develop a Plan
To start, having a specific drop-off area such as a mailroom, reception desk, or other designated location can isolate a small area compared to a whole office, building, or city block if a crisis does occur. Seek assistance from law enforcement and develop partnerships to ease the stress during these types of events. Let’s face it, nobody wants to encounter this type of occurrence and with being proactive and setting protocols, even a large emergency response can run smoothly.
2. Be Attentive
Once mail or a package is received, examine it – look for stains, too much postage, incorrect name spellings, or bad grammar. It doesn’t take a lot of time or common sense to notice something out of the ordinary. Use posters and other helpful tools for employees to have on hand to learn what is acceptable and what is questionable. If your business and customers require more security, consider a small x-ray machine or biohazard sniffer that can detect different types of weapons, hazardous materials, bombs, and other unknown objects.
Attend classes that are provided by professionals at mail conferences, online seminars, or possibly local USPS representatives. Seek knowledge from other companies that may have the knowledge or processes that can help you. Call your local fire and police department and have a basic procedure given to your employees, so if something just isn’t right, they know who to call and what to do so you can handle the situation in a calm manner. A good source is the U.S. Postal Service and a local mail house – private agencies that develop screening devises for mail.
4. Make a checklist
Is your mailroom or mail drop-off area secure? Who has access? Do you have protocols in place? Who sorts and distributes the mail and/or packages? Does the piece of mail or package need to go through the x-ray machine? Many times, anyone can just walk in, leave a piece of mail or package, and walk away without seeing anyone – and, the item never went through the USPS. How about private vendors… it’s not only the USPS who makes deliveries – get to know your couriers. Install a simple key lock or badge scanner so someone can control who enters the area and have a record of it; install a camera over the receiving area so in an event, there are videos or records to help emergency responders assess what happened.
Some tips from the USPS include 1) Control or limit access of employees; 2) Require deliveries to be made in a restricted area; 3) Keep mail processing in a separate area.
5. Emergency Response Plan
Take time to find out who your contacts are for the fire department and police department and who would handle hazmat emergencies. Invite them to your facility; show them the access points and best routes to get to the area affected. Tell them if you have coded doors and locked fences. Talk to them, and if possible, let them be part of your security system by giving them a Knox box with an override key so when the building is closed, the responders have access to the area when the main contact may not be there. Knox boxes are used by emergency responders and are mounted outside the building or area where it can provide an access key. The responders have the key that opens that box to allow access to your key to gain access to the affected area.
Have a call down list available to staff so during an event the correct individuals can be contacted. Move all effected customers or staff away from the affected area without panic. Lock down the area and wait for your emergency responders. If a suspicious material is found, never move it – leave it on the table or desk and walk away. When moved, it risks effecting others and the environment around you.
Again, make an emergency plan, work on partnerships, learn as much as you can, and have a checklist. The sooner something is in place, the more secure your mail will be – which equals a safer environment for you, customers, and employees. Remember, even the smallest of changes in your mail security are better than not taking the initiative to make a change.
* Restrict drivers (rest areas) to an area that is separate from the production/mail center facilities
* Use video cameras inside and outside the facility/docks, as feasible
* Keep the area for processing incoming and outgoing mail separate from all other operations, as feasible