Raymond Crowley

The Unabomber’s seventeen-year reign; the anthrax scares of 2001-2002; and the more recent ricin attacks were all well publicized events that certainly changed the way we look at our mail. So, how often are threats--biological/toxins or improvised explosive devices (IEDs)--sent through the mail? How effective are current screening methods? What technology is best suited for screening mail and parcel deliveries?

Recent events here and in Europe have shown us the threat is still relevant. The mail remains the preferred method of anonymously targeting a person or individual associated with a particular company or facility.

Screening the mail is a process usually done by mail room staff with proper training Opens in a new window, and in some cases, security staff specifically trained to handle mail. In either case, proper training is essential. The process is identified through policies recognizing the threat potential and establishing what or whose mail is screened. Random screening and the screening of only certain items do not apply to mail; these methods are often used as deterrents at checkpoints. Best practices are ones that require one hundred percent of all mail to be screened using X-ray technology.

X-ray is only one part of the screening process, and is usually the last part of a process that begins with the observations of mail room staff and/or security. Though observations, anomalies can be detected; something unusual that triggers the screener to take a second look. Every "suspicious package" starts out as something unusual. The package goes through some type of screening process (X-ray or observation) in which it is either cleared or deemed suspicious. Every one of the anomalies noted on the postal inspectors Suspicious Mail Recognition Poster Opens in a new window was added after an IED was either found or exploded. Those anomalies only represent the last battle fought. In fact, many IEDs sent through the mail had none of those observed anomalies. X-ray technology has been the answer to the limitations of the human’s ability to screen. X-ray technology has yet to replace the human element, but when used in conjunction with the screening process the threat of an IED is dramatically reduced.

All screening processes come with many challenges: training a staff with high turnovers, screener complacency, and most importantly preventing unnecessary evacuation. In the post 9/11 world we often become victims of our own vigilance. Unnecessary evacuations can cost companies millions of dollars in lost productivity and revenue. Even with the implementation of proper screening procedures and X-ray technology, evacuations to facilities occur regularly due to misinterpreted or misidentified items. Screening using X-ray technology coupled with MSA’s SmartTech Opens in a new windowOpens in a new window is still the best method for detection of prohibited items entering any facility. Facilities deploying X-ray technology with SmartTech™ virtually eliminate any chance of unnecessarily being evacuated due to misinterpreted or misidentified items.


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