Joe Beglane

It is that time of year again. From November through January, the U.S. Postal Service is inundated with more mail than any other time. It forecasts to process nearly 60 million pieces each day as compared to the 53 million daily in 2021. Private global carriers are also predicting heavy seasonal volume. This provides a good opportunity to refresh on proper package screening protocols.

Today’s Threats are Varied

Terrorists and bad actors have long used packages, letters and parcels to conceal hazards with an intent to cause harm. The broad range of threats include improvised explosive devices (IEDs), weapons, biological agents, radioactive elements and chemicals. According to the most recent U.S. Bomb Data Center Explosives Incident Report, a total of 4,935 suspicious package incidents were reported in the country during 2021, or roughly 13 daily. This is a 25% increase over 2020 incidents. Remember that bad actors will continue to adjust their tradecraft to circumvent detection, so it is critical to know what to look for. Risk presents in all shapes and sizes. Through X-ray, a real threat may appear harmless or be disguised in everyday items like toys or electronics.

Visual Assessment and Awareness

Proper screening begins with a visual assessment as soon as the package is received. Look for potential irregularities and contextual information. Take note if there is an excessive amount of sealing tape on the package. Inconsistencies in postage, strange odors, oily stains and discoloration or crystallization on the exterior of the package are some of the many red flags. A robust and successful training program that stays ahead of the evolution of mail-borne threats will benefit all screening employees, especially those who are new or temporary. In addition, consistent and targeted informational bulletins that regularly communicate trends, timely tips and images keep screeners in the know.

Trained Eyes and Experience

State-of-the-art screening technology is essential in identifying and mitigating threats. These tools in combination with real-time access to trained eyes is an enormous differentiator. MSA Security’s SmartTech®, An Allied Universal® Solution, integrates with existing X-ray equipment to provide real-time access to MSA’s experienced bomb technicians 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This instant analysis of any suspicious item in just about 90 seconds is a game changer in avoiding unnecessary evacuation and downtime.


Ongoing Education and Training

In MSA’s Emergency Operations Center, bomb technicians analyze hundreds of images a day and are well equipped to assess current threats and their changing presentations. MSA’s bomb technicians provide evaluation and feedback to screeners regularly. This serves as continuing education, providing a broader knowledge base of the most common and often misinterpreted threats. Well-trained screeners are an essential component of successful detection. 

Throughout the year, but particularly during the peak holiday shipping season, empowering screeners with the right tools, resources and training is vital to eliminating the guesswork, protecting people, property and brand.

In related content, MSA Security® prepared 10 Facts About X-ray Screening as well as a Screener Aptitude Test to further demonstrate the importance of proper screening.


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