Joe Beglane

Nearly 3.4 billion parcels are expected to crisscross the country this holiday season, representing an estimated increase of about 400 million compared to last year according to shipping industry analysts. When cards and letters are included, the U.S. Postal Service reports it will be delivering more than 12 billion items. The U.S. Postal Service and private shippers are also bolstering their hiring — bringing in about 230,000 temporary workers — to ensure they stay ahead of the crush. The increase in package volume, as well as the addition of new and potentially inexperienced employees, serve as a timely reminder on the importance of proper package screening protocols.

In The Know on Current Threats

Package bombs, which include letters, parcels and anything delivered by postal or courier service, are not a new technique for terrorists and bad actors looking to cause harm. Many of these bombs are triggered when victims handle or open the packages, but they can be initiated in many other innovative ways. It is critical to remember that package bombs present in a variety of shapes and sizes. Through X-ray, they may look harmless or be disguised in everyday items like toys or electronics. With a multitude of ever-evolving IED presentations, knowing what to look for is critical.

The screening process begins as soon as a package is received. Screeners should look for potential irregularities and contextual information. Take note of package inconsistencies like missing postage, non-cancelled postage or excessive postage. Is the package leaking? Is there staining or a strange odor? These are just a few indicators of a suspicious package. The average security screener often lacks the experience required to quickly identify and assess today’s threat. A robust and successful training program that stays ahead of the evolution of homemade explosive devices will benefit all employees, especially those who are new or temporary. In addition, consistent and targeted informational bulletins that regularly communicate trends, timely tips and images keep all screeners in the know on what they may face in the current landscape.  

Trained Eyes and Experience

State-of-the-art screening equipment is essential in identifying explosive threats. Although technology alone is no match for real-time access to trained eyes and experience. The right tools combined with qualified subject matter experts is key. MSA Security’s SmartTech® integrates with existing X-ray equipment to provide real-time access to experienced bomb technicians, allowing for instant analysis of any suspicious item in just about 90 seconds. Analyzing hundreds of thousands of packages annually, MSA’s FBI-trained bomb technicians are well equipped to assess current threats. Their ongoing evaluation and feedback to screeners also serve as continuing education, providing a broader knowledge base of the most common and often misinterpreted threat presentations.

At any time of year, but most especially during the peak holiday shipping season, empowering screeners with the right tools, resources and training is key to eliminating guesswork, protecting people and assets and minimizing business disruption.


In related content, MSA Security® prepared 10 Facts About X-ray Screening to further highlight the importance of proper screening.


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