Security Regimes for Today’s Mail Rooms

Jason Wakefield

Jason Wakefield

What springs to mind when you think about building security? It’s always the usual suspects of CCTV, access control, intruder alarms, gates, barriers, panic alarms and security guarding, etc. All are common and have become essential in the uncertain and dangerous world in which we live. All form part of the multi-piece jigsaw designed to protect your building(s) and the people within, writes Jason Wakefield.

However, the fact is that, even with all of these solutions in place and working simultaneously as a well-oiled security machine, a motivated individual could quite easily close a building down causing a mass evacuation – and all for less than the price of a latte. Furthermore, the perpetrator of such an action would be anonymous and wouldn’t need to be anywhere near the building when it happens.

When a terrorist/activist is massively overwhelmed by the scale of a security operation they will then sit back and assess the situation to try and find the weak spots within a potential target. These areas of weakness that the criminal can exploit are commonly known as ‘soft target’ areas.

Mail rooms are generally known as ‘soft target’ entry areas. The budget for security equipment in mail rooms is generally quite low compared to other areas within the business. More often than not, mail room security is quite low down on the security agenda and can be seen as a bit of an afterthought. Such a space is generally viewed as a place in which deliveries are sorted and not part of a front end security operation.

All incoming post – including Royal Mail, courier and hand-delivered items – should be channelled through the mail room and its screening systems. It’s therefore important to understand all of the routes by which post is received, and also to ensure that urgent items don’t circumvent the system.

Training for mail room operatives

Mail room staff play a pivotal role in protecting both people and premises. The training that these members of staff receive is every bit as important as that which security staff need to undertake in order to receive their Security Industry Authority licence.

Mail room staff should attend a recognised course that has either an independent accreditation or Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points attached. Students ought to undergo a series of both classroom and practical hands-on exercises to detect weapons, incendiaries, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and biological agents (such as Anthrax and Ricin). The course should be as hands-on as possible, with delegates receiving the correct tuition on how to handle x-ray training devices such that it becomes second nature for them to identify the components that go into making a suspect package and what those packages look like under x-ray conditions.

The training should cover generic actions on discovery procedures such that, if a suspect item is discovered, then the staff can enter a well-rehearsed and slick procedure.

Discovery procedures for IEDs and powders are totally different. For IEDs, most of the time the decision would be taken to evacuate all or part of the building. For powders, the response would mainly be focused around an invacuation procedure and sealing any areas to help stop the spread of a potentially lethal substance.

Indicators of concern

A basic, but extremely effective level of protection can be achieved by mail room staff looking out for suspicious items, or better still inspecting each item briefly. Mail room staff should be well aware of the possible indicators of why a delivered item may be of concern, and the appropriate action that needs to be taken upon discovery of any suspicious item. The exact nature of a suspicious delivery may not be immediately obvious, so it’s always best to employ mail room x-ray scanners to confirm any suspicious items both quickly and effectively.

If your business currently employs an x-ray machine that’s over eight-to-ten years old then the chances are it will still be fully serviceable and in full working order. However, as these machines age they do degrade and can become unreliable and/or incapable when scanning for powders and small explosive devices.

On that basis, conduct continual threat assessments to test the effectiveness of your x-ray machine. Tests should be carried out by a professional with x-ray correct dummy devices including IEDs, incendiaries, powders and weapons. Only when you’ve conducted such tests will you discover your x-ray machine’s true capabilities.

Jason Wakefield is Sales Director at Todd Research

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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