Securing the corporate mailroom

Industry experts discuss key methods and technologies to detecting threats received in the mail

"There are a number of different iterations (of X-ray machines). We have large X-ray machines that not only screen mail, but anything that would come through your loading dock to smaller checkpoint-size solutions that you would typically find in an airport. We also have very small X-ray machines that are portable and that you can move from sight-to-sight... to do specific forms of screening," he said.

Viscardi added that they also have desktop and portable versions of explosives and narcotics detectors. Though they do offer chemical and radiological screening products, Viscardi said that they have not been implemented to screen mail at companies; rather they have been used to safeguard employees' breathing space.

"A lot of it depends on the customer's priority list of threats," he said. "We tend to find that as our customers get bigger, especially with federal agencies, the more threats they can afford to protect against. As they get smaller, they tend to focus on the top two or three priorities."

Coakley said that Pitney Bowes will sometimes take screening for threats even further in some instances.

"In some circumstances, we will recommend canine screening of a shipment of mail or express items or courier items as they are being brought to a client's facility," he said. "We will do biohazard screening in some circumstances."

According to Coakley, biohazard screening consists of taking ambient air samples, as well as air samples from the interior of a letter or package and then testing them onsite for any chemical or biological agents. Mail imaging services are also popular among many Pitney Bowes clients.

"It creates a virtual firewall, the paper does not actually go into their facility," Coakley said. "An image goes onto their network, so it is in their electronic mail file."

Mail screening experts say, however, that having all of this state-of-the-art screening technology means nothing if a company and its employees do not follow a strict set of policies and procedures when it comes to handling the mail.

"A mail center for a large corporation is not really just about number 10 envelopes. There are packages, physical goods like discs or CDs, laptops and flat screen monitors," Coakley said.

To ensure that companies can receive these goods without much delay, Coakley advises his clients to discourage their employees from receiving personal items in the mail so that they only deal with business mail. He also works with businesses in cutting down on the amount of mail coming into a facility by eliminating solicitations and converting things such as magazine subscriptions into electronic formats.

Ideally, Heil said that all mail, be it from the postal service or a courier, should come through the mailroom first. However, that can be easier said than done.

"You have trouble convincing people of that many times. There is an added expense to it," he said. "You are going to need someone to operate in that mailroom as opposed to letting the courier service come right in the building, get on the elevator and go right to whatever floor it is and drop something off. You need that procedure that everything has to come through (the mailroom). Everything that you exclude from that ruling ends up increasing your risk."

Even such things as flower and candy deliveries need to be considered a part of that policy, according to Heil. If you choose to let some items go, Heil said you then need to work on mitigating the risk that you have let in by training employees how to recognize suspicious packages.

Ted Lotti, who oversees security at the 47-story Hearst Tower in downtown New York City, said that employee training and following proper procedures are key ingredients in mitigating mail threats.

"We train everybody in the mailroom to look for suspicious packages, anything odd. There are tell tale signs, how (the package) is labeled, what kind of postage is on it, who it is addressed to, how much it weighs," he said. "That's basically what you depend on, common sense and basic training to be aware."

The Hearst Tower also has a policy that all deliveries go through the mailroom and though they do have an X-ray machine, Lotti said he encourages workers that encounter a suspicious package to leave it alone and notify the authorities.