Every weekday, an average of 13 incidents of mail terrorism are reported to the postal service. Luckily, most suspicious items found in the mail turn out to be hoaxes, like the white powder found at hotels near the 2014 Super Bowl. Even so, mail threats can cripple organizations for hours, at great cost.
The price of dangerous mail
Let’s say your workplace has to be evacuated due to a white powder threat found in the company mailroom.
Imagine. In a matter of minutes, all of the firm's employees are standing out on the street or huddling in a nearby coffee shop.
Soon, the sound of sirens is heard and emergency vehicles arrive out front along with a specialized HazMat crew in white protective jumpsuits and respirators.
The image is recorded by the quick responding news crews as well as curious onlookers. Your company name and logo are clearly visible on television and in the newspapers.
Hours later, authorities secure the building and staff make their way back to their desks.
The cost of lost productivity is compounded by disruption to customers and impact of negative publicity.
All this from white powder?
One of the most common suspicious substances sent through the mail is white powder. Powder found in envelopes has turned out to be everything from cornstarch, baby powder, breadcrumbs, flour, powdered sugar, and crushed candy to “medical” powder and baking soda.
Why is white powder so insidious?
- Most of these “ingredients” are readily available, even commonly found around the home.
- It is easy to conceal powder in a plain envelope – no suspicious bulk or lumps.
- No one can confirm whether a powder in indeed a dangerous substance with the naked eye alone; anthrax may be present in any color or form of powder.
- And the most frightening reason: We each receive hundreds of pieces of mail a year without incident. We trust the mail and our guard is down -- the perfect situation for a terrorist.
Who is most at risk for mail borne threats?
Every organization and facility should have a plan for handling suspicious mail before it becomes a news headline. But how do you know if your organization is at higher risk? Mail screening expert SoBran suggests the following criteria for enhanced risk:
- Has your organization appeared in the media?
- Has your organization been engaged in or threatened by a lawsuit?
- Has your organization made public statements on sensitive issues?Is your organization a member of an industry whose services, research or products could be the subject of public controversy?
- Has your organization experienced a recent reorganization or buy-out requiring layoffs?Has an employee made threats to harm the company or any other employee?
No individual or company is completely immune from attack. The security officer and top management should evaluate the probability of your company or your personnel becoming targets for mail borne threats.
If your organization is indeed at greater risk, SoBran recommends taking the steps to ensure company-wide mail safety and security training and implement an ongoing mail screening program that checks for dangerous substances.