By Adam Oliver, Associate Director, Security Strategies and Services

Since its inception in 2002, SoBran SafeMail® has been the industry leader of mail screening and security. We continuously monitor our process, review new techniques and equipment, and implement change to benefit our customers. It is our pleasure to share our experience with companies looking to upgrade their mailroom security.

The need for mailroom screening programs is a vital part of any organization's security program, as evidenced in the recent spate of Netherlands letter bombs. It's important to take note that these incidents span a variety of type of targets. There have been financial services firms, hotels, sorting offices, a filling station, a care dealership and an estate agency. It would seem no one is immune from these sort of attacks.

The the availability of dedicated screening equipment for mailrooms is on the rise. We are seeing new equipment each day with advanced imaging technology, promises of 100% success rates, and low-cost alternatives to traditional screening technology. Before taking the step to purchase screening equipment, it is important to have a plan. We would like to offer a few steps to consider incorporating into your plan when deciding to implement mail screening:

Step One: Off-site or On-site?

Once you have decided to implement mail screening, you will need to decide if you want to perform the screening on-site, or at an off-site location. On-site and off-site screening both come with their pros and cons. It is ultimately the organization’s decision to select the method that best suits their needs.

On-site Screening allows for instant access to cleared mail. This reduces any delays that might be experienced when introducing screening into the normal mailroom flow. While the elimination of any delays is ideal, for many organizations the risk of performing on-site screening outweigh the benefits. When performing screening on-site, a detected threat could still shut down your organization for hours, possibly days. if operations are shut down due to a legitimate threat entering the screening facility, all the time saved by performing the screening process on-site will quickly vanish.

Off-site Screening keeps the threats from ever entering your facility. All mail is screened prior to delivery, ensuring only clean mail arrives at your facility. Unfortunately, off-site services will most likely cause a delay in mail delivery that could be anywhere from a few hours to the next business day. If the off-site screening facility is dedicated to only screening your mail, delays will be minimal. Off-site facilities that service multiple customers generally have a longer delay in getting clean mail back to each client. The benefit to an off-site facility that services multiple customers comes down to cost. We have already established having the mail screened off-site eliminates operational shutdowns but using a multi-customer facility eliminates the need to invest in expensive screening equipment on your own.

Step Two: Equipment

Your organization has decided to move forward with screening mail. Electing to have mail screened at an independent, multi-customer facility removes the burden of selecting the appropriate equipment. Organizations that prefer a dedicated operation are faced with the challenge of finding the right equipment to fulfill their needs.

Today, mail screening equipment is more widely available than it was just a few years ago. Advances in imaging technology have provided several affordable options for organizations simply looking to screen mail for explosive devices. Unfortunately, when it comes to screening mail, not all the equipment on the market today has been sufficiently tested for its capabilities. The responsibility falls on you, the client, to ask the right questions of equipment vendors to ensure their product meets your needs.

Equipment selection is key to a successful screening operation. Do not be fooled by vendors claiming their product can detect threats, when all their product is able to detect is if a powder or liquid is present. When a vendor advertises that their product can detect chemical threats, ask the following questions:

  • What chemicals/biologicals is the equipment capable of detecting?
  • How much of the chemical or biological must be present to be detected by the unit?
  • Is the unit capable of differentiating one powder from another?
  • Does the unit detect a threat is present?or is it the operator’s responsibility to assume a threat based on seeing a liquid or powder in the image?

Threat detection means you can identify whether a threat is present without further tests being performed. Threat identification is the ability to tell you exactly what threat you are facing. SafeMail® prefers identification over detection. Identifying the threat enables staff to react quicker, and more appropriately. Additionally, positively identifying the threat allow for personnel to effectively communicate with emergency personnel, ensuring an adequate response.

It is common practice for vendors of imaging equipment to advertise their product as capable of detecting chemical and biological threats, but the definition of threat detection is widely debated. SafeMail® believes that detection is achieved when our equipment positively identifies an item containing threat. Others believe being able to visualize the presence of a liquid or powder is enough to classify their unit as a threat detector. The problem with this method is that you run the risk of stopping your operations unnecessarily because you’ve ceased operations only to discover the package contained a non-hazardous substance.

Being able to identify if a threat is actually present is increasingly important in today’s work climate. With many employees having personal mail delivered to their workplace, there is an increase of uncommon items entering into professional mailrooms. This includes makeup, toiletries, food products and more. Making sure you have selected the right equipment will prevent unnecessary shutdowns caused by non-hazardous materials.

Step Three: Notifying Personnel

When implementing mail screening, it is important to keep your staff informed of the new processes in place. Including the additional steps of mail screening into your normal mailroom operations will cause a delay in delivery. Often this delay is minimal, but people will still notice the change. Additionally, if you are going to use any marking to indicate items have been screened, this will draw attention and concern from employees. The best way to ensure your staff accepts, benefits, and understand mail screening is to keep them informed.

These are just a few simple steps to keep in mind when your organization is considering mail screening. Incorporating mail screening is an easy process when done correctly, and SafeMail®has been helping businesses with the process for almost 20 years.

As always, stay safe!


Most sincerely,
The SoBran SafeMail Team