General Services Administration Mail Communications Policy Office Mail Center Security Guide

Physical Security in a Mail Center/Facility

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Physical Security in a Mail Center/Facility

  • If possible, make the mail center an enclosed room with defined points of entry. If you can’t put the mail center in its own room, then set aside a defined space that is used only for processing mail. Do not have employee lockers within the mail center. If possible, locate the mail center near the loading dock. This will allow the mail to travel directly to the mail center from outside and minimize the impact that any potentially contaminated mail will have on the rest of the building.

  • Within the mail center, establish a separate space for processing incoming mail. For a small mail center, this might be no more than a defined part of a table or desk. In a large mail center, this could be a separate room. Be sure to check the ventilation system of the area you choose to ensure adequate airflow.

  • Where the risk assessment, the volume of mail and a cost-benefit analysis make it appropriate, the mail center should have its own air handling and ventilation system. You may also consider establishing negative air pressure for the area where you process incoming mail or for the entire mail center. Down-draft tables with HEPA filters are a good way to limit employee exposure to routine dust as well as possible airborne hazards. You may also want to consider an isolated room with its own ventilation system and HEPA filters.

  • If you regularly see suspicious letters or packages in your mail stream, you may want to obtain a glove box or biochemical hood in which to open them (a biochemical hood operates with negative air pressure). In any event, you should establish a relationship with a first responder organization that has a glove box or hood, so that they can open suspicious mail.

  • Install alarms at each access point, and monitor them for after-hours activity.

  • Install secure areas, such as safes or locked cabinets, for meters, express shipments and valuables. Reset combinations and re-key locks after significant employee transitions.

  • Provide a separate and secure area for personal items (e.g., coats and purses). Consider prohibiting employees from taking personal items into the workplace.

  • Where appropriate, use surveillance cameras to monitor the service counter and all entrances (Assure your employees that the cameras aren’t for tracking their movements, but for protecting them from potential threats.)

  • Make sure that supervisors and team leaders are clearly visible from the floor. Proper supervision is a prerequisite for keeping personnel and your mail center safe. Leaders must be easily accessible to respond to emergency situations.

  • Post signs around the mail center listing whom to call in the event of various emergencies such as fire, theft, suspicious package, etc. This is probably the most important step you can take in preparing to deal with emergencies or suspicious letters and packages.

Daily Opening and Closing Procedures

Prepare detailed procedures for opening and closing the mail center. Make sure that logs and checklists are filled out and signed daily.

The checklist for opening the mail center should include:

  • Check all locks/entrances

  • Start visitor log

  • Verify contents of safe/vault

  • Take meter readings

The checklist for closing the mail center should include:

  • Take meter readings

  • Secure meters

  • File visitor log

  • Secure all mail

  • Create safe/vault contents log

  • Check all locks/entrances

Establish daily procedures for cleaning the area and equipment used to process inbound mail. All flat work areas should be wiped down daily with disinfectant. All machines should be cleaned with disinfectant wipes and vacuums equipped with HEPA filters. Do not use pressurized air to clean equipment and machinery.

Building Security Committees

The 1995 Department of Justice Vulnerability Assessment of Federal Facilities recommends that all Federal buildings should have Building Security Committees (BSC). BSC Membership consists of at least one representative from each of the Federal agencies occupying the building. The BSC serves as the principal forum for discussion of the building’s security and emergency planning requirements.

The mail center manager should maintain contact with the building BSC, and should ensure that the overall building security plan includes specific consideration of the mail center and its particular vulnerabilities and needs.

Offsite Processing Of Incoming Mail

Offsite processing is an option that you should consider if the security assessment identifies a high level of risk or if mail volumes are large enough to justify the cost. However, there are also advantages, primarily in terms of timely processing and readily available customer service, to placing the mail center on site.

Consideration of offsite processing probably will give rise to additional questions, such as:

  • Which specific aspects of mail processing can be accomplished with a higher level of security offsite?

  • What is the difference in cost to build, maintain and operate the offsite facility versus a comparable facility onsite?

  • Will you also maintain a customer service counter onsite?

  • How much longer will it take to deliver mail if it is processed offsite, and would the additional time be critical to part of your agency’s operations?

  • Will a contractor operate the offsite facility and, if so, what security and performance standards will you establish in the contract?

  • Would it be cost-effective to scan, store, and deliver some portion of the incoming mail electronically?

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