Blue chips' post rooms are targets for terrorists

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The Independent Online

The post rooms of UK plc offer an easy target for terrorists, according to the findings of a new survey.

Pitney Bowes Management Services, the document management and mail security company, asked more than 100 leading companies whether they had taken steps to minimise the risk of an attack. Nearly one fifth had never reviewed their post-room security.

Companies responding to the survey included 23 members of the FTSE 100. Despite the increased risk for staff, 91 per cent of companies surveyed still had their post room located centrally at head office. This would also lead to more disruption in the event of a hoax attack.

Sixty-eight per cent of respondents also criticised the quality of government advice on security.

"The Government responses to flooding, the fuel protest and foot and mouth have led many people to question its advice and worry about the support that it is able to give in any civil crisis," said David Leslie of the Emergency Planning Society, a trade body for organisations involved in crisis management.

The anthrax attacks in the US in 2001, which caused several deaths, have raised the profile of post-room security. Forty-six per cent of the companies in the survey thought the risk of a terrorist attack had increased in the last 12 months.

"We are alarmed, but not surprised, that companies continue to have their mail rooms located at important corporate sites," said Ashley Bailey, managing director of Pitney Bowes. "This is not only putting employees at risk, it is also costly for business, considering that every time emergency services are called out to deal with a mail-room incident, be it a terrorist threat or a hoax, the cost to businesses in lost productivity is approximately £62,000 per hour."

According to Scanna MSC, a supplier of scanning equipment, emergency services in the UK are called out for an average of 800 suspect mail packages a year. In 2001, there were 525 false alarms, 280 hoaxes and 35 genuine parcel bombs.