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Boosting the security of postal processes via new screening and threat-identification solutions

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Good things don’t always come through the mail. Letter bombs, illegal drug shipments, small arms or toxic agents can all find their way into the postal stream with malevolent effect, as public figures know only too well. Incendiary bombs were sent to a football coach in Northern Ireland in April 2011, for example, and letter bombs to high-level German politicians in April 2013. Indeed, postal authorities estimate that one illegal or dangerous item slips into the mail for every 30,000 senders or every 180,000 packages!

Keeping such threats out of our postal infrastructures and logistics chains is a complex challenge, but one that EU Security Research is now tackling via a large-scale cooperative research effort.

Known as SAFEPOST (“Reuse and development of Security Knowledge assets for International Postal supply chains”), this EUR 14 million project brings together Europe’s postal authorities, research institutes and industry. They are cooperating to boost the security of postal processes while avoiding any slow down in the screening and delivery of the enormous flows of parcels and letters that criss-cross Europe each day.

One of SAFEPOST’s principal goals is to integrate new screening and threat-identification solutions that minimise interruption to mail flows, but which also lend themselves to Europe-wide distributed information. In the case of suspicious items, such solutions could generate valuable data for law enforcement and customs officials.

One of the project’s first tasks has been to make an inventory of security gaps across Europe’s national postal systems. For example, threats come not only from terrorist intent but also from theft, smuggling, the shipment of dual-use or hazardous materials and diseases from shipped animals and plants.

The inventory will lead to a generic “postal security target operating model” to enable postal operators, customs authorities and others to understand the best ways to securely exchange information and optimise postal flows. As a result, the project research team aims to devise new security-enhancing solutions while improving the efficiency of postal operations such as enhanced tracking capabilities or optimised vehicle routing for postal delivery.

Such improvements will compensate for the additional time that might be required by any new security screening processes. Importantly, SAFEPOST will build on the results of other EU-funded projects on e-freight and secure supply chains, thus avoiding duplication of R&D.

Cross-border synchronisation is also among the project’s objectives since SAFEPOST plans to design its postal security platform to facilitate interoperability and integration of solutions across all domains. Ultimately, the team envisions that its postal security target operating model could provide the basis for pan-European harmonisation such as common message standards for the sector.

A 48-month project coordinated by the Association of European Public Postal Operators (better known as PostEurop), SAFEPOST was launched in April 2012 and will conclude its research in March 2016. Its total research budget is EUR 14.9 million of which the EU is providing 63 percent (EUR 9.5 million). For more information, see SAFEPOST’s website at: http://www.safepostproject.eu/


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