How an organization screens incoming visitors and vehicles is often the first line of defense against attackers and hazards. But for huge enterprise organizations such as the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Postal Service, screening is much easier said than done.

The Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia is a massive enterprise that I was lucky enough to tour. Although there were many mysteries maintained by our guides, we were granted a view of their off-site, state-of-the-art screening facility.

Located a hop, skip and a jump across the street from the bank itself, the facility, completed in 2009, is a clear improvement from the Fed’s previous screening area — the busy one-way street in front of the bank. The facility acts as a holding area for large, non-monetary deliveries, a screening facility for mail and vehicles, and a secondary command center for the main building.

The building uses a three-part detection system when screening vehicles. After entering through one of two high-performance garage doors (at my best guess, it went up in less than three seconds), the vehicle immediately drives over a Gatekeeper automatic under-vehicle detection system that scans the undercarriage of each car, delivery van or armored truck. The guard marks down the license plate number and views the car’s current scans, checking for irregularities, especially against previous scans of returning delivery vehicles.

Then the guard measures for radiation around the vehicle with a detector that is carefully calibrated to ignore any levels of background radiation from the area. Afterward, every passenger in the vehicle is made to hold a special baton called the X Pack, which detects gunpowder, TNT, biohazards and other dangerous materials.

Once a car is cleared, it can pass across the street to the Federal Reserve Bank, being carefully tracked the entire way with a system of cameras.

“If I would guess, 95 percent of vehicles that used to go to the Reserve don’t anymore,” says Office Paul Cruz, who assisted in the tour in the off-site facility.

The Reserve is also one of few workplaces that continually screens employees, as each and every one passes through a metal detector gate into the facility, and all of their bags are x-rayed.

Today’s tour was of the U.S. Postal Service’s enormous facility in western Philadelphia — one of two offices in the nation with screening and detection technology this advanced.

The U.S. Postal Service sorts half of the world’s mail, and it delivers hundreds of millions of mail pieces daily and 203 billion pieces of mail every year. The letter sorting machine at the Philadelphia USPS facility, two-stories tall and affectionately dubbed “Barney” by the staff (it’s purple), shoots letters through a series of cameras and sensors at rapid speed. The cameras in the Biohazard Detection System (BDS) scan in the stamp and address, decipher the handwriting, compare the address to all known addresses, spray a unique ID code on the letter, and test for any possible hazards. The machine is so efficient that it has a result for each letter within minutes and can pinpoint its location on the machine afterward, freezing production throughout the facility until the offending parcel is secured.

After a hazard is detected, the building is secured as a crime scene. Effective and ongoing coordination with first responders and employees, the USPIS (U.S. Postal Inspection Service) can execute strong evacuation procedures and works to maintain accurate head counts of everyone on the grounds to speedily secure the area in the event of an emergency.


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