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Greater need than ever for secure delivery networks says City Link security chief Russell Mannix

Russell Mannix is Head of Security for City Link, one of the UK’s leading premium express delivery companies, which handles more than 350,000 parcels daily from a national network of 74 Depots.

Here he explains why the need for a secure delivery network is even more important than ever with the rise in value of goods commonly delivered.

The rush for the latest iPad shows just how deep-rooted the UK’s love affair with technology really is.

People’s passion for smart phones, iPads, and ultra-sophisticated mobile computing appears to be unquenchable.

Even in straitened economic times we are collectively splashing out millions of pounds a year on the latest must-have devices, both for business and leisure.

Tantalised by the new possibilities unfolding every year, with faster, fancier, and smaller devices, we are insatiable consumers of technology.

And of course, as befits a tech-savvy generation, we are increasingly ordering online for home delivery rather than spend time shopping the old-fashioned way by turning up in person at a store.

Consumers are ordering everything from laptop dongles to high-powered servers for home delivery – and many of the items are worth hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.

Indeed the advent of smart phones and mobile computing has led to an increase in recent years of small and valuable parcels going through home delivery networks – making it even more important that these networks are secure.

Although computing power comes down in price every year, we seem to prefer buying the most innovative kit we can afford, rather than settling for the most basic models without the ‘wow factor’. Excitement is everything.

Customers naturally expect that their electronic marvels will arrive on time, in good condition, without fail. They do not want to be told that their precious purchase has ‘gone astray’ on its journey.

All this poses a challenge for a carrier. Not only are these goods highly desirable – some of the most sought-after products will have long waiting lists – they are often compact in size, making them highly attractive to thieves. And of course small packets by their very nature can genuinely get lost in a system.

Ever more robust security systems and eternal vigilance are the answer.

That is why City Link is making its security systems even more sophisticated to ensure that each parcel has a secure passage at every stage of its journey.

There has been a dramatic rise in theft of loads and lorries while on the road as organised criminal gangs drive up and down the country targeting high-value goods.

Truckpol, a nationwide police and industry intelligence unit recently reported a 60% per cent rise in thefts of large goods vehicles last year compared to 2009.

As well as the risk of violence to drivers, it is estimated these crimes are costing industry up to £250 million a year in the UK.

City Link drivers are not allowed to stop between their departure and destination points, minimising the risk of hijack or theft, and now the company is fitting its curtain-sided fleet with electronic trailer tracker device.

These ingenious devices – which uniquely are attached to the trailer containing the goods, rather than the tractor – will automatically alert City Link’s central control room if a trailer makes an unauthorised stop or deviates from its route, or if someone interferes with the load en route. They will also transmit the exact location of the trailer, making it easy to trace. The system is so responsive it has even alerted City Link when a driver was brought to a standstill in a long motorway jam!

At the other end of the scale, there is the risk of a parcel, particularly a small one, accidentally being misdirected and getting lost in the system. City Link minimises this risk by operating a ‘caged system’ in which parcels destined for the same postcode are placed together in a steel cage at the earliest convenient point in their journey, which is often at a customer’s distribution centre. The parcels remain in the cages while travelling through our depots and hubs to the last leg of their journey. In this way the risk of human error – or worse – is minimised. All of our depots and hubs are covered by CCTv systems to deter thieves and burglars. Cameras can be remotely monitored at all times – and our control room can even use a loudspeaker system, if required, to warn intruders that they have been spotted and that police are on their way.

City Link has had considerable success with new security measures covering the final leg of a parcel’s journey. Our innovative ‘Van Cam’ system allows the central control room to "see" inside our delivery vans in real time to monitor activity. CCTv cameras are fitted to give views inside the van, out through the driver’s window, and clear images of the doors. They record parcels being loaded and unloaded and, because they transmit images even when the driver is not there, act as a deterrent to thieves tempted to break into the vehicle. They provide independent evidence of where a van was and, depending on the angle from the street, they can often capture images of a driver handing over a parcel at a front door.

Drivers have welcomed the initiative as the cameras can also protect them. In one instance VanCam footage exonerated a driver completely from being held responsible for unexplained damage to the back of his van. The VanCam images clearly revealed another vehicle had collided with the stationary van while the City Link driver was legitimately calling on a customer.

City Link can track where all its vans have been, ensuring that drivers stick to the correct routes and also giving managers the flexibility, if an urgent delivery is required, to swiftly identify who the nearest driver is in the locality and divert them.

All City Link vans have black box recorders that record a van’s exact location and its speed. Together with VanCam, these can provide compelling evidence that a parcel has been delivered at the correct address. The telematics in the black box recorders give the location while the VanCams record the street view and images of the parcel being removed from the van.

However, we are never complacent at City Link. We are always looking for new ways to improve our customer service – and security is top of our list.

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