Postal Service Keeps Delivering Mail -- Through Hurricane Sandy
As Hurricane Sandy began tearing up the East Coast, thousands evacuated their homes, schools closed, New York's transit system halted, the stock exchange fell quiet, federal offices in Washington, D.C., shut down, and most employers told their workers to stay home and keep dry. But a few employers did not: the U.S. Supreme Court, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Home Depot, Lowe's, and the U.S. Postal Service.
All Postal Service employees reported to work on Monday morning, according to USPS spokeswoman Darleen Reid, and while certain routes will be disrupted (such as evacuated areas of New York City), and a handful of coastal offices are closed, everywhere mail can be safely delivered, it will be. As far as Reid knows, the Postal Service has never failed to deliver mail to an area for a 24-hour period in its entire 237-year history, unless there were physical obstacles -- mounds of snow, flooded streets -- that made it impossible.
"You go to work. You deliver that mail in the snow and the sleet. I know it sounds cliche, but that's what we do," says Reid, who began her 26-year career with the Postal Service as a letter carrier. And that remains the USPS work ethic, despite the federal agency defaulting on multibillion dollar payments in both August and October, and the massive layoffs expected to total 35,000 by late 2014. "It's not a policy with us, it's a credo. It's a pride thing. It's just part of the fabric of the Postal Service worker."
Every Postal Service district has its own emergency management team, Reid explained, which meets around a half dozen times a year. In New York, the emergency team had set up a command center as of 6 p.m. on Sunday to coordinate all contingency plans, like sending extra trucks to a certain part of town, or setting up a mobile postal unit to service a flooded neighborhood.
The United State Postal Service, while urging voters to mail in absentee ballots as soon as possible, also vowed that political mail would be processed in time for the election.
Even on 9/11, when the U.S. Stock Exchange froze trading for four days, the Postal Service was back in action less than 24 hours after the terrorist attacks. "The employees down there prided themselves on starting delivery again the next day," says Reid. "They were trying to get the community to return to normal."
There is a personal element to the postal worker's dedication, she adds, as each letter carrier has his or her own customers, whom they don't want to let down. And many of those customers expressed their surprise and admiration Monday on Twitter, after their mail arrived.
OMGosh.Postal Service just delivered a package to my house!! Whaaaa? I'm so grateful, but really, go home! Be safe! #sandy- Carol Cain (@CarolACain) October 29, 2012
The US Postal Service ain't nuttin to f*ck wit'. Just saw my mailman hoofing down the street w/his safari hat. That oath is for REAL.- Sharron Paul (@Sharronica) October 29, 2012
"They're the eyes and ears of the community," says Reid, noting that every year the Postmaster General honors a few hundred heroes, many of whom came to the aid of ailing people, for example, by noticing that their mail had stacked up for a couple days.
"We're part of the culture. We want it to be that way," says Reid. "A little bit of hurricane isn't going to stop us."
For updates on any Postal Service disruptions, check the USPS website.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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