Hurricane Sandy Challenges Postal Operations

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From the current issue of MFSA Postal Points, reposted here with permission…

Ahough its arrival had been anticipated for a week, Hurricane Sandy’s late October encounter with the East Coast inflicted an unexpected level of damage from Virginia to Maine. The accompanying storm surge, combined with the high tides of a full moon and the hurricane’s strong winds and heavy rain, caused severe flooding in coastal communities in the Mid‐Atlantic and New
England. Being where the on‐shore winds were strongest meant that northern New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area were especially hard‐hit.  As a subset of the chaos that followed the storm for businesses and families, the Postal Service also found itself with significant operational challenges.

Too much water, not enough electricity
Like other parts of the area, water invaded post offices and other facilities, and downed power lines interrupted electric service. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, twenty mail processing facilities, from Maryland to Massachusetts, were off‐line; air service to eight airports was curtailed, disabling connections to transportation provided by UPS, FedEx, and over 10,000 commercial flights; and hundreds of post offices were dark.

Gasoline became a scarcity for everyone, but the Postal Service trucked in supplies to fuel its vehicles and, in some cases, to sell to employees so they could get to work. Generators at some postal facilities enabled limited operations, but those were the exception, not the rule.

The storm’s footprint affected 5.7 million delivery addresses, some forever as houses were destroyed or washed away. Water invaded post offices but none of the major plants were flooded, though the Dominick V Daniels P&DC in the Meadowlands of Kearney (NJ) reportedly became an island.  With mail processing and transportation disrupted, employees unable to get to work, and delivery in many areas infeasible, the Postal Service stopped mailflow into the area, initially keeping about 200 truckloads at origin.

Getting back to work
Within a week, however, the situation improved markedly (for the USPS, at least). All of the mail processing facilities were back in operation; the last –the DVD “island” – began operation on generators and soon returned to full service. The airports reopened and airline service resumed. Mail that had been held at origin was allowed into the area and the backlog was processed.  Staffing levels were returning to normal. Drop shipments were being accepted, though some for northern New Jersey were being redirected to facilities
elsewhere in the metropolitan area.

Over 200 post offices opened on generator power or without connection to internal postal data systems, and about 100 DDUs had other challenges that limited access.  Notably, no mail was damaged or destroyed at any of the affected processing facilities, but mail at individual post offices didn’t always fare as well. Mail that got wet was dried and delivered, but mail that was exposed to hazardous
materials (such as fuel‐ or sewage‐contaminated floodwater) was returned in sealed biohazard packaging (if First‐Class Mail) or destroyed.

Delivery to about 50,000 addresses remained impeded, but temporary centralized units were being installed where possible. Alternatively, displaced customers were being encouraged to restore delivery by filing temporary changes of address, using general delivery, or signing‐up for Premium Forwarding Service.

As the USPS continues to restore service, information about the status of post offices, mail processing facilities, drop shipment access, and other issues is available from the RIBBS website at http://about.usps.com/news/servicealerts/welcome.htm.
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Written by Lisa.Bowes

November 13th, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Posted in USPS

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