How the Mail Went Through

Nov. 1, 2001
The Postal Service was a real hero during and after the terrorist attack. Here are some behind-the-scenes reports.

How the Mail Went Through

September 11. Postmaster General John Potter goes on the Internet to Postal Service employees. No reports of injuries, he says. But Church Street Station in Twin Towers area is showered with glass and debris. Postal employees become rescue workers. New York post office provides trucks and drivers to shuttle medical supplies. Nationally, mail handlers and clerks report on the PM tours to prepare mail for next-day distribution.

September 12. Postal operations continue everywhere except the evacuated area. The FAA suspends commercial air operations. Ground transportation network would carry the load. Potter advises: Continue to send mail to New York City. Local representatives and the Internet would tell how. Nationally, collection, processing and delivery continue. Potter says: “The best thing we can do for America right now is to keep the mail moving.”

September 13. USPS starts to use cargo flights instead of suspended commercial air.

September 17. Location for residential and small-business pickup designated. Location for business mailers open 24/7.

September 20. Postmaster General Potter appears before the Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services of the Senate Subcommittee on Governmental Affairs. Comments on the Postal Service’s pact with FedEx to transport Express, Priority and some first-class mail. In the crisis, “FedEx was one of the first airlines able to fly a full schedule.”

The Postal Service has a duty to protect the mail as well as handle it. Potter mentions the manager of the Wall Street Station. The lock on the station’s gate had been broken. To protect the mail, the manager stood watch through the hellish night in the cab of a postal truck.

Potter addresses the problems of finances and reorganization: “Both Congress and the comptroller of the United States have asked us to develop a comprehensive Transformation Plan to serve as a long-term blueprint for this organization’s future.” Maybe, maybe the Transformation Plan will allow the Postal Service to privatize without being auctioned off.

Potter reminds the attendees: “Over the years we’ve learned that in times of natural disaster, the appearance of letter carriers making their rounds is an important signal to neighborhoods and the nation that the fabric of everyday life, although damaged, remains intact.”

I wasn’t surprised by the Postal Service’s can-do attitude. USPS tends to do its best under pressure. Like when United Parcel System workers went on strike in 1976. More than a million additional parcels were handled in the Postal Service’s Central Region during strike time. More recently, in 1997, UPS went out on a 13-day national strike that forced the Postal Service to handle 70 percent more Express Mail, 50 percent more Priority Mail and 20 percent more parcel post. USPS coped by:

• Opening a command center that’s ordinarily used at Christmas;

• Scheduling Sunday deliveries to avoid a backlog;

• Hiring temporary employees in cities that needed them;

• Opening 20 facilities with temporary workers.

Whatever the Postal Service does well during strikes or disasters doesn’t mean a thing to writers in the newspapers. Take the New York Times, October 2, as an example. In a column opposing the use of federal workers to run security operations at airports, John Tierney argued, “The idea of a corps of long-term, well-paid federal workers screening luggage may sound reassuring at press conferences. But think of another group of federal employees with secure jobs, higher pay than comparable workers in the private sector, and ample experience handling packages. Think of the United States Postal Service.”

A cheap shot at the Postal Service in the newspaper — sure sign that the country is headed back to normalcy.

I prefer to think of the manager at the Wall Street Station.

Bernie Knill

contributing editor

[email protected]