With the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ian still being calculated, a story in the latest issue of The Eagle magazine, “When Disaster Strikes,” comes at an apt moment.
Using the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as its main case study, the article explains why USPS is uniquely equipped to respond to such disasters.
The federal government requires some services to be maintained during — or to resume within 12 hours of — a disaster. Mail delivery is one such service.
In addition to the mandate to get the mail out as quickly and safely as possible, the organization has many assets — both tangible and intangible — of use in relief efforts.
These include the organization’s comprehensive address database and extensive physical network, and, with letter carriers often the first outside eyes on a scene of devastation, crucial disaster reconnaissance.
Postal Service operations can also assist other agencies with transportation, housing, water delivery and more.
Another advantage is the organization’s workforce. Postal employees often live in the affected communities and therefore may have the best sense of conditions on the ground.
In the case of Maria, letter carriers helped map which roads were blocked by mudslides, downed trees and sinkholes. They also informed relief agencies of sick and older residents in remote areas.
Many of these employees, themselves affected by the storm, worked seven days a week in the aftermath of Maria, often bearing care packages sent to residents from relatives on the mainland.
While its value is intangible, an operating Postal Service may be one of the most important psychological assets a disaster-stricken community has.
“The first delivery of mail or reopened Post Offices often provide the initial signs of a return to normalcy,” the article says.
“When Disaster Strikes” can be found in Issue 5 of The Eagle magazine.