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USPS OIG – U.S. Postal Service Emergency Preparedness: Winter Storm Elliott

March 14, 2024

READ FULL ARTICLE AT » Office of Inspector General OIG

Background

The U.S. Postal Service provides customers across the nation mail service six days a week as required by law. In December 2022, Winter Storm Elliott arrived in Western New York, and within minutes, winds went from 10 to 70 miles per hour and brought about 36 inches of snow over four days. During a winter storm emergency that may disrupt normal operations, the Postal Service may continue its mission of delivering services to the American public or decide to close facilities and cease operations. It is vital for the Postal Service to prepare for and respond to winter emergencies in a timely manner to safeguard employees. Additionally, it is critical for the Postal Service to capture lessons learned and address potential preparedness and response weaknesses following a weather emergency.

What We Did

This report responded to a congressional inquiry. Our objective was to review the U.S. Postal Service’s actions before, during, and after Winter Storm Elliott. We interviewed employees, supervisors, managers, and officials involved in the emergency event, and reviewed internal policies and procedures around weather emergencies. We also visited Williamsville and West Side delivery units in Buffalo, NY, referenced in the congressional inquiry, to assess management’s actions throughout Winter Storm Elliott.

What We Found

The Postal Service did not fully comply with emergency preparedness and response procedures before, during, or after Winter Storm Elliott. Specifically, at the Williamsville delivery unit, district management did not ensure the manager was fully prepared to safeguard employees before Winter Storm Elliott arrived. Additionally, although management maintained accountability of employees during the storm, Williamsville and West Side employees were placed at risk when district management did not take immediate action when conditions became life threatening, to include releasing them in a timely manner. Lastly, district management did not complete a timely final assessment to identify and document lessons learned and address areas for improvement.

Recommendations

We recommended management update emergency preparedness policy to establish timelines for communicating preparedness information and outlining supplies needed to safeguard employees; reiterate responsibilities with district management and direct the Buffalo postmaster to take immediate action to close facilities when situations become life threatening during a winter weather emergency; update policy to specify responsibilities and timeframes to complete a formal after-action report; and develop a process to verify after-action reports include lessons learned and incorporate the lessons learned from Winter Storm Elliott regarding essential emergency supplies into the winter weather guidance.

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