- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rain and other severe weather may not stop the nation’s mail carriers “from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” but managers at one post office in New Jersey took the pledge a little too literally, and required employees to come into work during Hurricane Sandy last year.

A report by the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general on the service’s hurricane response said managers at that post office told employees they must report for work on the day the massive, devastating storm hit, despite the fact that the facility was within a mandatory evacuation zone.

Employees complied, going into work despite orders from law enforcement officers, the Postal Service’s inspector general said in the report issued last week just ahead of the storm’s first anniversary.

But the floodwaters rose quickly, trapping several employees at the facility and requiring rescue by the Coast Guard. The name of the town is redacted from the report and both the Postal Service and its watchdog declined to specify to The Washington Times, citing privacy concerns.

USPS officials said they are looking at ways to improve emergency preparedness training, but they challenged the investigation’s suggestion there was any wrongdoing during the 2012 hurricane.

The evacuation order told residents to be out by 9 p.m. Oct. 29, and the postal agency told its carriers to be off the streets by 11 a.m. that same day, a response from the Postal Service said.

“It should be noted that with any natural disaster comes unpredictability and associated risk,” the postal service said. “While the agency prepares and plans to the best of its ability, including incorporating lessons learned from past events, there will be circumstances that were not foreseen or forecast and beyond our control, such as the timing of when the storm surge was to hit along the New Jersey coast.”

The Postal Service did not answer questions on whether any of the employees required medical treatment, owing to privacy concerns, said spokesman George Flood said. He also declined to answer whether managers at the post office faced disciplinary action.

The inspector general said the incident was unusual, and that most post offices were prepared for the hurricane.

“At most locations we visited, the Postal Service implemented emergency management plans to safeguard employees and assets, assessed damage to the mail processing network, and quickly re-established mail processing operations,” the inspector general said.

However, the inspector general found that some mail was sent to postal service facilities in flood zones under evacuation orders, putting the mail at risk of destruction or loss. Instead, it should have been held at a safe location until the storm passed, investigators said.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012, killing about 150 people, destroying large portions of New Jersey’s coast, and causing an estimated $65 billion in damage. The National Hurricane Center said it was the second most destructive storm in U.S. history, following only Katrina in 2005.

The Postal Service estimates the storm did $39.6 million damage to its equipment and facilities.

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