As Hurricane Sandy began tearing up the East Coast, thousands evacuated their homes, schools closed, New York transit froze, the stock exchange fell quiet, federal offices in Washington D.C. shut down, and offices told their workers to stay home and dry. But a few employers did not: the Supreme Court, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Home Depot, Lowe's, and the U.S. Postal Service.
All postal service employees reported to work on Monday morning, according to USPS spokeswoman Darleen Reid, and while certain routes will be disrupted, like the evacuated parts of New York City, and a handful of coastal offices are closed, everywhere mail can be safely delivered, it will. As far as Reid knows, the postal service has never failed to deliver mail to an area for a 24-hour period in its entire 237-year history, unless there were physical obstacles -- mounds of snow, flooded streets -- that made it impossible.
"You go to work. You deliver that mail in the snow and the sleet. I know it sounds cliche, but that's what we do," says Reid, who began her 26-year career with the postal service as a letter carrier. And that remains the USPS motto, despite defaulting on multi-billion dollar payments in both August and October and massive lay-offs expected to total 35,000 by late 2014. "It's not a policy with us, it's a creedo. It's a pride thing. It's just part of the fabric of the postal service worker."
Every postal service district has its own emergency management team, Reid explained, which meets around half a dozen times a year. In New York, the emergency team had set up a command center as of 6p.m. Sunday to coordinate all contingency plans, like sending extra trucks to a certain part of town or setting up a mobile postal unit to service a flooded neighborhood.
The United State Postal Service, while urging voters to mail in absentee ballots as soon as possible, also vowed that political mail would be processed in time for the election.
Even on 9/11, when the stock exchange froze trading for four days, the postal service was back in action less than 24 hours after the terrorist attacks. "The employees down there prided themselves on starting delivery again the next day," says Reid. "They were trying to get the community to return to normal."
There is a personal element to the postal worker's dedication, she adds, as each letter carrier has his or her own customers, who they don't want to let down. And many of those customers expressed their surprise and admiration on Twitter on Monday, as their mail slid through their doors.
OMGosh.Postal Service just delivered a package to my house!! Whaaaa? I'm so grateful, but really, go home! Be safe! #sandy- Carol Cain (@CarolACain) October 29, 2012
The US Postal Service ain't nuttin to f*ck wit'. Just saw my mailman hoofing down the street w/his safari hat. That oath is for REAL.- Sharron Paul (@Sharronica) October 29, 2012
"They're the eyes and ears of the community," says Reid, noting that every year the Postmaster General honors a few hundred heroes, many of whom came to the aid of an elderly person, for example by noticing their mail had stacked up for a couple days.
"We're part of the culture. We want it to be that way," says Reid. "A little bit of hurricane isn't going to stop us."
For updates on any postal service disruptions, check the USPS website.
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