Postal Service Rapid Response

by Shannen W. Coffin

The U.S. Postal Service’s rapid blog response team offers this response to my earlier post on the biological attack Executive Order:

The United States Postal Service has been working on this initiative since 2005. We have conducted drills in Seattle, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Boston and we are preparing for a major pilot test later this year. The Postal Service has a presence in every community across this country and it is often the only federal government presence in town. Our infrastructure and network are second to none and we have the ability to make delivering medications to residents a reality in an emergency situation. In the Philadelphia drill, 48 letter carriers delivered to 53,000 residences in less than 9 hours. Who else could do that?
Also, the Postal Service is quite often the first sign of normalcy in times of crisis — in New York City and Arlington VA after 9/11, many people commented that seeing their letter carrier delivering mail the next day made them feel like everything was going to be okay. The same can be said for the Gulf Coast region after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and again last year with Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, America’s oldest federal law enforcement agency, has the lead jurisdictional authority and responsibility for the security of U.S. Postal Service personnel, facilities, assets and the delivery of the antibiotics. The Postal Inspection Service will set up a Unified Command with local, state and federal law enforcement on security planning.
Thanks, Peter R. Rendina – U.S. Postal Inspector National Public Information Officer  
ME: As I said, I don’t doubt the physical capacity of the Postal Service to deliver a large amount of material in a short period of time — just check the pile of Christmas cards in my house. So despite the flippancy of my earlier post, I really like my mailman. But I do doubt the functional capability of the organization as a whole to be part of a response in times of significant national emergency. As Stewart Baker notes on his blog, there may not be a better alternative for a massive distribution of necessary countermeasures (assuming they are available — see, e.g., H1N1 vaccine shortages). But do we really feel comfortable putting our local mailman at the forefront of emergency response? Is that really a role he or she should be playing? The fact that the Executive Order calls for local law enforcement to assist in the delivery — armed local escorts for your mailman — underscores the functional capability issue. For the record, I also don’t think this is an Obama issue — as Mr. Rendina notes, this program has been in the works for years. 

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