The U.S. Postal Service and Emergency Response: A History of Delivering for the American Public

September 10, 2020 (RISC-WP-20-006)

  • As a vital part of the nation’s emergency response structure, the Postal Service ensures that mail operations  a lifeline for impacted communities needing access to medications and essential items — are restored after an emergency or natural disaster. 
  • The Postal Service, and the Post Office Department before it, have supported the American public during crises since the early days of the republic, from distributing the smallpox vaccine in the early 1800s to delivering essential items during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

The U.S. Postal Service has a formal role in the federal National Response Framework, which guides the country’s response to disasters and emergencies like hurricanes, bioterrorism, pandemics and other incidents. After an emergency, Americans rely on the Postal Service to deliver food, medicine, and other necessities. Getting the mail up and running again can therefore be critical for many communities, as well as an important sign of a return to normalcy.

Helping respond to emergencies is nothing new for the Postal Service, and the Post Office Department that preceded it. For example, it delivered a lifesaving vaccine against smallpox to Americans in the early 1800s, distributed educational materials from public health officials to citizens during the 1918 influenza pandemic, and helped Hurricane Katrina survivors update their addresses so they could stay in touch with loved ones and receive critical disaster assistance information. 

The OIG examined how the Postal Service continues to support the American public during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, even as the outbreak affects postal operations. The Postal Service has delivered essential items like prescriptions, unemployment benefit and stimulus payments, personal protective equipment, and coronavirus test kits. The Postal Service also has provided a backbone for the surge in ecommerce as more consumers buy household goods online. Ensuring the continuation of mail service during this challenging time is helping to keep the American public stay safe, secure, and connected.

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