1692.0 Charting a Course in a Storm: US Postal Service and the Anthrax Crisis
On Sunday, October 21, 2001, a postal worker from a mail sort facility in Washington, DC, died of inhalation anthrax-a disease virtually unseen for a century. The next day, a second employee from the same facility died. Fear of anthrax had already gripped the US: newspaper and television employees in Florida and New York City had contracted the disease through letters. In addition, US Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) had received an anthrax-laden letter and the Senate and House of Representatives office buildings had been forced to close for anthrax tests. With the deaths of the mail workers, the public perception of risk mushroomed, only weeks after the terrorist hijackings of September 11 had devastated Americans' sense of safety. In the midst of unprecedented pressure and fear, the United States Postal Service had to undertake crucial tasks for which its systems were not designed and which had never been foreseen. These included: reassuring and protecting the public from toxins in the mail, reassuring and protecting its own employees-as well as delivering the mail. With no warning, the Postal Service had to find ways to coordinate its activities with public health authorities, to make key decisions as to whether to close affected postal facilities, and to discuss the nature of the threat with the public. Executives who had thought their job was to manage mail delivery and control costs suddenly found themselves on the front lines of a new war involving terrorism. This case combines discussion of the management of postal operations with a candid, historical account-not before assembled-of the internal decision-making of the Postal Service in the midst of the anthrax crisis. It is a vehicle for discussion of crisis management, in particular.
|Funding Source:||Volpe National Systems Center, US Department of Transportation; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation|