After a disaster, letter carriers and retail associates are welcome faces for weary customers, a hopeful sign that things are returning to normal. But behind the scenes are other employees working tirelessly to help USPS — and the communities it serves — recover.
Postal inspectors from the Postal Inspection Service are among these hidden helpers. While best known as criminal investigators, they play a crucial role in getting USPS back on track after disasters such as Hurricane Ian, the recent Category 4 storm that hammered Florida and the southeastern United States.
“First and foremost, we respond right after the hurricane and do assessments of Post Offices and see if it’s safe for employees to return,” said Adel Valdes, a postal inspector based in the Inspection Service’s Miami Division. “We also assist with employee accountability.”
Inspectors also take security measures at mobile retail units or Post Offices. Some of it is “accounting,” according to Leo Polanco, another inspector in the Miami Division.
He helped recover “accountable negotiable property” — cash, coins, stamps, money orders and the like — at the Post Office in Fort Myers Beach, FL, where Ian made landfall.
“We count it, double count it, record it, sign it, stamp it and deposit it or give it back to the district,” he said.
Polanco, who is also an Air Force officer, was stunned by what Ian left in its wake.
“It’s like a combat zone, really. Normally this kind of destruction and, really, the despair you see is found overseas, not in the continental United States. And in this case, about a half-hour from my house,” he said.
Daniel Pinkerton, a Fort Worth, TX-based senior technical surveillance specialist with the Inspection Service, participated in his first in-person recovery effort after Ian.
“I’m standby support for generator hookups to restore power to facilities temporarily,” he said. “I typically handle electronics, body wires, trackers and covert camera installation.”
Valdes and his team also escorted postal executives around to get into areas that only law enforcement could access.
“We help on many levels after a catastrophe,” Valdes said. “I’m always proud of my team.”
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