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U.S. Postal Service and the Anthrax Crisis Case Study

U.S. Postal Service and the Anthrax Crisis


When the USPS first detected that there was a real threat of anthrax following the death of staff members, the company discovered that there are three things they had to ensure are in place (Kennedy School of Government, 2014). They had to provide for the public and their employees to be reassured of safety and that continue to do the one thing that the public expects them to do, that is, deliver mail in the normal way.

Efforts Made by the USPS

The first thing that the company found necessary to do was to provide the correct facts to the public. This is because when the first employee died, there was a lot of speculation about the source of the anthrax. Most people believed that the virus had been brought to the mail office via mail; this led to many people being afraid of getting in contact with it. Recipients and senders of mail began to keep off the entire exercise while the company also found that its employees became afraid of handling mail as well (Kennedy School of Government, 2014). This action caused the business that is conducted by the mail office to go through drastic drops; thus, there was the urgency given to the situation by the vice president.

The first step that was taken in this venture was to quell any fears that existed within the office before they deal with the outside world. Therefore, the vice president released a report to the employees that stated that the cause of the anthrax was still not known and that any reports that suggested the virus came from a letter were not confirmed and should hence be treated as speculation and not truth. He also worked towards ensuring that the confidence of the employees in the company was kept in check. He did this by confirming that the company would ensure that any news that the employees receive regarding the development of the case would come from the company itself.

The second initiative that was made by the company was in regards to the safety of the employees. After September 11, the company, like several others around the world, became aware of the fact that terrorism was capable of hitting them at any time. As such, the company had largely invested in learning about the styles that are used by terrorists and ways through which they can be combated. However, nobody had expected that terrorists would find methods of causing terror through the mail. This therefore caught everybody off guard and put employees of the company in a vulnerable place. In order to ensure that their employees were safe, the company found that it had to work in close connections with a number of companies. One of the corporations that they worked with was the Center for Disease Control, which was in charge of carrying out tests and investigations into the issues pertaining to the virus (Kennedy School of Government, 2014).

CDC’s Interventions

CDC was able to establish certain facts that it made clear to the company in an attempt to persuade them of safety. It stated that from the tests and investigations it had carried, it was clear that the only people, who became ill as a result of the virus that was contained in the controversial letter, were those who had come into contact with it after it had been opened. This therefore meant that those who may have handled the letter before it got to its destination were free from the virus. CDC also stated that the letter had been tightly sealed and did not have any pores through which the virus would have escaped before it was opened. It was also made clear by the CDC that the traces of the virus that had been found were minimal and not able to pose serious threats due to the fact that the number of pores that are needed for the virus to spread were approximately 1,000, and this could not be gathered from the single letter.

Once the company reassured of the employees’ safety, the next step was to act confidently enough to be able to convince both the public and the employees. This was done by the top management of the company coming together and issuing a statement where they asked the public to provide any information that would lead to the arrest of people who were concerned with the spreading of the letter. The company even promised a reward of one million dollars to anyone who would provide any sufficient information that would result in arrests.

This was not all. USPS also put measures in place that would ensure their confidence in the safety of employees, which would be backed by sufficient evidence such as providing this safety really existed. The company initiated the mail security task force. This task force comprised of the company officials including some members of the union. Their responsibility was to make sure that they undertake all they can to ensure that the disease is controlled. Some of the activities that the task force took part in was to carry out enough research towards issues of the disease such as the symptoms and methods through which people can avoid coming into contact with the disease.

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They also devised methods through which the public could handle mail so that they are protected even in the cases where the mails they are coming into contact with are infected with the virus (Kennedy School of Government, 2014). They would then send postcards to their customers where they would provide all the information that they would have gathered from the research. USPS also hired a private company that would deal with the testing of specific areas, especially Brentwood, where most of their employees were based.

Apart from the input that the mail company received from CDC in dealing with the spread of the virus, there is still more that the latter could have done to deal with the situation. One approach would have been to establish techniques through which they would make sure that all the mails that were passing through the country, and even outside the state, were free from the disease. This could have been done through coming up with a central location where all the letters would be brought in and scanned before being released to go their various directions. They should have also ensured that the people who handle the mail were safe enough to get into contact with the mail before they are brought to the center for scanning. This could have been done in collaboration with the mail company (Quinn, Thomas, & McAllister, 2005). The CDC should have formulated the right kind of gear that could work for the mail delivery people that keeps them safe but does not interfere with their ability to work effectively. This would have been a good plot, especially seeing that people who seemed to have been affected the most by the spread of the virus were the mail delivery people, not the recipients.

Other Agencies that Would Have Intervened

One other agency that would have been instrumental in the control measures that were taken by the company was the government. This should have been taken into account by the government, owing to the fact that this single company was responsible for the delivery of mail all over the country. Should USPS crumble most people in the country would have been affected. Under normal circumstances, whenever there are fears or concerns about certain issues, the public will often look up to the government, believing that it is the one that is capable of releasing information that is accurate.

Therefore, once the company was able to get its house in order in the dealings of virus prevention, the government should have come in to help them even more. This is especially owing to the fact that when the company task force was able to come up with comprehensive reports to be sent to its customers, they still chose to spread the message through mail, which at this time was already facing doubt from the public (Kennedy School of Government, 2014). Therefore, the responsibility of the state in this case would have been to enlighten the citizens that it was safe and sound for them to obtain and open mails that were coming from USPS. The state should have also provided press announcements that were in support of the issues being drawn by the USPS task force.

The next group that would have been helpful in this course was the media. Over time, it has been recognized for its authority in the views of the public via the kind of information that it puts across to them and the approach in which this is done. The media has not been mentioned in this endeavor at all since all that was done was the press statements that would be released by the company.

The media should have taken into account the fact that the issue of the virus was one that affected almost all people in the country, themselves included. In fact, it was mentioned of the letters containing the virus having been directly sent to news agencies or specific people in the media (Quinn et al., 2005). This gives more strength to the fact that the media should have been more vocal about the issue. Once the task force that was formed by USPS was able to come up with solutions, instead of only spreading the news by sending out postcards to their customers, they should have received backing from the media. This should have been done in the form of consumer advisories that would be aired in the main forms of the media that are able to reach people fast. These are radio, television and newspapers.

Another agency that would have shown more concern about the issue at hand was the medical fraternity. Most of the task in handling of the issue was left to the USPS, which most of the time had to part with large amounts of money for the control of the disease, so that in some time they found themselves seeking the services of a private company. The first thing that the medical community would have done is to work with the task force that was put in place by the USPS to investigate vital information about the spread of the virus. This was likely to have brought in better results because they would be able to better understand all the medical concerns of the disease seeing as the company task force was not made up of any people who had a history in the field of medicine (Quinn et al., 2005). This would have probably been more instrumental in coming up with better solutions about the prevention of the disease. In addition, it would have helped in detection of signs of the virus on people early enough for appropriate steps to be taken in preventing the infection from resulting in deaths.

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The input of the medical fraternity would have also been useful in detection of the mails that contained the virus. They would have been able to do this with the assistance of the CDC. It is also general knowledge that apart from the government, the medical community is the next most trusted fraternity for giving information when there are certain health concerns. Studying the virus closely would have ended up with the invention and correct spread of appropriate methods of prevention of the disease, including the provision of prevention medications and corrective behavior (Kennedy School of Government, 2014).

There are a number of issues that could have been avoided by the company if the mentioned strategies would have been put in place. One is that USPS would have been able to prevent the losses that it went through when people started to withdraw from their services out of fear of contracting the virus (Quinn et al., 2005). The public would have been better informed about the virus, and therefore, the deaths and infections that occurred could have been prevented. The results obtained from the task force that was formed by the company would have had a greater effect on the prevention and management of the disease since there would have been better way of informing the public.

The company would have also been able to recover from the effects of wrong news about the involvement of the company in spreading the virus. For instance, before the first statement was released by USPS, there were already speculations about a certain letter being the one behind the spreading of the virus that caused the first deaths within the company. If people would have had the right information from the start, the employees would not have become afraid to handle mail and customers would not have backed away from using the company services.

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