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Mail Battles Through Traffic, Flight Delays

Last week's power outage that darkened streets across the Northeast also backed up mail delivery throughout the region, but mailers and printers worked through the weekend to make up for lost time and get back on schedule.

During the day immediately after the Aug. 14 blackout, the U.S. Postal Service predicted delays of a day for inbound and outbound mail in the Northeast, with longer delays in Detroit, Cleveland and New York. But by press time, USPS operations had returned to normal, spokesman Mark Saunders said.

Postal facilities throughout New York state were affected, though the plant in Buffalo remained functional during the outage, Saunders said. Mail delivery continued in the postal service's Triboro District, which includes the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, but delivery to the rest of the city was shut down, as it was in Detroit and Cleveland.

The USPS National Operations Center, a tracking facility similar to NASA's Mission Control Center that activates during emergencies and the holiday mailing season, went into operation at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 14, Saunders said. The operations center helped track mail flow and monitor delivery problems caused by traffic gridlock during the blackout and airport delays and closures.

Truck and train transport replaced air delivery in many cases, Saunders said.

United Parcel Service deliveries in the Northeast suffered delays mainly from traffic jams and airport delays, UPS spokesman Norman Black said. Traffic lights were out all over the Northeast, causing gridlock on the roads.

Communication with customers during the outage was key, FedEx spokesman Ed Coleman said. Many businesses were shut down during the day following the blackout, so it was important to contact them and inform them about the status of their deliveries, he said.

UPS and FedEx said they worked through the weekend to catch up on delayed deliveries. Most customers who experienced delays were expected to receive their packages by Monday (Aug. 18), and both companies reported that delivery service had returned to normal by the start of the following business week.

Printers and lettershop providers reported delays, but they also said that service had mostly returned to normal after the weekend.

FalaDM Group, a printer and mailer with four facilities on Long Island, worked through the weekend to keep to its clients' mailing schedules, and on Monday was cleaning up the few delayed jobs remaining, Fala president/CEO Jeff Jurick said.

Jurick praised his employees, 90 percent of whom showed up for work the day after the outage only to be sent home. He also said the USPS Long Island district worked with Fala to update it on developments during the emergency and to ensure the needs of clients with sensitive mail schedules were met.

Fala started moving mail again on the Saturday after the outage, though all four of the company's facilities did not return to full operation until late Saturday, and the company experienced problems communicating with employees who did not live on Long Island, Jurick said. Returning power to the company's operations had to be done slowly to prevent recurring power problems.

Fala receives 30 percent of its power from solar panels, Jurick said. However, though the panels softened the blow of the outage, the company still depends on energy from the Long Island Power Authority.

The Quad/Graphics plant in Saratoga Springs, NY, lost power and did not return online until the afternoon of Aug. 15, Quad/Graphics spokeswoman Claire Ho said. Customer print schedules were unaffected.

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