By Karen Zautyk
When we first received notification of a U.S. Postal Service emergency drill at its Kearny distribution center, we assumed it was the Harrison Ave. complex.
The Postal Service is smarter than that. If dozens of fire trucks, ambulances, police cars and various other emergency vehicles, not to mention scores of individuals in Hazmat suits, had descended on the property within sight of Walmart, it might have caused, shall we say consternation, among the general public. Especially on the day before the 9/11 anniversary.
Instead the drill, which began at 10 a.m. last Tuesday, Sept. 10, was conducted at the much larger Dominick V. Daniels Processing/Distribution Center. It’s just up the road, after Harrison Ave. becomes Newark Turnpike, but it’s in the meadows and the staging areas were either completely or partially blocked from the view of curious passing motorists. The scenario for the drill: A package containing anthrax or some other bio-hazard is found in the mail (the Postal Service has detectors for this), the building must be evacuated, employees potentially exposed to the toxin must be decontaminated, injured employees must be located and removed from the building, the contaminated package must be removed, and the 1-millionsquare- foot building must be secured, which includes searching it for anyone hiding on the premises.
“The exercise,” a Postal Service statement explained, “is designed to simulate an emergency and evaluate the response of the Postal Service, local emergency services, health-care providers, law enforcement and first responders to a potential hazardous-material alert.”
In the words of USPS spokesman George B. Flood, who was on site to shepherd the media through the complex staging area (and to keep us from tripping over hoses or each other and interfering with the operation): “The point is to practice and to identify areas where we might improve our emergency preparedness.”
Participating in the drill were: the Kearny Police and Fire Departments, the Hoboken, Jersey City and Bayonne Fire Departments, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Hudson County Regional Health Commission, the N.J. Department of Health and representatives from various other law enforcement/first responder agencies.
It was obviously also an exercise in organization — ensuring that all these separate entities are working as one. And from what we observed, everything went smoothly, without a hitch.
The event was practice for the 250 postal workers on duty, too. They and the rest of the 1,652 employees at the facility receive evacuation briefings and undergo regular safety drills.
During this exercise, though, some 20 to 25 postal employee volunteers were actually decontaminated, hosed down with water and scrubbed with a mild soap. (On the blistering hot day, the spraying water was most tempting, but no additional volunteers were needed. Drat).
According to the Postal Service, the Dominick V. Daniels Processing/Distribution Center handles an average daily volume of 13.5 million pieces of mail. That might sound inviting for a would-be terrorist, but the bad guys should be aware that, through a myriad of state-of-the-art detection devices, and the expertise and dedication of police, fire and other first responders, the mail, and those who process it, have never been more secure.