John H. Bridges III is the Executive Director, National Preparedness for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). In this interview, Bridges explains USPS’ function and mission and discusses how safety, health and environmental (SH&E) practices factor into postal, national preparedness and homeland security policy and procedures.
Please provide a brief description of your role and responsibilities as Executive Director, National Preparedness for the USPS.
As Executive Director, I serve as USPS’ representative to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and as a liaison for other government agencies involved in all-hazards preparedness, prevention, response and recovery. This includes directing and managing the development, coordination and implementation of a risk-based, all-hazards strategy for national preparedness. Some of the specific responsibilities include building common capabilities necessary to respond to natural disasters, acts of terrorism and other manmade disasters, along with developing the unique capabilities (performance measures) necessary to respond to specific types of incidents posing the greatest risk to the organization’s infrastructure.
The role of a safety professional today has changed, in my opinion, since September 11, 2001 and the anthrax attacks that followed in October 2001 further cemented my former focus. While the primary focus may still be on the prevention of accidents, incidents and events that harm people, property or the environment, the responsibilities have expanded to recognize a larger set of interrelated threats and their potential comprehensive impacts to the organization. For myself, the roots of my SH&E background have not been diminished, rather they have been invigorated through an expanded role now addressing homeland security and national preparedness. Whereas I previously managed and implemented controls, I now develop policy, planning and protective measures through an enterprise-wide approach.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s (USPIS) mission is “to protect the U.S. Postal Service, secure the nation’s mail system and ensure public trust in the mail.” This includes providing for the safe exchange of funds and securities through the U.S. Mail, the safe transmission of postal customers” correspondence and a safe work environment for postal employees.
What resources and personnel does USPIS have in place to ensure that its mission is carried out at all USPS facilities nationwide?
Currently, USPIS has a three-pronged organizational focus for carrying out this mission, which incorporates homeland security within our part of the organization. This includes dangerous mail investigations, security and national preparedness. With over 700,000 career employees and 38,000 facilities, this is not a trivial task. USPS is organizationally divided into a headquarters element overseeing nine regional areas, which cover about 80 postal customer service districts.
USPIS is one of our country’s oldest federal law enforcement agencies, founded by Benjamin Franklin, and it has a long, proud and successful history of fighting criminals who attack our nation’s postal system and misuse it to defraud, endanger or otherwise threaten the American public. In general, our inspectors work closely with U.S. attorneys, other law enforcement agencies and local prosecutors to investigate postal cases and to prepare them for court. Postal inspectors are stationed throughout the U.S., organized into 18 divisions, who enforce more than 200 federal laws covering investigations of crimes that adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S. Mail and postal system.
To assist in carrying out its responsibilities, USPIS maintains a Security Force staffed by uniformed postal police officers who are assigned to critical postal facilities throughout the country. The officers provide perimeter security, escort high-value mail shipments and perform other essential protective functions. USPIS operates and supports numerous forensic crime laboratories, strategically located in cities across the country. The labs are staffed with forensic scientists and technical specialists who assist inspectors in analyzing evidentiary material needed for identifying and tracing criminal suspects and in providing expert testimony for cases brought to trial.
In addition to these law enforcement capabilities, we have homeland security coordinators for each district, who work alongside inspectors to carry out national preparedness guidance, policies and procedures developed by the Office of National Preparedness (ONP) and managed by nine area preparedness managers. This includes carrying out a comprehensive set of programs, including aviation mail security and hazardous materials, incident management, infrastructure protection, public health and performance measures. The activities that take place in support of these programs generally include tasks related to education and awareness (for employees, Homeland Security staff and customers), planning, resource procurement, exercises and training, actual response and recovery and leadership and management.
This is a broad picture, and really just a snapshot, of the resources and personnel USPIS has in place to ensure that the mission is carried out nationwide. There is a certain dynamic aspect to how we go about performing this mission because our goal is continuous improvement.
How does USPIS help manage occupational SH&E practices at USPS facilities? What role do SH&E professionals play in managing SH&E practices at these facilities?
Managing SH&E practices at USPS facilities is a comprehensive team effort that is difficult to break down. First, there are many safety and environmental programs, starting with accident reduction plans that target the most serious and prevalent accident causes. This primarily takes the form of safety talks, videos and publications that provide information to employees on how to avoid injuries and illnesses. In our National Preparedness Program, we have provided a monthly newsletter that highlights this for employees and for their families, which takes a holistic approach to family preparedness.
SH&E professionals within USPS and USPIS play significant roles as members of various teams promoting safety, security and awareness. Since 2001, there has been a steady decline in the number of injuries, illnesses and motor vehicle accidents of USPS employees managed by our safety department. Emergency preparedness and safety requirements go hand-in-hand to meet DHS guidelines as well. For example, SH&E professionals have supported response and recovery efforts by conducting safety and health assessments of many hurricane-damaged facilities. In addition, protective equipment, safe working guidance for employees and guidance and resources for decontamination of facilities, equipment and mail are provided.
USPS also continues to partner with OSHA to implement the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). This program recognizes and encourages excellence in occupational safety and health protection. To qualify for VPP certification, a facility must have comprehensive safety management systems, and the employees assigned to the facility must be actively involved in anticipating, evaluating and controlling potential safety and health hazards. OSHA recognizes only those facilities that have implemented the best safety and health programs. USPS has over 100 worksites recommended or approved in VPP. The program is another total team effort implemented through the national, area and local joint labor-management safety committees.
What occupational hazards are most frequently present in USPS facilities, and how does USPIS help control or eliminate these hazards?
I do not have the actual statistics on most frequent occupational hazards. While these are important, they are not the primary focus of USPIS and our Homeland Security Team. Our primary all-hazards objective is to focus on the entire natural and manmade hazard spectrum with potential for severe consequences to postal workers, postal customers and postal assets. Our goal is to prepare for, prevent, respond to, recover from and investigate incidents involving dangerous mail (intentional and unintentional), workplace violence, severe weather incidents such as hurricanes, floods or earthquakes and terrorism (chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological and explosives).
How have SH&E practices changed within USPS facilities since the anthrax mail incident of 2001 and the ricin mail incident of 2003? What new measures have been implemented to protect USPS employees from such incidents?
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a new homeland security emphasis is under way throughout the federal government, and the response is still evolving. Additional actions beyond our SH&E platforms must further clarify missions and activities as we further determine how best to support both homeland security and non-homeland security missions. The center of all our initiatives remains SH&E as our foundation to strengthen our current mission, while embracing law enforcement activities related to homeland security to help fight terrorism.
Overall, the most visible change was the deployment and installation of over 1,300 Biohazard Detection Systems (BDS) at 272 locations. BDS are intended to detect biological hazards, warn postal workers and help prevent the delivery of dangerous items. This was a very challenging and first-of-its-kind program, which has proven its ability to consistently and reliably detect anthrax and other primary agents of concern in the mail. There are very specific and well-trained methods for the handling of suspicious mail that add another layer of defense against anthrax or other suspicious powder incidents. Many hoaxes are dealt with each year, and each one must be taken seriously. In addition, the national preparedness team has planned for and helped carry out many BDS alert exercises that follow DHS Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) guidelines.
This is part of a comprehensive overall plan whereby every facility, district and area has an incident emergency management plan. Our plans follow the National Response Framework (NRF), National Preparedness Guidelines (NPG) and the National Incident Management System’s Incident Command System (NIMS-ICS). We rely on well-trained employees to carry out these plans during incidents. Our core SH&E principles reside within this new framework that has evolved since 2001.
Today, there is also a postal inspector on each of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) as well as the national-level task force. There is a 24-hour Watch Desk, and USPIS has over 300 inspectors who are certified as hazardous waste operations (HAZWOPER) technicians, as required by OSHA. This means they are capable of responding to potential biological incidents with protective gear, and along with the use of Field Testing Units, they can be “on the ground” in every key location in less than three hours. Now, for 99% of the cases, we can quickly determine whether a substance presents a danger or not before calling in other agencies and using more time-consuming laboratory tests.
Inspectors are trained in Hazardous Materials Operations Management, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) awareness, CBRNE crime scene processing and the operation of BDS equipment. Further, inspectors are certified as BDS crime scene investigators and issued personal protection equipment for use in responding to biological attacks. Using training similar to that provided by the FBI’s Hazardous Material Response Teams, Dangerous Mail Investigations (DMI) inspectors perform critical support functions needed to implement new BDS protocols at mail processing facilities across the country.
Technical support for the DMI program includes the latest in technologies to identify suspicious material. The inspection service has acquired new devices that automatically analyze powders, liquids and other substances. With these new tools and other equipment, inspectors will be able to quickly identify the majority of substances at the scene of a spill and return postal operations to normal as quickly as possible.
How does USPIS protect mail carriers from musculoskeletal disorders and slips, trips and falls? What type of training do they receive before they are assigned mail routes?
This work is not part of USPIS’ mission; rather it is an integral part of postal operations and the training associated with the different job categories. However, an Ergonomic Work Group (EWG) was formed based on the Strategic Partnership put in place between USPS, the Union’s (NPMHU) and OSHA in 2003 for implementing the Ergonomic Risk Reduction Process (ERRP). The ERRP goal is early identification of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and control of the risk factors that can cause injuries and illnesses to postal employees.
Over 150 sites have implemented ERRP, and over 122,000 employees have received ERRP training. ERRP teams have analyzed and resolved 9,805 tasks and implemented 6,783 employee-submitted solutions. Some of the most successful solutions reduce handling and lifting injuries.
According to all parties involved, this has been a tremendous success in bringing management, unions and employees together to cooperatively identify potential hazards and ergonomic health risks. More information on this program is available at http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/partnerships/national/usps/usps.html.
USPIS conducts investigations into mail fraud, mail and identity theft and dangerous mail. What can the public do to help prevent or discourage such crimes? Of what should the public be most aware?
We have an extensive awareness campaign concerning these areas. For issues of mail fraud, mail and identity theft, consumer awareness links are located at http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/. There you will find details about our Consumer Fraud Campaign that helps inform the public about the many scams out there, including fake check fraud, usually from alleged international sources. In general, the postal advice is, “If someone offers you a deal that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
USPIS has collaborated with financial institutions, consumer advocacy groups and businesses to form the Alliance for Consumer Fraud Awareness, which has launched a consumer-education campaign. A series of television, print and online advertisements feature a tagline telling consumers, “Scams like these don’t work as well in person. That’s why they’re done online. Consumers Can Protect Themselves!” Consumers can learn more and report fraudulent activity at the Alliance website, http://www.FakeChecks.org. The next important thing is that if consumers believe they have been defrauded by a scam, the Postal Inspection Service wants to hear from them. These crimes can be reported by calling 1-800-372-8347.
At the above USPIS site, the public can also find the following tips to avoid ID theft:
Finally, concerning Dangerous Mail awareness, the public should be aware of the rules for what can and cannot be mailed and follow them. Within our ONP, one of our focus areas is Aviation Mail Security and HAZMAT, and it includes training both postal customers and employees on mail-ability issues. With respect to crime and terrorism in general, if you see something suspicious, report it. We have 24/7 Watch Desks available for the reporting of any and all types of suspicious incidents and a close partnership with other law enforcement agencies.
In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of your position as Executive Director and how do you address it?
In an organization that is operationally driven to provide quality customer service in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, it is a challenge, at times, to measure progress regarding our homeland security mission since change is constant. Whether it is terrorism or a hurricane, measuring progress regarding our ability to prepare for, prevent, respond or recover from such incidents is difficult and is very much a work in progress. Measures in use, such as the number of developing plans and policies weaving SH&E activities as well as CBNRE activities, is a challenge today, with progressive steps to stay ahead of our evolving protective measures.
In our continuous-improvement culture, we have worked hard to develop performance measures that show the value of the comprehensive homeland security and national preparedness programs in terms of safety, security, continuous operations and cost avoidance due to inoperable conditions. The challenge is to look at a set of nearly infinite potential hazards and scenarios and decide how to prepare for them using a limited number of resources, while proving value to the organization. The key to meeting this challenge has been to analyze the risks in terms of threats and vulnerabilities and then mitigate those risks by focusing on medium-to-high consequence and probability hazards.
What are USPIS’ goals for this year?
For the national preparedness component of Postal Homeland Security, our goals are laid out in a programmatic plan. It is pretty extensive, but ONP’s mission is “to maintain a high state of national preparedness across the USPS enterprise through a comprehensive approach to planning, integration and support.” We want to continue this mission while continuously improving.
ONP has a set of core functions with associated goals that drive activity.
For each of these goals, we have objectives laid out that have action items tied to them for the current Fiscal Year. Personnel at the district, area and headquarters level are expected to perform tasks to meet their objectives, and each of these has associated targets to be measured.
John H. Bridges III is the Executive Director, National Preparedness for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). He has an extensive background in the homeland security arena, and he has served as Incident Commander for the world’s largest anthrax response, decontamination and fumigation remediation to prepare for and respond to a massive biological terrorist attack in the U.S.
Bridges’ work as the architect and person responsible for the anthrax response and decontamination and fumigation procedures for USPS paved the way for his filing of several provisional patents. His work to further the development of surface sampling methods for Bacillus Anthracis Spore Contamination led to his nomination by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the Charles C. Shepard Science Award in 2002.
He is a member of the American Society for Testing and Materials E-54 Committee on Homeland Security Application, and he was appointed to the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI's) Homeland Security Standards Panel (ANSI-HSSP), where he currently serves on two committees that address private sector emergency preparedness, business continuity and biological and chemical threat agents.
Bridges currently serves on many national Boards of Directors and served for several years on the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, Environmental Management Task Force during the Clinton Administration. He is an active member of the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board, which is the U.S. accreditation body for management systems.
He is a former federal on-scene coordinator and has more than 20 years of leadership training with the U.S. Marine Corps. He is also a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM), Registered Environmental Manager (REM), Certified Professional Environmental Auditor (CPEA) and a Fellow of the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management and Fellow American College of Forensic Examiners (FACFEI).
Bridges is an alumnus of The National Graduate School and a graduate of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, the Corporate Environmental Leadership program at Yale University and the Senior Executive Fellows program at Harvard University. He also received a Doctor of Science, honoris causa from the National Graduate School in Quality Systems Management.