When the lost and found bin is 2,500 miles away from San Francisco

It was a nerve-racking ordeal to lose thirty-two books in the mail. On hindsight, it was probably a wake-up call for us to focus on the many other things we could be doing (which we did). 

More than two months after we filed for missing mail on the USPS website, we received an email from the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta. Not long after, they turned up at our doorstep. We were so relieved.

The tarpaulin bags and tags from Singpost that we were expecting were not in sight, only the box containing the books arrived. Two out of eight bubble-wrapped packets were cut open for inspection. There was a note, indicating that our mail was “undeliverable”.

We learnt that the most popular courier route from Singapore to San Francisco transits in Hong Kong and Los Angeles.

Did our books enter the United States at Los Angeles, travel to San Francisco and got redirected to Atlanta because it was “undeliverable”?

It seems a lost piece of mail isn’t too different from losing your hat at school. In both cases, you’ll want to check the lost and found bin. For the U.S. Postal Service, that would be the Mail Recovery Center (MRC) in Atlanta, its official lost and found department. Known at one time as the Dead Letter Office, the Mail Recovery Center works to reunite undeliverable packages and letters with either sender or recipient.

United States Postal Service – Office of Inspector General

I am very grateful that the MRC exists, but I do wonder if it makes more sense to have a branch in every city. The difference between losing a mail and losing a hat at school lies in the distance of the lost and found bins.

Atlanta is 2,500 miles away from San Francisco – going to and fro the MRC is 5,000 miles. That is not including the 9,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean that our books had travelled.

My contact number was on the Singpost tag that my father filled in at the post office in Singapore. When our books were undelivered in San Francisco, could someone not have contacted me? Why start a journey of 2,500 miles when dialling a mobile number is a few taps away?

Have we forgotten the personal touch of delivering mails? Have our society become all about online form submissions? Does that mean that less tech-savvy people would not have been able to recover missing mails?

In fiscal year (FY) 2014, the MRC received 88 million items and processed 12 million of those valued at $25 or more. It returned 2.5 million items to customers — a resolution rate of 21 percent of researched items, or 3 percent of total incoming items.

United States Postal Service – Office of Inspector General

Out of the 88 million items, could a portion be resolved within respective cities before they get sent on a two-month lost and found journey?

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