Neither rain nor heat nor the gloom of a global pandemic is staying Husker couriers from the swift completion of appointed — albeit lonely — campus rounds.
In the hours leading up to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s shift to remote access instruction and (for most employees) working from home, campus leaders retooled processes, reassigned and trained workers, and interacted directly with external vendors to keep critical mail service and package deliveries operating.
“When we set up this interim delivery process, we really had no idea about the volume we would see or how long it would have to last,” said Tim Klein, inventory operations and building key manager. “It was pretty crazy at first. But, we refined processes and in the first week delivered more than 900 packages with only a single error.”
Under normal campus operations, UPS, FedEx and DHL deliver packages directly to university offices. However, when campus buildings shutdown in late March due to the 2019 novel coronavirus, the university moved deliveries to a central receiving point within the Facilities Management Shop at 942 N. 22nd St.
The building offers a dock for large truck deliveries — which is used for a variety of university support services, including custodial supplies. However, it needed a handful of quick upgrades to handle and protect the range of packages delivered to a top-national research institution.
“We did not anticipate receiving packages that are on dry ice or are perishable and needing refrigeration on receipt,” said Ron Bailey, director of custodial, grounds, materials management. “But, through the strong collaborations we have in our university operations group, we were able to get some workarounds set up quickly.”
Working with Barry Shull, facilities director for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the team found a research lab that could donate an ultra-low temperature freezer for items shipped in dry ice. They also rounded up a traditional freezer and a refrigerator to accommodate other necessary package cooling levels.
“We had a (Building Systems Maintenance) crew come in and wire proper outlets for us at the last minute,” Bailey said. “We set up a secure storage area. And, when the refrigeration and freezing units were all picked up and delivered, we were ready to roll.”
While Bailey focused on the internal delivery and support systems, John Yerger, director of print, copy, merchandising, mail and distribution services, coordinated with the three primary external vendors.
Yerger’s team regularly works with package vendors and the U.S. Postal Service and is tasked with delivery mail items and small packages to offices across campus. The unit has continued to serve in that function while the central receiving team handles the bulk of packages.
“John was integral to us getting this (central receiving for packages) set up and being successful,” Bailey said. “While we set up shop over here, he identified critical areas where packages could still be delivered and coordinated all of the details with UPS, DHL and FedEx.”
Yerger also arranged totes to assist the package sorting and he worked with research labs on campus to identify buildings where vendors could continue to deliver critical items directly.
Employees from other campus units (including Landscape Services, the Key Shop, Custodial Services and Inventory Services) are assisting with the morning sort. Each one has completed hazardous materials training provided by Environmental Health and Safety. And, during package and mail handling, all university employees are following federal, state and local health official guidelines (social distancing, wearing masks, using gloves, etc.) to reduce the thread of the 2019 novel coronavirus.
Klein oversees the package sorting, delivery and storage process. Bailey said Klein spends up to six hours a day communicating with campus individuals and units about package care and delivery needs.
“This is a critical service to the university community and people have been very appreciative of the extra work,” Bailey said. “We’ve had employees step up to make this process work. They’re rock stars and take pride in being able to step up and meet the needs of the university.”
Package holding and delivery through the central processing depot continues across campus. On April 13, mail service transitioned to a departmental pick-up and drop off hours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To learn more about incoming and outgoing mail processes, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.