One of our readers got a carrier alert card in their mailbox. It talked about how their mail carrier could help watch out for the safety of older adults, so she wanted to know more. We did some research and uncovered a little-known program from the U.S. Postal Service, called the Carrier Alert Program.
The Carrier Alert Program is a nationwide initiative that encourages letter carriers to be on the lookout for signs that something is wrong with an elderly person living alone.
Keep reading for more information about this great (and free!) community resource!
What Is The Mail Carrier Alert Program?
I’ve read plenty of news stories over the years that have talked about how a mail carrier checked on an elderly individual who had been injured or otherwise incapacitated and was unable to summon help. The carrier alerts the proper officials and the person is saved.
That’s awesome! But, wait – didn’t that happen because the letter carrier was familiar with the person and suddenly realized they hadn’t seen them for a few days, so they followed their gut and checked on the person?
Well – it could happen, but they might also have checked because they (and the individual) were participating in the Carrier Alert System.
The Carrier Alert Program is a pretty neat program that enlists the help of United States Postal Service letter carriers to keep an eye out for elderly persons living alone who may need assistance.
It’s a voluntary program that was created back in 1981 and is currently present in 37 states, with more states joining every year.
Watch our video about the Carrier Alert Program:
You see, every day, the mail carrier comes to your door with a stack of letters and packages. It’s easy to take this daily ritual for granted, but for many elderly people who are home-bound, the mail carrier may be the only point of human contact they have all day.
Plus, the carrier gets to know the customers’ habits – so they’ll notice if their snow hasn’t be shoveled when it usually is or if there are newspapers piling up in front of the house.
So, in addition to being a friendly face, mail carriers are also in a unique position to keep a watchful eye out and help if an elderly person needs assistance.
TIP: We strongly recommend that seniors who live alone have a medical alert device so they can get help if they fall and cannot get up. This happened to my mom.
She didn’t have a medical alert and when she fell, she couldn’t get up OR reach the phone on the counter above her. So she laid on the cold tile floor for almost two hours until my dad came home. It was so needless! (NOTE: in some cases, you may be able to use an Alexa device to summon help).
How Does The Carrier Alert System Work?
Under the Carrier Alert Program:
- The participant registers with the post office serving their zip code. They list pertinent details like name and address, along with contact information for themselves and an emergency contact.
- The participant must agree to remove their mail from their mailbox every day.
- The volunteer carrier looks for the Carrier Alert decal inside the registered person’s mailbox (carriers must volunteer to be part of the Carrier Alert Program).
- If the mail carrier notices an accumulation of mail in an elderly person’s mailbox and there is a Carrier Alert decal in their box, the carrier knows it may be a sign that the person is injured and needs help. In such cases, the mail carrier can notify the proper authorities and ensure that the elderly person gets the help they need.
- Postal officials will notify the sponsoring social services agency for that particular zip code (for example, the United Way, Red Cross, or another local service organization might be the sponsor). They will tell them that the carrier noticed uncollected mail or other possible signs of distress and they need to check on the individual to make sure everything is alright.
- The agency will try to contact the registered person, contact family, or the listed emergency contacts.
- If none of these can be reached, or if there is an emergency, the agency will contact police officers or other emergency services to check on the person.
If the participant is going away for a few days, they simply cover the decal so the mail carrier knows not to worry if their mail builds up.
If you want to know if there is a Carrier Alert program in your neighborhood, you can contact the local National Association of Letter Carriers branch or the USPS office serving your zip code.
Wrapping It Up (And Putting A Stamp On It!)
If you or an older relative or loved one live alone, you should check out the Carrier Alert Program from the US Postal Service. By registering for the program, your carrier can help keep an eye out for your safety, which should give you a little more peace of mind,
Meanwhile, the next time you see your mail carrier, take a moment to appreciate the important role they play in keeping our community connected!