Driver Told To Keep Delivering Amazon Packages Amid Tornado Warning In Startling Text Exchange

amazon delivery van
Amazon has come under quite a bit of fire over the last week due to tornadoes that ripped through the midwest last Friday night. In the wake of those storms, there's been a lot of finger pointing in particular over a warehouse that collapsed in Edwardsville, IL, just outside of St. Louis in which several workers died tragically. However, other Amazon contractors have also been at odds with the company over its handling of storms in the days since, including drivers that were out on their routes at the time. 

Amazon may own a self-driving car startup for deliveries, but for now humans are still doing that job. At least one contracted driver was initially told in the middle of the storm to keep on their route, according to pictures of a text messaging thread. At 7:08 PM local time, the driver messaged a dispatcher, "Radios been going off," accompanied by a screenshot of the local radar. "Okay just keep delivering," was the reply, which anybody who's ever lived through a tornado before will tell you is absolutely the wrong call. One text overtly threatened the driver with losing their job:

"If you decide to come back, that choice is yours. But I can tell you it won't be viewed as for your own safety. The safest practice is to stay exactly where you are. If you decide to return with your packages it will be viewed as you refusing your route, which will ultimately end with you not having a job come tomorrow morning. The sirens are just a warning." -Amazon Dispatcher

The driver wanted to return, saying there was no safe place to hide where they were currently parked. We don't know if that means that the driver viewed the surrounding buildings as unsafe, or if there were no surrounding buildings. As a tornado survivor, I can tell you that the fight or flight instinct is hard to overcome and the first impulse is to run, so it's hard to blame the driver for being scared. After an exchange in which the driver told the dispatcher that they feared for their personal safety, the dispatcher finally ended the thread with instructions to shelter in place. As we know now, that storm did rip through the southern part of the building about an hour later, causing substantial damage and killing six people. 

We should take a moment to note that sheltering in place is the right call in a tornado, regardless of whether the destination would get ravaged as that warehouse did. The state's Ready Illinois tornado preparedness page warns drivers that "you cannot outrun a tornado in your car," let alone an Amazon delivery van, and that leaving the vehicle to take shelter in a nearby building is the safest solution. More importantly for Amazon, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will investigate the incident, as it also regulates that employees take shelter in a tornado warning. Driving back to the warehouse would have put the driver in additional danger. 

As for the warehouse collapse itself, OSHA has announced it will investigate the events surrounding the incident. OSHA's regulations state that workers should be told in advance where to take shelter in the event of a tornado, which should be either underground or away from windows and built with reinforced concrete. In a statement to Bloomberg, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel stated that the dispatcher in the text message thread should have immediately advised the driver to take shelter, and that the company is cooperating with OSHA in its investigation.