At Amazon Site, Tornado Collided With Company’s Peak Delivery Season

Amazon’s model of using contractors is part of a huge push that the company started in 2018 to expand its own deliveries, rather than rely solely on shipping companies like UPS. The company built a network of delivery stations, like the one Edwardsville, which are typically cavernous, single-story buildings.

Unlike Amazon’s massive, multistory fulfillment centers where it stores inventory and packs items into individual packages, the delivery stations employ fewer people. Amazon employees sort packages for each delivery route in one area. Then, drivers working for contractors bring vans into another area, where the packages are rolled over in carts, loaded into the vans and driven out.

Amazon had about 70 delivery stations in the United States in 2017 and now has almost 600, with more planned, according to the industry consultant MWPVL International. Globally, the company delivers more than half of its own packages, and as much a three-quarters of its packages in the United States.

Most drivers work for other companies under a program called Delivery Service Partners. Amazon has said the contracting arrangement helps support small businesses that can hire in their communities. But industry consultants and Amazon employees directly involved in the program have said it lets the company avoid liability for accidents and other risks, and limits labor organizing in a heavily unionized industry.

Sucharita Kodali, an analyst at Forrester Research, said that while the holiday season is critical for all retailers, it is particularly intense for Amazon. “They promise these delivery dates, so they are likely to experience the most last-minute purchases,” she said.

The Edwardsville delivery station, which Amazon calls DLI4, opened last year and had room for 60 vans at once, according to planning documents.

On Friday, a tornado warning was in effect for Edwardsville as of 8:06 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. At 8:27 p.m., the county emergency management agency reported a partial roof collapse at Amazon’s delivery depot and that people were trapped inside.