MIRAMAR, Fla. - In the Sunshine State, where the "big one" seems to hit again and again, one of the state's largest credit unions has prepared for hurricane season in a big way.
Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union (www.effcu.com) has readied for action a set of mobile recovery units that provide about 4,000 square-feet of working area and 250 networked PCs and can be rolled in and set up within 72 hours (based on road conditions) of a formal declaration of disaster at the Miramar headquarters. "Our disaster recovery plan is a living document and our mobile recovery units are an integral part of that plan," says Syed Ali, the $1.9 billion CU's AVP/manager of technology services. The units, which could be coming from a vendor with hubs in Texas, Georgia or Massachusetts, contain essential PBX phone communications capabilities, computer networking gear and work areas that can handle about half of the credit union's staff at any given time. They'd be set up at "hitching posts" to allow for electrical service and conventional and satellite communications, and also have onboard generators in case city power is unavailable. The computer network inside the modular units mirrors the network inside the credit union's six-floor building. Eastern Financial also has a warm site for backup in Pennsylvania and tight integration between the three operations requires a close relationship between those vendors, the credit union and its core processor, Fidelity National.
"Speed is the name of the game, so we work closely together to make sure everything is configured in advance," Ali says.
While Florida is regularly lashed with nature's fiercest tropical weather, two names stand out to Ali and his colleagues: Andrew and Wilma.
Hurricane Andrew, the nation's costliest in damage after it struck in 1992, gave Eastern Financial a quick lesson in how to handle worst-case scenarios. That learning had deepened for more than a decade when Hurricane Wilma unleashed her unexpectedly fierce fury on much of the same area last year.
"We came really close to having to use our mobile units after Wilma because of some issues we were having with our diesel fuel supply for our backup," Ali says. "But because of our relationships with third-party vendors we were able to get what we needed to keep on running at our main building.
"And we were the first in the area to get our branches back up after the storm."
Ali says the decision to use either the warm site or the mobile units is made in "a very structured environment" that includes staged decisions on sending employees home, closing operations at the 24 branches, and activating emergency messaging avenues for employees and the credit union's 210,000 members. It's all geared toward being there when the credit union's needed most. "Eastern's executive management and board have provided us outstanding support in achieving our goals with this, because to all of us, member service and taking care of our employees are of utmost importance," Ali says.
The credit union's emergency plan also includes channels for keeping cash, including ATMs and emergency loans, available as well as facilitating the flow and processing of insurance checks to affected employees and other issues as they arise.
Evan Laufer, Eastern Financial's business continuity administrator, says the credit union conducts two major tests each year, one for the backup site in Pennsylvania and one for the mobile units.
"We rotate shifts, talk to members in a live environment, look at real-time data, all the things we need to do to know that we can service our members from this location, whether it's in our main building, which is built for a stress level from winds of 140 miles per hour, or in our backup operations," he says. "The proof of concept is satisfying." But will it be enough? "That's a very open-ended question," Ali says. "We hope things won't be as bad as last year, but at the same time we have done our best to be prepared. "Can you be prepared 100%? That's not a valid expectation, perhaps. But God forbid, if anything happens, we do know we have a good plan." -