Gulf Coast CUs Share Hurricane Experiences as Alberto Grazes Future Forum
ORLANDO, Fla. - As Alberto teetered between a tropical storm and hurricane heading toward Florida last week during CUNA's Future Forum, three credit unions that survived Katrina last year said their new plans were already put into effect. The breakout session was eerily timely as attendees monitored tropical storm Alberto and talk of the hurricane season being kicked off dominated. The credit unions had similar policies of once the storm is named, the first steps of their action plans were taken. Remembering that everyone was in the same boat was important during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last year, Singing River Federal Credit Union Senior Vice President for Operations Tim McLeod emphasized. The philosophy of the South Mississippi credit union at the time was "If you could prove you were a Singing River member, come on in. If you can't, come on in anyway," he said.
He explained that his credit union had built a second floor on one of its branches where there was no need in the small town except that it serves as a mirror site for the credit union's operations. McLeod himself drives off with his camper to somewhere safe away from the storm so that he can return as soon as possible and a second backup of the data is on the second floor of the CEO's home, well North of the ocean.
In the first step of Singing River's plan, an e-mail is sent out to all employees to ensure that the staff contact list is up-to-date and complete. The plan is tested each quarter and monthly during hurricane season.
One problem Louisiana Federal Credit Union encountered during last year's disasters was lack of security, CEO Rhonda Hotard explained. "We had a generator. We had power. We'd go in every day and ask, `Can we open?' and they would say `No,'" she said of law enforcement; they just didn't have the manpower under the circumstances. The credit union ended up getting someone they knew with a license to carry a fire arm to guard the credit union operations in the aftermath of Katrina. After the experience, Hotard said her credit union invested in online backups, which are performed every 15 minutes, so an employee did not have to wait behind for batching, laptops for management, and backup equipment at an alternate recovery site. The credit union also joined a shared service center network within two weeks after the storm. Importantly, Louisiana FCU also developed a return-to-work policy. "A lot of people tend to take this as a vacation time," Hotard said. She also reminded, "It is important to perform full periodic testing of your plan." Now, impacted credit unions are still feeling the effects on their balance sheets, New Orleans Fireman's Federal Credit Union CEO Judy DeLucca said. Her credit union's assets jumped 66% since the hurricane to $120 million, dropping its capital from 11% to 7% in no time. Assets finally stabilized in April and delinquencies are very low, around 0.24%. Additionally, she said fee income is down 75%.
But the credit unions were not the only ones to feel the wrath of Katrina. DeLucca could not hold back the tears when she thanked all of the credit union groups that offered assistance during the crisis, including those that helped shelter and feed their employees. "Really, they couldn't have survived," she stated. -firstname.lastname@example.org