BATON ROUGE, La. -- If nothing else, the shutdown and disruptions last week at Louisiana and Mississippi credit unions caused by Hurricane Gustav demonstrated anew that disaster preparedness can work well.
And considering that Hanna, Ike and Josephine were looming in an active Atlantic hurricane season as of press time, it was a good thing, said CU managers.
"With maybe just a few minor changes, our planning paid off, and let me say it also did as well for Katrina," declared Susan Parry Leake, president/CEO of the $340 million LA Capitol FCU. LA Capitol was forced to close more than half of its 15 statewide branches and operate with a skeleton crew after the storm hit.
Though dozens of Louisiana CUs were forced to close during the Labor Day holiday because of power outages or evacuations, there were no reports at mid-week of property damage at CU locations.
As is often the case in disasters, smaller CUs in the hardest-hit areas arranged shared branching or reciprocal operating pacts to set up temporary facilities in unscathed CUs outside the disaster zones. Many of the coastal and central Louisiana CUs closed by Gustav evacuation orders set up shop in Shreveport, Monroe or Bossier City CUs, which acted as temporary hosts for CU operations.
Using emergency communication lines, text messaging and cell phones, staffers from the Louisiana Credit Union League, evicted from their New Orleans headquarters by the storm, fanned out as best they could across the state to keep in contact with needy CUs.
"Right now I have 11 people staying at my home, some of them fellow employees from the league and a few others we're sheltering who are displaced credit union staffers, and we're doing just fine," exclaimed Susie Fair, vice president of member services for the league, speaking by cell phone from her Mansfield home outside Shreveport.
"Once they lift the evacuation orders, they're all ready to get back home and back to work," said Fair.
Meanwhile, in Washington, NCUA's Web site (www.ncua.gov), under "hurricane and storm information" posted a listing of Gulf Coast CUs, primarily in Louisiana, and their operational status. There was also a notation that some cases CUs have not provided a reading on whether they are fully or partially open for business.
Earlier in the week, NCUA said it had activated its emergency hotline (888-584-6847) "so members could check the status of credit union branches." It also began distributing media information reaching evacuee shelters in Baton Rouge and Shreveport. NCUA said it sent out media releases to approximately 40 news outlets in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas with announcements hitting the airwaves in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
The $1.6 billion Keesler FCU in Biloxi said only one of its Mississippi branches, the Stennis Space Center facility near the Louisiana line, remained shuttered for a time because of the evacuation.
Keesler also said its revised disaster preparedness plan, including a high-level incident response team to deal with hurricanes worked well and represents "quite a change from what happened to us during Katrina."
Because of the initial Biloxi evacuation during Gustav, it saw only a slightly reduced staffing level early in the week among its 400 employees, later resuming normal business operations.
CUNA said its various post-Katrina disaster services for CUs were working as planned, including "CU locator," helping members get information about CUs that are operating in stricken areas, and "agility recovery solutions," providing fully equipped mobile recovery units for power, communication and other services when a disaster occurs.
Prior to the storm, only three Louisiana CUs reserved the mobile units, and none were finally needed, said Wes Millar, senior vice president of CUNA Strategic Services.