CU Groups Take Stock in Gustav Aftermath as Ike Barrels In
BATON ROUGE, La. -- As Ike zigged and zagged through the Gulf of Mexico, CUNA Mutual, regulators and the Louisiana Credit Union League looked back at the Gustav response.
CUNA Mutual Group in Madison forecast that "submitted losses from CUNA Mutual policyholders from Gustav will likely end up to be less than $1 million."
Some policyholders, said CUNA Mutual, "are now bracing themselves for Hurricane Ike, which is already proving to be a challenging storm with its frequently changing patterns and unpredictable course." CUNA Mutual's Credit Union protection disaster team "remains activated and will address any storm-related losses and coordinate property-casualty relief efforts. Once we have a better handle on where Ike will hit, we will contact policyholders in those areas," a spokesperson said.
Lingering power outages notwithstanding, Louisiana credit unions recovering from Hurricane Gustav were getting back to normal last week amid new reminders from regulators that "there are new lessons learned" on disaster preparedness.
For one thing, CUs "need to take more seriously" registering for the emergency communication networks, a factor that made life difficult for some CU managers trying to obtain quick information from government or industry agencies on where to get help, commented Sidney Seymour, chief examiner for the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions.
Problems occurred, he said, when some CU executives forgot to apply for the calling card providing access into the Government Emergency Telecommunication Service or the Wireless Priority Service designed to keep crisis lines open.
He also noted that there were problems with branch closing notifications during Gustav, as well issues with accessing messages on TelSpan, a new telephone response system providing conference calls that was activated last month by the Louisiana Credit Union League. The TelSpan foul-ups occurred, he said, because of an inability of CU executives to access and differentiate new and backlogged messages, a problem that is being fixed.
Seymour also suggested CUs pay close attention to notifying members on "exactly where they are to conduct transactions" when a branch or headquarters office is closed.
"I have relayed those concerns to my counterparts in Texas where Ike is headed," said Seymour.
Assessing the storm's aftermath, he said, CU backup power systems worked well with a few exceptions as some CUs scrambled to get generators. The buddy system, where large CUs hosted smaller CU operations and performed member services during disaster, proved satisfactory as well, he said.
Meanwhile, the NCUA said that of 211 CUs in Louisiana and Texas affected by the disaster, only 13 remained nonoperational as of Sept. 9.
"Additionally, 98% of credit union members affected by Hurricane Gustav have access to their accounts," said the NCUA. The agency noted that it took several steps in the days leading up to Hurricane Gustav's Sept. 1 landfall to assure continuity.
"In the short term, NCUA established a toll-free telephone number to provide members with immediate access to information and assistance," the statement read. "Backup continuity teams were activated and NCUA regional offices provided direction to credit unions August 29 regarding hurricane preparations."
In addition, a public service announcement targeting consumers was released to nearly 60 media outlets, including newspapers, radio and television, in potentially affected areas.
Cochran, the CEO of the Louisiana league, reported by week's end that "99% of the state's credit unions are now providing needed cash to members through ATMs and shared branches." She said also that Gustav demonstrated anew that "cooperative branching continued to prove its value to Louisiana credit unions and their members."
NCUA noted that since 2006 it has advised CUs in hurricane-prone states "to review contingency of operation plans and business continuity procedures to ensure their ability to provide financial services to their members. NCUA has taken other proactive steps to enhance preparedness, such as promotion of the U.S. Treasury's GoDirect program, the electronic delivery of federal benefits that ensures consumers have consistent electronic access to their funds, even during a disaster."