Technological Bells and Whistles Are Needed, but a Backup Plan Is a Must
Though Gulf Coast credit unions-veterans of hurricanes Katrina and Ike, tornadoes and floods-caught a break last year from the flooding storms, they are hearing one clear message in 2010: communications with members, employees and the public must go right.
And that means despite the latest technology, however many bells and whistles as one CU insurer put it, you better have a backup plan.
Still, the latest add-ons to disaster preparation for CUs in Texas, for instance, has included everything from new applications of text messaging to interactive weather maps suitable for websites.
Drawing from the 2008 Hurricane Ike experience that devastated Galveston and disrupted service on the Gulf Coast, the Texas Credit Union League said it is now making good use of new bulk texting services and a comprehensive database offered through Avectra, a McLean, Va., software vendor.
"The live, online interface we have from Avectra has given credit unions and the association a path to communicate at critical times," explained Rick Grady, league vice president, noting that personal and institutional data can be accessed at a moment's notice.
The league, he said, can quickly tap into available sources of help, who to contact, "what warnings to issue and what we need to respond to any disaster" and that can include tornadoes, hurricanes, floods or other calamities.
During Ike, "there was some confusion with cell phones when some of the transmitting towers became jammed with large numbers of signals," said Grady. Now, new voice and video improvements on the cells containing tiny width bands appear to be easing that problem.
In weather forecasting, the league is perhaps the only CU group signed up with Stormpulse Inc., a Royal Palm Beach, Fla., firm that provides interactive, online maps that also warn of serious storms.
"In its projection, the service describes the intensity of any storm. such as an F5 for example, as well as the storm's path permitting credit unions time to react," said Grady.
As it has during the most recent disasters like Hurricane Katrina, CUNA Mutual Group continues to emphasize the need for processing backups and to prepare for the unexpected.
"Failure to properly plan for a disaster cannot only negatively impact short-term operations but it threatens the very existence of the credit union," warns Michael Retelle, CUNA Mutual property and claims casualty manager. He cited the changing nature of branches and the trend toward diversity and dispersal of members spread across many states.
If those members are unable to access their funds, the institution can run into major regulatory problems, said Retelle.
The issue of preparing for the unexpected was illustrated by Katrina as New Orleans credit unions weathered the initial impact. But when the levees broke, "it completely shut down communications and eliminated access," said Retelle.
CU staffs were decimated as employees could no longer get to work "much less find a place to live." Katrina affected CU operations for months, said Retelle, creating a period of incapacitation that no one could have predicted.
Anthony Demangone, NAFCU's director of regulatory compliance, said the Katrina experience as well as last February's record-breaking snowstorm shutting down Washington has given new rise to CU leaders assuming prominent roles in disaster coordination among businesses.
One Navy FCU executive served in a leadership role for National Capital First, a Washington organization set up to handle fuel, water agreements to keep businesses operating, and a similar group the Maryland Pandemic Think Tank was reportedly founded by Aberdeen Proving Ground FCU.
When it comes to CU cooperation and communication, however, sometimes the simplest, most available tools are at the ready in times of disaster, according to the Mississippi Credit Union Association.
That's because the basic list serve network was effectively utilized to share information and raise funds for victims of a series of tornadoes that hit the state April 24, destroying homes and businesses in Yazoo City.
"I'd call it a listerve-a-thon," in describing the collaboration and the success of the communication vehicle, concluded Mansel Guerry, president/CEO of the MS Employees FCU of Jackson, in citing the nearly $10,000 raised in a matter of hours for employees and members of tornado victims.