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ARLINGTON and FORT WORTH, Texas – When the spring sky darkens with boiling thunderheads, the wind picks up and lightning flashes across the horizon, the weather merits more than casual regard by the staffs of three Texas credit unions who remember the tornadoes that hit their offices March 28, 2000. Each credit union logs a year of progress despite the storms’ devastation and lauds members, staff and other credit unions offering assistance for extraordinary caring and commitment. This spring finds them vigilant in applying additional provisions to their disaster plans. Shortly after 6 p.m. that stormy Tuesday, the fury of two powerful twisters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area spurred Presidents Bob Rogers of Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU), Gary Williams of United Railway Federal Credit Union and Tommy Seargeant of Greater Texas Federal Credit Union (GTFCU) to kick into action evacuation and disaster plans. All three implemented successful disaster measures and were able to maintain relatively uninterrupted service to members. “After the real thing, we are convinced that a disaster plan merits more than a routine evaluation and review. It suggests a more critical scenario to us than before,” said Gary Williams of United Railway FCU. “This year,” he reports, “we added for the first time a real disaster recovery test-simulating a knock out of our main system. We ran a two-day test drill, brought up the system, conducted transactions, added detail upgrades to our plan, filled in gaps and addressed areas we discovered that our original plan did not cover. I would urge all credit unions to do this. Don’t just get your plan out and read over it annually. Do a real test and look for things you haven’t before considered.” Bob Rogers says EECU-hardest hit of the three facilities-is giving more consideration to the impact of disaster on their personnel. “After the tornadoes last year, we saw how important it was to be sensitive to our employees, to their immediate concerns for their family members, assisting them with the damage sustained to homes and autos, accommodating them with necessary time away to take care of personal disaster recovery,” he explains. “Instead of doing it on the fly, now we are putting these considerations in place beforehand as part of our disaster plans. “And no matter how well-thought-out your disaster plan,” he adds, “you will always miss something. We discovered that the force of a tornado like we experienced disables the back-up power generators. In our case, the power company got the power back on quickly, so we did not need the back-up generator.” Austin-based Greater Texas FCU had a one-employee branch office directly in the path of the Arlington tornado. Tommy Seargeant, who says his staff initially continued service with one laptop, suggests equipping laptops for emergency situations with software to use in transaction posting and periodically testing them. The four-story main office of EECU in downtown Fort Worth sustained between $4 and $5 million worth of damage. Windows were blown out and the ravaged structure was pummeled with uprooted trees. The 20 employees onsite during the tornado were unhurt, and the credit union’s mainframe computer-undamaged-was kicking out transactions the next business day. EECU CEO Rogers remembers, “Initially, we were working out of the trunks of our cars. Within a month we were in full service in modular buildings in our parking lot.” EECU plans to move back into their rebuilt headquarters in June and to celebrate the grand opening of the facility July 29. The main office and main computer system of United Railway FCU was not affected. “We were fortunate,” Williams says. “Our system was not hit, though the building we were in was damaged.” He outlines how they directed members to their headquarters branch about eight miles from the damaged facility. Since the devastation in downtown Fort Worth was so widespread, the media’s reports of the area being cordoned off helped them get the word out to their members. “We immediately began receiving calls from other CUs to see if we were okay and to offer assistance. We, in turn, offered space to other credit union facilities that experienced damage,” he remembers. “Our downtown building was closed for six weeks, but our service was never interrupted.” Seargeant of GTFCU recalls, “We closed the day after the tornado hit, and reopened the following day-completing transactions via laptop computer and dial-up connection to our main office in Austin. We posted a sign at the damaged building and on our Web site immediately, and had telephone lines forwarding calls to the Austin office to answer questions and concerns from our branch customers.” Operating on the same data processing platform, Fort Worth FCU invited GTFCU to set up operations in their offices. After five months, GTFCU leased temporary office space nearby, and, on December 1, moved into purchased office space only five miles from the original branch location. “The generosity of Fort Worth FCU was instrumental in continuing our service to members,” Seargeant says. ” We will always be grateful for the hospitality of Richard Howdeshell (CEO) and his staff.” EECU’s Bob Rogers sums it up for all: “ We planned well, but the real key to our successful recovery was the commitment of all the people involved-every employee, the board of directors and a wonderful, understanding membership. What we have been through was not easy, but it did prove to us that cooperation and dedication win out every time.” [email protected]

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