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GEISMAR, La. – Disasters by definition are unexpected. As much as credit unions prepare for the `what ifs,’ they’re always left with a learning experience after they deal with a disaster. That’s just the situation Geismar Complex FCU is finding itself in now while they continue to operate under make shift conditions following a chemical spill into their facility. The headquarters for the $16 million credit union is surrounded by four chemical plants for Borden, Rubicon, Crompton and Praxair companies. Acid pipelines from the plants run under the CU’s driveway. On June 24, when Barbara Canter, CEO of Geismar Complex went to the credit union, she found the inside of the building covered with foam caused by a pipeline leak that caused oil and benzene to mix. Geismar Complex immediately went into emergency mode, but Canter said, “There’s nothing you can do to prepare for what you need in a situation like this.” What the credit union did was contact Loup CU in nearby Gonzales, La. about the disaster, and the $32 million LCU allowed Canter and the other six employees of Geismar Complex to set up operations in LCU’s directors board room. But GCFCU had to leave behind the computers in its facility, so head teller Richard Kummerlowe, whom Canter describes as “a computer guru” went out and bought four new computers. By the time Kummerlowe got the computers up and running by June 26, GCFCU had only been down for one day, but the disaster still struck at the end of the second quarter when members were making payroll deductions. Canter soon realized that LCU was going to be implementing a hardware and software conversion within a few days, “and the CEO probably wouldn’t want us around.” So for now, the seven-person staff of Geismar Complex FCU is operating out of a three-room trailer that was provided them by Rubicon. The trailer is located in another complex of plants on a road that’s accessible to members, and Rubicon has provided GCFCU with a security guard for the trailer. Canter said she has no idea when she and the rest of the staff will be able to return to their facility. While she waits for the all-clear and continues to do business out of the trailer, Canter has time to reflect on all the `should have dones.’ At the top of her wish list, Canter said GCFCU should have been doing a three-month backup. Since it was only doing a one-month backup, it can’t post members’ dividends because it can’t access their history. While Canter has learned some hard lessons from the disaster, she has also learned some pleasant ones. “I’ve never seen a staff come together in one group like the people I work with,” she said. -

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