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ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Not in her wildest dreams did U.S. Senate FCU President/CEO Jan Roche ever imagine she’d be taking an antibiotic to combat a strain of the deadly anthrax disease, but these are not ordinary times. No credit union has had a more up close and personal view of an anthrax mail attack than Roche’s U.S. Senate FCU. The CU’s main branch is located in the Hart Senate Building, which at press time was closed for anthrax decontamination by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Hart Senate Building, the largest of the Senate buildings, was shut down on Oct. 18 after a letter to Senator Tom Daschle’s office tested positive for anthrax. Roche was put on Cipro because of riding on a freight elevator where authorities have determined the contaminated mail likely passed through. “I was going down the elevator to have lunch with a board member,” recalls Roche. Other U.S. Senate FCU employees have taken Cipro, but since it’s a private decision for each employee, there are no solid numbers as to how many. Roche said the CU’s primary sponsor, the U.S. Senate, has treated the CU’s employees as its own during the crisis. The Senate’s attending physician met with all CU employees who were in a possible contamination area; administered anthrax tests to those who may have been exposed; and is providing Cipro free-of-charge. “It’s an extremely, extremely conservative approach to put folks on the antibiotics. I think it’s pretty impressive that they’ve gone ahead and done it,” said Roche. “We’ve had full cooperation from the Secretary of the Senate, and I now see the real value of having board members from the sponsor group. They get in on the inside track of what’s happening,” said Roche. She said with the rumor mill that is Capitol Hill, disseminating fact from fiction became very important in the hours after the closing of Hart. A few of the CU’s directors who are active Senate employees came through big time to give the CU a jump on breaking events, said Roche. For example, one board member alerted the CU well in advance of a limited timeframe where one person from each Hart Building tenant would be able to go in and prepare the office for decontamination. The CU began learning about the contaminant used to determine what in the office may be adversely affected, and what the one person could do to prepare the office. “We researched the chemical they’re using to see if it would destroy paper records, and harm computer equipment,” said Roche. One of the most important assets in the shut-down Hart branch is an undisclosed amount of cash in the vault. Roche said there was no time to move the money, but the CU is confident that the money, which will remain sealed in the vault during the decontamination, will not be damaged. The closing of the Hart branch posed serious logistical problems for the CU’s members. Given the branch’s convenient proximity for Senate employees it is often packed throughout the day with Senate employee members. It’s great to have such a convenient facility said Roche, but the reliance on the Hart branch has made members a bit uneducated on what other facilities the CU offers. Shortly after the Hart branch was closed, the CU established four ad hoc groups – medical, communications, member service and ATM/mail – to handle different areas of the crisis. “I get accused a lot of times of having my rose colored glasses on, but there have been a lot of silver linings to this experience. One was members becoming more aware of how the credit union can serve them outside the Hart branch,” said Roche To get that done external communications became vital. The newly formed communications team quickly put together an informational flyer that outlined where members could go for service. “I think that was my most popular communications piece since I’ve been here,” said Bob Konolsky, marketing manager for the CU. The flyer pointed members to CU branches that are part of U.S. Senate FCU’s shared branching network (Credit Union Family Service Centers), as well as the CU’s branch in the General Accounting office just a few blocks from Hart, and a branch in the Caraway Building in Alexandria. Various deposit taking ATMs were also crucial service points. U.S. Senate FCU is part of CU 24′s CUHERE shared ATM network. The CU deployed employees to areas around the Senate buildings wearing t-shirts and sweat shirts emblazoned with the CU’s name and logo so members would ID them as CU employees. “We handed out a ton of flyers and posted them in Senate buildings. They disappeared so quickly. We had to go back and print more after just a few days,” said Konolsky. The CU moved many of its 25 Hart branch employees to the GAO branch, while others continue to hover near ATMs and the Senate buildings handing out the flyers. The medical team worked to ease employees’ fears about anthrax by giving them detailed information about the disease. Roche said some employees have been understandably very concerned about exposure. “It’s very hard to keep an intelligence about this, but the odds are so low that anyone actually has anthrax. We have been all over the Net researching the effects,” she said. The medical team also provides employees with the very latest information coming from the Senate’s anthrax hotline which is updated nightly. As a precaution, a number of CU employees were administered an anthrax test. “It was not a pleasant experience. The swab testing was not something I’d like to go through again,” said Konolsky, who also took Cipro as a preventive measure. Konolsky said the staff didn’t let their fears get the best of them. “We wanted to let the Senate folks know we were there standing with them throughout this. Staff performed amazingly,” he said. Roche said the fear of contracting anthrax was muted by the fast actions needed to make sure members were being served. She said there was almost no time to worry about anthrax. Despite the unimaginable situation, the experience has been quite redeeming for Roche professionally. “It’s been an overwhelming learning and bonding experience with employees and the membership. I feel very patriotic that the credit union has performed so well. I feel like a proud parent.” She is now even more of a believer in the credit union philosophy and the cooperative spirit. It may sound corny, said Roche, but she has felt a sort of “brotherhood” with neighboring CUs throughout this crisis. “The number of CEOs that called offering assistance was just unbelievable,” said Roche. Wright-Patman Congressional FCU, which primarily services House of Representative employees can serve some of the same people that U.S. Senate FCU can, became a key ally for U.S Senate FCU. The two already had an existing arrangement not to surcharge each other’s members. For a time the two CUs shared some vault space in U.S. Senate FCU’s GAO branch. “Wright-Patman is our sister CU. We had to decide how we were going to join forces to get through this,” said Roche. The two CUs made sure their ATMs were stocked with cash and prepared for higher member traffic at the open branches. Department of Labor FCU and Treasury Department FCU also stepped up to serve U.S. Senate FCU members through their shared ATMs and branches. Roche said CUs participating in the local shared branching network that may have only taken 20 to 30 U.S. Senate FCU member deposits a week, were taking double or triple that amount in days following the closing of Hart. One operational effect of the Hart branch closing has been a spike in Net banking transactions. U.S. Senate FCU already boasts a lofty member Net banking adoption percentage of 53%, but actual transactions have gone up dramatically. Another silver lining, said Roche, is having the ability to dedicate more employees to a long-standing spring cleaning task. “We’ve had many of our employees cleaning up our membership card files. We’ve gotten through over 40,000 of them already.” [email protected]

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