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<p>WASHINGTON – For the majority of Americans the anthrax scares of late 2000 have become just that, scares. Many people around the country have returned to opening their mail with greater confidence and no longer nervously await their mail carrier. Other, pressing concerns, crowd the headlines. But for Patricia Yates, CEO of Washington Postal Employees Credit Union with its $17 million in assets and 4,800 members, the anthrax scare is an ongoing disaster with, so far, no end in sight. “There is a widespread misconception that the Brentwood facility has been reopened,” Yates said, “but it has not.” Washington Postal Employees’ headquarters and only branch, Yates said, remains cordoned off behind rows of barriers and blockades, awaiting the day when authorities will “gas” the Brentwood postal facility to make it safe for postal workers – and Yates’s credit union members – once again. But while Yates stressed that her experience with the anthrax disaster does not make her an expert on disaster preparation, her experiences, she said, have opened her eyes to some lessons she hopes other credit unions can use. “Have a disaster plan,” Yates said. “Have a disaster plan even if you cannot believe you will ever have to use it.” Yates reported that before the anthrax incident she could never make herself believe that anything that disastrous could happen to her credit union, nestled as it was inside a relatively secure federal facility. “The pressing concerns of everything small credit unions have to do every day press in on you,” she said, and insulate you from the necessary caution credit unions, particularly small credit unions have to have, she said. “Small credit unions need disaster planning more than larger ones,” she said. “Because we are so small. Our credit union space in the Brentwood facility is all we had,” Yates said, adding, “small credit unions don’t have many branches to use if they cannot use their primary facility.” “Make your master plan address a worst case scenario,” she said, “make it assume that you will have access to nothing, because you may have access to nothing.” It was a Sunday, October 21 2001, that Yates discovered that she and her staff would not be allowed to return to the Brentwood offices they had left the previous Friday evening – and when it came crashing in on her that they had nothing they usually used to serve their members. No computers, no phones, “not even a pencil and paper,” she said and, most significantly, no place. “We needed an alternate site to use as our hot site,” she said. A hot site is the place a credit union can set up operation if a branch or its headquarters has been lost to disaster. “Think ahead about where you are going to find the things you need,” Yates said. “Where are you going to buy phones, paper, office furniture, everything you need.” “Make sure your disaster plan A can become plan B or C or D if it has to, Yates said, “because you will never know what you are up against.” Initially, Yates thought she had found a home at the nearby Transit Federal Credit Union, and with the help of NCUA and her data processor, was up and running in the nearby facility by Friday, October 29. But that home did not last as, over that weekend, Transit informed Yates that Washington Postal was going to have to move again. Transit feared Washington Postal’s members, all of whom worked at the Brentwood facility might somehow bring anthrax with them when they came to the credit union, Yates said, and asked Washington Postal to leave. Once again, Yates was without a space. “Set up reciprocal agreements with other credit unions before disaster strikes,” Yates said. After losing its temporary home in Transit’s facilities, Washington Postal found a home with two other nearby credit unions, U.S. Postal Employees Federal Credit Union, based in Washington, and Educational Service Employees Federal Credit Union located in nearby Bladensburg, Maryland. While Yates expressed gratitude to the two facilities for their generous assistance, she advised credit unions to find similar facilities ahead of time and set up relationships and agreements so that they might have a place to go when disaster strikes. “Know what your data processor will do for you, if you need them to act in an disaster situation,” Yates urged. As an online credit union, Washington Postal didn’t have the technical issues they would have had if all their hardware been “in house.” But Yates pointed out that it was still a challenge to get support from the data provider, which is out of state, and strongly advised credit unions to find out what they can count on their computer service provider to do before disaster strikes. “Understand what your insurance covers and what it does not,” Yates said. Washington Postal’s insurance does not cover what has happened, Yates said, and Washington Postal, a small credit union, has been left with over $80,000 in expenses from the ongoing situation. Yates urged to establish necessary insurance relationships in advance of anything happening, “even if it seems unlikely that you will ever need to use them,” she said. Currently, Washington Postal is spread over three office areas in a building relatively close by the still-closed Brentwood facility. It is up and running for its members, and Yates reported feeling grateful for that. The credit union has a six-month lease on its current space, but it has to pay rent on that and there is still no definite word on when Yates and her staff will be able to go back to the Brentwood facility. The National Council of Postal Credit Unions has set up a fund into which credit unions can donate to help Washington Postal meets its anthrax related expenses. Anyone seeking more information can contact the National Council of Postal Credit Unions through their website at www.ncpcu.org.</p>

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