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FORT WORTH, Texas – When Debra Cash and Pat White reopened their credit Union Pacific Railroad Credit Union in the rail yard of Union Pacific Railroad Oct. 3, the only loss was the typewriter. But like Texans running many of the 48 credit unions with 66 branches in the path of Hurricane Rita, Cash and White were living on borrowed power in Beaumont. For many, Rita did little more than snuff out the lights. “There are generators running everywhere,” said Cash. By mid-week (Oct. 5), power was returning to parts of the Texas-Louisiana border region known as the Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange Triangle. Texas officials said it would take two to four weeks to fully restore electricity. But most of the credit unions in the storm’s path already were providing limited services on generator power following a scramble to move their data and their call centers to higher ground. Worst hit was FivePoint Credit Union in Port Arthur. Rita totaled the headquarters branch of the 40,000-member credit union in Port Arthur and damaged the roof of its branch in nearby Lumberton. “We were hit pretty hard. The good news is that all of our systems are up and running,” said Erik Shaw, FivePoint’s president and CEO. By Oct. 4, FivePoint’s Beaumont branch was operational. A mobile branch was on its way to Port Arthur from PrimeWay Federal Credit Union in Houston. Rita toppled an air conditioning unit on the roof of FivePoint’s 22-year-old headquarters branch, curled up the roof beginning with Shaw’s corner office and tore three gaping holes in the walls. Shaw said his IT staff shipped the backup data to its vendor in Valley Forge, Pa. ahead of the storm and returned to the credit union Saturday to find the data-processing center nearly intact. FivePoint went live again Sunday night. “We’re doing good,” Shaw said, “and we’re getting better every day.” On Oct. 4, several Southeast Texas credit unions went live on the Member Service Center, Inc. (MSC) shared branching network. Goodrich Community Federal Credit Union, MCT and Neches-Huntsman went online with help from Houston credit unions and opened access for displaced members to more than 1,900 outlets across Texas and the nation, according to the Texas Credit Union League. TCUL said a half a dozen credit unions became members in a matter of days instead of weeks. Ten of those affected were state-chartered credit unions being monitored by the Texas Credit Union Department. “We’ve got all of them back and operational to some degree,” said James Deese, deputy state credit union commissioner. “What we’re hearing is that the power outage is the real problem,” he said. “There are concerns about infrastructure and security involved in having money in a financial institution.” Without access to 911, Gulf Employees Credit Union in Groves hired a private security force to oversee limited services at its branches and established a call center in Dallas. A recorded message from President Hal Coffman said loan payments had been deferred for 60 days. He offered $500 emergency loans at 5% and $1,000 emergency loans at 7.5% with no payments for 60 days. DuPont Beaumont Federal Credit Union and Goodrich Community Federal Credit Union spent a week after the storm running from TCUL’s headquarters in Farmers Branch, near Dallas. Beaumont Municipal Credit Union and Beaumont Teachers Credit Union worked from the offices of Smart Financial Credit Union in Houston. Linda Webster, Smart’s senior vice president of administration, said teachers were able to cash payroll checks and withdraw up to $200 by the beginning of last week, while she and the Beaumont institutions worked to bring up the MSC shared network. “I think power issues were really the ones that were keeping operations halted in a lot of cases,” said. Webster and her Houston peers spent part of last week in post-disaster sessions tracking the minor glitches that occurred during the two days most were shut down. Texas One Community Credit Union in Houston shipped electronic data to a pair of backup servers to its data processing vendor, Galaxy, in Detroit and Offsite Resources Inc., its tape storage vendor in Houston, said Texas One president and CEO Dennis Dorman. “The key was, if we went down, we had the capability of coming back up in an hour,” he said. Dorman and Webster realized the traffic jams that choked South Texas roads with evacuees derailed some of the options for emergency staffing they’d outlined. “We could have gotten them it, but a lot of them could never have gotten back home,” he said. Benefits Unlimited Inc. and CUPEOple, Sugar Land-based affiliates that provide insurance and administrative services for 100 Texas credit unions, drove their server to Dallas. Benefits President Patti Tuma said Benefits was operating by the opening of business Oct. 3 at its headquarters southwest of Houston and working with FivePoint and others to access carriers and extend grace periods. “You have plans in place, but until you actually go through something like that, I don’t think you can know all the answers,” she said. “We were fortunate. But it was a good trial run for us.” -

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