FORT WORTH, Texas – After a deadly twister ripped through the heart of Fort Worth in March 2000, Bill Burrows knew what his counterparts to the south might be facing from Hurricane Rita. EECU took such a heavy hit from the March 28 twister that the downtown-area icon had to be ripped to its frame and rebuilt over the next 18 months. Whisked past police barricades within hours of the tornado, EECU's servers were up and running at a south Fort Worth branch by the next morning. That's why Burrows, the credit union's COO, has an extra server these days dedicated to disaster. And that's why he offered it to Tamara Hudson, the IT chief of Community Resource Credit Union in Baytown, Texas, 40 miles east of Houston, as Rita barreled toward them on Sept. 21. "Tamara called me to ask a question and I said, `By the way, there's a way we can help with the capabilities,'" Burrows said. "The next thing I know the ball was rolling and she was headed our way." Hudson drove all of Sept. 22 with one set of CRCU backup tapes headed for Fort Worth while Hal Thomas, the credit union's president and CEO, headed for a family place near Streetman, Texas, in the other direction. Hudson stayed on a cell phone with her father as he guided her along the network of farm-to-market roads and dirt feeder roads that stretch all the way from the Gulf to North Texas. She made it late Thursday night. In Fort Worth, Hudson and an IT team lead by tornado veteran Kenneth Mahon loaded four gigabytes of south Texas data onto the Fort Worth server and geared up for the worst. Rita made landfall at 2:38 CDT Saturday morning, Sept. 24 just east of Sabine Pass, on the Louisiana-Texas border. Baytown and Houston were spared the biggest bullet. CRCU's new remote server went live from Fort Worth with ATM, shared branch, POS and ACH services in the wee hours of Sunday morning – scarcely 24 hours after Rita made landfall. With all of its more than 90 staffers accounted for and 85% back in place, Thomas said, his credit union was scheduled to reopen and go live again from its undamaged Baytown headquarters on the morning of Sept. 28. In a crisis that left thousands of Texans out of gas and tangled in northbound traffic, Thomas credits the success to the institutions' computer gurus and his long-standing friendship with Bob Rogers, the president and CEO of EECU. Until the server fired up, Thomas said, he had few hopes beyond preserving the tapes after a Houston-area data storage company refused to come get them when the credit union closed for the storm Wednesday evening. "We had talked about it, and we had planned for it. But we'd never had the opportunity to test it in that situation," Thomas said of he and Rogers. "I had no idea we would actually be able to take it all live." About 43 credit unions in Texas took some form of a hit from the Category 3 storm, said Bob Gallman, COO of the Texas Credit Union League. One credit union from the Beaumont area was operating out of TCUL's headquarters in Farmers Branch, Texas, near Dallas, within days of Rita's arrival. TCUL also was fielding phone calls from members of the ExxonMobil credit union in South Texas. Thomas said he worries most about the credit unions serving petrochemical employees and educators in Beaumont. By late on the Tuesday after the hurricane, Gov. Rick Perry hadn't given Beaumont-area residents clearance to go home and assess the damage. TCUL workers early last week were building a database of damaged credit unions from word of mouth and pairing the CEOs they could find with counterparts at institutions still running. "We have some scattered reports. But that's all they are. Scattered," Gallman said. "I think there are going to be some credit unions with serious damage. But we just don't know." Gallman said the emergency partnership forged by EECU and CRCU wasn't unique as credit unions scrambled in the wake of the storm. "I think all of this goes back to the strength of the relationships of some of the CEOs," he said. But Burrows said it also took weekend intervention from telephone workers and Symitar Systems, which make the servers for both credit unions. Hudson, Mahon and their counterparts worked through the night to load the backup tapes and did it again when the Fort Worth-generated data had to be returned to tape and they system shut down. He likened his team's actions to their decision back on March 28, 2000, to use a security guard to smuggle their servers through police barricades as water rushed into the basement computer room at EECU. "This was kind of a case of we've been there," Burrows said. -

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