KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. – There may be no cheerleaders or uniforms, but there will be teams at a disaster simulation scheduled during the Ohio Credit Union System annual convention April 20 through 21 in Cleveland. The simulation, also known as a tabletop exercise by emergency preparedness officials, will take place during a breakout session conducted by Mike Jennings, vice president of consulting at Strohl Systems. The company offers software aimed at helping firms with disaster response and business continuity. Attendees are expected to be present at both the morning and afternoon segments, which will mimic the critical first 72 hours of recovery time. Jennings has led similar programs for credit union groups in Maryland, Florida and New York. “As people come in, they will be set up in teams,” Jennings explains. “There may be a command center team responsible for overall management of the recovery effort. On that team people will represent human resources, corporate communications, legal and so on. Another team will be a facilities recovery support team responsible for risk management, damage assessment, and repair and retrofit issues. “We would also have a technology recovery support team. They would work on wide area network and local area network recovery and servers. We don’t want to leave out voice and data communications. There would also be a service recovery system, helping with membership verification and other member support activities.” Participants count off and are assigned to numbered teams as they enter the room – that way teams don’t include groups of co-workers or close friends walking in together. Does it take a while for the teams to become effective? Jennings’ experience indicates that for perhaps the first 15 minutes team members are trying to figure each other out and assume their assigned roles. Then they basically jump right in. Jennings emphasizes the purpose of such simulations is to create awareness and encourage people to evaluate their own credit union using this exercise as a benchmark. Is the recovery plan pretty well-tuned or does it require considerable work? After thinking about the issues involved, Jennings hopes exercise participants will then act to shore up their disaster recovery plans as needed. “Another thing I’ve heard from participants is the simulation really creates awareness that it’s more than just me going through the exercise. A great example is a woman who was appointed to a facilities group at a simulation. She was assigned to setting up travel and logistics,” he recalls. “She had no idea of the complications and the issues she would face. She was looking at disaster recovery through her little prism, perhaps as a customer support representative, and not taking a step back.” People begin to realize unexpected problems are going to occur, and they need to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions. Jennings has discovered the biggest challenge in running such simulations is overcoming apathy – it’s not going to happen to me, it’s going to happen to the guy down the street. People responsible on an organization chart for business continuity may be shouldering a half dozen other tasks. In addition, disaster preparedness is often the first thing that gets slashed or postponed in the budget. However, after 15 years in the business, Jennings is seeing a shift. Business continuity is taking on new urgency as businesses realize their risks and vulnerabilities. In addition to concern about terrorism and natural disasters, government regulations mean executives no longer enjoy wiggle room when disaster strikes. As you think about possible disaster recovery teams at your own credit union, Jennings suggests you consider people who can communicate well and perform under pressure. You’ll also need technical experts. Strohl Systems had some 30 clients in the World Trade Center when it was hit by terrorists. Later Strohl held a meeting in the New York metro area for those clients. When the topic of people and personnel arose, one client indicated the company thought it had the right people on its team. But those people were so traumatized they became paralyzed and couldn’t act. “They thought these people had been tested under pressure before. But of course nobody anticipated the magnitude of the terrorist attacks,” Jennings says. “The most glaring challenge is reliance on people to be there when an event happens. I was down in New Orleans right after the first of the year working with a client there. It took two weeks after Katrina for them to bring the senior management team back together. They were out trying to protect their own families. “People need to have their own family disaster plans, and you need cross-training on the job so if the person responsible for branch recovery can’t be there someone is designated as a backup and knows exactly what should be done.” -

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