SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — From the June floods wreaking havoc on river cities in Iowa to the devastation brought by Hurricane Ike on Galveston, Texas, and the entire southeast Texas coast, 2008 will go down as the year the people helping people mission weathered one of its most severe tests.
“Hurricane Ike may have destroyed whole communities in southeast Texas, but the commitment of credit union employees and the rebuilding of facilities shows we never wavered in serving members,” commented Richard Ensweiler, president/CEO of the Texas Credit Union League in a look-back on CU recovery steps following Ike.
CUNA Mutual Group in Madison, Wis., estimated total CU damage from Ike topped $10.2 million, which while significant was still dwarfed by the $22 million in insurance claims from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Still, lessons should now be learned by CU managers in upgrading disaster preparation planning as too many relied heavily upon vendors, other CUs or state leagues to restore service, maintained Michael Retelle, manager of CMG’s property and casualty claims unit.
Complacency still reigns, warned Retelle. “Now is the time, not when the next storm hits, to ensure disaster planning has been taken care of.”
Both in Iowa and in Texas, there were countless tales of CU managers and employees overcoming personal danger to rescue members who found themselves stranded in Cedar Rapids flood waters or displaced from destroyed Bridge City, Texas, homes.
“Let me tell you. We managed to continue serving our members, the brave firemen and police of Galveston because of some fantastic employees of mine who, while the city was shut down, stayed overnight in an emergency shelter in the San Luis Hotel,” recalled Carol Purdy, CEO of the $35 million Coastal Community CU of Galveston. She also described the transportation of emergency cash shipments and makeshift satellite operations.
“I also ended up running this credit union from my dining room table,” said Purdy, who like other CEOs of Texas coast CUs are still struggling to restore full service in branches; some continue to operate out of vans and trailers on CU parking lots.
In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Richard Benhart, the president/CEO of the 58,000-member Collins Community CU said damage to CU property was never a major issue. However, he remarked, “The personal tragedy to employees and members who lost homes and their livelihoods has been overwhelming,” which led the CU to continue offering free counseling and mental health services.
Without faulting both federal and state agencies entirely, Benhart said “the frustrations are tremendous” for people trying to deal with the complex bureaucracy at FEMA or state insurance claims. “This has taken a huge toll on our employees, and they have performed in extraordinary fashion,” said Benhart.
In each situation, the Iowa and Texas credit union foundations distributed emergency grants to a wide spectrum of recipients.
The Texas foundation said it dispensed 968 emergency grants totaling almost $467,000, while the Iowa foundation distributed more than $553,000 for flood and tornado victims in that state.
As part of holiday help for victims, the Texas league said it has received commitments from CUs in the state to adopt 18 families from coastal areas that were displaced by the storm.
“There are just incredible people, so selfless,” said a league spokesperson. “It’s wonderful to know that there are so many compassionate people serving in the credit union community that are so willing to help out our families who have gone through so much.”
–jrubenstein@cutimes.com