In addition to providing training and resources on everything from compliance concerns to human resources, many credit union leagues are finding themselves serving a vital role in disaster preparation, recovery, or business continuity in their regions and beyond.
Heavyweight champ Joe Lewis once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.” It’s a lesson the cooperative network has taken to heart.
“A business continuity plan is essential,” says Dick Ensweiler, president and CEO of the Texas Credit Union League (TCUL). “But it often takes a disaster to really know how well your plan works.”
From Hurricane Katrina to Hurricane Ike to devastating wildfires, the 100-person staff at TCUL has learned a lot about what it means to be prepared ─ and help others be prepared for ─ times of crisis.
“We’re definitely taking a more active role and allocating more resources to disaster preparedness,” says Linda Webb-Mañon, vice president of communications and public relations.
TCUL’s own involvement starts with information and resources to help co-ops draft their strategy, from a free publication that frequently addresses business continuity and disaster preparation to training sessions with internal staff or guest speakers well-versed in these matters.
“There are 11 types of natural disasters that can happen in Texas,” Ensweiler says. “Others are man-made or operational in nature, including hackers, explosions, embezzlement, and devastating business errors. These must be part of the plan as well.”
In 2006, the league created its own official disaster planning guide and a website repository where credit unions could store their essential documents remotely and access them online at anytime. This is complemented by an electronic database of planning documents and direct links for FEMA, The Red Cross, Texas state and law officials and more.
Acting as a facilitator for communication within the industry is important, says Tracy Conner, vice president of member relations for the Credit Union Association of New York (CUANY). The association’s webpage and listservs aren’t just utilized to solicit funds after a crisis takes place, they’re also a hub where credit unions can post their operational and preparedness needs and other credit unions will help them out.
“We see offers of generators, general equipment, or even staffing,” says Conner. “It shows the nature of cooperation through the association, the credit unions, and down to the individual level.”
Through The Storm
Sometimes, the disasters you see coming are just as dangerous as the ones you don’t. When a foreseeable disaster looms, some leagues kick into a new phase of operations to minimize the impact on their credit unions.
With Hurricane Ike, TCUL began sending out preemptive communication as soon as it began to look like the hurricane would be an issue. The league actively tracked the storm’s progress, funneling coverage though its website so credit unions could stay posted, and used Twitter and text messaging for immediate communication as the hurricane drew closer.
“We organized an internal team that met daily to track the storm and assess what credit unions in the affected area might need,” Ensweiler says. “And we brought in the expertise of a neighboring league who had previously dealt with Katrina.” TCUL also set up a hotline where credit unions could call in and give reports of their status.
Human safety is the first concern in any event, but an immediate process of restoring workflows and procedures takes place post-event. In some cases, staff from regional leagues are on the ground as soon as travel restrictions are lifted.
Post 9/11, CUANY set up a command center in Manhattan and brought staff there for several weeks, making calls and going out on foot trying to assess damage and needs for credit unions and members.
“People flee at a moment's notice," says Webb-Mañon. "They may be in hotels or shelters and need access to their funds, so it is critical credit unions be up and running immediately.”
TCUL staff have also manned phone lines in the effort to assist members, guiding them to operating shared branches or ad hoc locations. Unaffected credit unions have even opened their parking lot facilities for workspaces, as leagues and credit unions rush generators, computers, phones, desks, and other equipment to the scene.
In one case, FivePoint Credit Union ($400M, Nederland, TX) not only suffered facility damage because of a hurricane, but many of its employees were left homeless. Still, the employees focused on getting up and running for the members.
“One employee lost everything, but she was still at work in a mobile unit in the parking lot of a strip mall,” Webb-Mañon says.
The Recovery Process
In the weeks after an event, the leagues and credit unions continue working together to make sure they take care of these employees just as diligently as those individuals look after their members. Within days, many leagues are able to collect and disperse aid in the form of grants and donation funds, occasionally delivering food, clothing, and other essentials by hand as well.
“Our relief grants are available in two phases,” says executive director Courtney Moran. Phase one grants provide up to $500 per employee to address their immediate needs and stabilize their situation so they can return to work.
Phase two is to assist with significant, long-term employee needs after other resources have been exhausted, she says. These grants are issued after a call with the credit union CEO and range from $1,000 to $3,000.
Personal recovery from disaster is sometimes a slower process than an institutional one, so it’s important leagues keep this support flowing in the long term. “After Ike, we raised $60,000 in additional funds for the disaster area through a charity golf tournament, and we created an Adopt-A-Family program for the holidays,” Webb-Mañon says. “Credit unions could choose an affected employee and fulfill their family’s wish list.”
It’s also about community healing. After 9/11, CUANY worked with the National Credit Union Foundation to coordinate the donations that were coming in from all across the country, Conner says. “We raised so much we were able to purchase a fire truck for one of the stations that had been affected.”
“In times of disaster, credit unions really show what they are made of,” Ensweiler says. And leagues are a critical step in channeling that local passion into a wide level of effective regional assistance.