TDECU was founded in 1955 to serve the Texas-based employees of Dow Chemical. The credit union’s Lake Jackson, TX, headquarters is located 40 miles south of Houston near the Gulf Coast. Because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico — it has 29 branches and service centers throughout the state’s southeastern region — its hurricane plan is the basis of its disaster planning. The $2 billion institution is currently reviewing its continuity and recovery plan to determine its usage and flexibility in the event of another form of disaster. Rhonda Kleinecke is the credit union’s SVP/CFO.
Alicia, a disaster plan should provide a comprehensive statement of consistent actions the credit union should take before, during, and after a disaster. A good opening approach is to segment the problem. Figure out who your stakeholders are and what their behaviors and needs are. Evaluate your systems and controls. Determine what you are trying to accomplish and break it down into smaller segments. If you view the entire job as a whole, you might despair at the size of it. Here are some thoughts for you to consider in your review process.
First, define who your stakeholders are and validate how they are affected by the actions taken in your disaster recovery plan. Our most important stakeholders are our members, followed closely by our employees, and then our board of directors and regulatory bodies, such as NCUA.
Our most important value is serving our members. Consistent and continued service is critical during times of crisis because members will reach out to us during their time of need and distress. Having a disaster plan that carefully outlines the responsibility of each employee — down to who communicates first and who evacuates when and where — is critical in any disaster. All employees must know their role and what the credit union expects of them. We have designated employee teams that, ahead of any forecasted disaster, evacuate to disaster sites. These sites become mini-headquarters with a senior manager leading each site.
Alicia, it’s critical you have a high-level communications plan. You need to know how you are going to communicate with members before an anticipated disaster. You also need to communicate which branches are open and so forth after a disaster. You need multiple channels of communications to ensure you can reach all members based on how the disaster affected them. We use online tools such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate before, during, and after a disaster.
Make your information available in the cloud. Our members and employees will be able to access information from TDECU as long as they can drive or walk to a Starbuck’s or similar operational wireless hot spots. Really, the whole thing is about communications.
Don't look to a formula for how much to spend. You can't put a price on delivering services to people in the wake of a disaster.
Whenever you change your operating structure, think about disaster planning in your decisions. Strategically locate call centers and service centers away from one another. Implement technology and remote connectivity with your employees. Have options for ATM networks by which members can access funds anywhere they find an ATM. Know where your members are and where they will evacuate to. Decide in advance any special loan promotions, skip-a-pay, or exceptions the credit union will make for members in the event of a catastrophic event. Be prepared to communicate this before and after a disaster.
Make sure you are working with contractors that will stand by you during and after the disaster; having such a partner to help during a time of crisis is critical. We use a disaster recovery company called Agility Recovery. It provides complete branch replacement in the event of a full destruction; it can also bring in a mobile structure to take over the essential building functions. We have tested these facilities to make sure our data operates out of them and so forth. We also have our facilities equipped to run off of generators.
Alicia, don’t look to a formula for how much to spend. Your credit union and your location are unique to the members you serve. You can’t put a price on delivering services to people in the wake of a disaster. Look at your current operating structures and find ways to expand or enhance the systems if and when a disaster strikes.
An up-to-date plan is invaluable. TDECU gained a lot of good will among our members and community when we were the first financial institution within 250 miles to open after Hurricane Ike passed over the Gulf Coast in 2008.
Alicia, as you ramp up your planning effort, testing the upgraded plan is a key step. Set aside time and resources for this. The more you test, the better prepared you are going to be. That is something we discovered ourselves. We were ten times better responding to Hurricane Ike in 2008 because the lessons we learned from Katrina in 2005 prepared us. And remember: A disaster recovery plan is never in final format. You need to review and update it at least annually to meet the changing needs of all the stakeholders.
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