The Ultimate Test…Managing Business Continuity through Katrina & Gustav

Disaster recovery plans are vital, living documents always up for refinement, as the nation’s credit unions learn from their service interruptions, large and small, man-made or from Mother Nature’s remarkable fury.


It’s lucky that Roxie Wilkinson, IT director at The New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union ($122M in assets) is native to New Orleans.  Because she has had to tap into that deep sense of loyalty to New Orleans, and her ‘can do’ spirit, to see her 16,000-member credit union through the double punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav

In both events, the major punch of Katrina in 2005 and the lesser punch of Gustav last August, a well-drawn business continuity plan served to smooth the disruption for members and staff, despite often daunting physical and operational challenges.

Katrina’s powerful destructive force, of course, was one for the history books.  Even Roxie, who says she is not one to evacuate, says she’d leave town the next time a Katrina heads her way.  But New Orleans Firemen’s never fails to get up from the mat, and the credit union, post-Katrina, was soon piecing itself back together, from the unexpectedly remote location of Houston, Texas, their point of refuge.

Fast forward to 2008.  Although Katrina had been a tough taskmaster, New Orleans Firemen’s learned valuable ‘real world ‘lessons on the efficacy of their business continuity plans.  Although one branch location in New Orleans was destroyed…and has not reopened…their headquarters in Metairie, Louisiana was well prepared as angry Gustav veered in their direction.  Since Katrina, they had built a new branch office well inland in Picayune, Mississippi.  This seventh branch location would serve as their hot site.  Judy DeLucca, their CEO, also decided to cut over and implement their disaster plan on the Sunday before Gustav’s anticipated arrival the following day. 

Learning from their isolation in Houston three years before, New Orleans Firemen’s Federal had taken another important step.  “We arranged to be given placards as second responders in such an emergency,” Roxie said. “That way we could pass through the evacuation check points earlier on to survey the damage to our facilities.”

And what they found, when Gustav had stormed out of town, was a hurricane-damaged, yet manageable, recovery situation.  Ongoing Operations, a Hagerstown (MD) firm that helps credit union operations nationwide stay intact and in touch with their members through any type of interruption, was ready to help.

In short order, Ongoing Operations quickly stepped up to the plate to expedite the post-Gustav recovery.  They recovered New Orleans Firemen’s intercept server that manages communications between the credit union and third-party connections.  They also brought up the connectivity for both the credit union’s restored host in Michigan and the restored intercept processor at Ongoing Operations and also the restored intercept processor at Ongoing Operations and Fiserv EFT, the nationwide provider of ATM, debit services and other technology services.  Before too long, it was business as usual, for members and staff alike.  

Although she may be starting to tire of learning fresh lessons from hurricanes, Roxie learned from Gustav, as well.  “Gustav pointed out to us the importance of maintaining email continuity,” she said.  “Our members communicate so much more with us over the internet now than when Katrina passed through.  We’ve got to make sure that email channels are not compromised, no matter what’s blowing through town.”

Her observation is testimony to the fact that no disaster recovery plan is cast in concrete.  It is a vital, living document always up for refinement, as the nation’s credit unions learn from their service interruptions, large and small, man-made or from Mother Nature’s remarkable fury.