When a Crisis hits….how do you respond?

2008 was a year of many lasting images, many negative as the economy spiraled into a downturn. With these dire times come situations where communication is critical. There are now credit union owned solutions that can help you with your quest to communicate when times are at their worst.


Today, an active member accesses the credit union numerous times in a day through debit card transactions, bill pay, ATM and account to account transfer. An operational failure at a credit union for even a short period of time today is a stressful experience for both the members and the credit union's employees. When a crisis strikes, the first thing many credit union executives do is reach for their phone tree. The need to keep employees in the communication loop is critical. In a year that saw the markets plummet to lows not seen in recent years the main concern was that of natural disasters. With storms throughout the Gulf and across the country, credit unions were forced to react swiftly and communicate the whole time while doing so.

Credit unions must have a disaster recovery plan in place due to NCUA regulation. In letter 08-CU-01 , NCUA addresses the need for credit unions to establish plans to manage a pandemic event. Also, NCUA regulations part 748 and part 749 include guidelines for preparing for a catastrophic event. One of the key elements of this plan is focused around how you inform your employees and mobilize to serve your members in a time of need. Angela Head, vice president of marketing and information systems for Shell Federal Credit Union ($326 million in assets), Deer Park, Texas: "Communicate, communicate, communicate to staff and to your membership. You can’t do it enough during times like these."

The first thing a credit union needs to is have a strategic plan about what methods of communications are likely to be effective. In some cases email will not work as some individuals won't have access to the internet. The focus of many credit unions contingency plans still begin and end with the use of mobile phones. It is critical for credit unions to have up-to-date phone records for all of their employees; they come in handy not just in a time of need but in everyday communication.

Recognize that mobilizing your team, both branches and administrative, will be difficult and that time will be of the essence. Update with regular messaging over media outlets as well as through the internet and direct phone calling.

The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council's released a document titled: Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina. In the document the FFIEC cites that "Major challenges faced by institutions included communications outages which made it difficult to locate missing personnel." This stresses another key point, people are essential to the recovery of operations.

Who should participate in disaster drills? Your organization's successful recovery can hinge on the efforts of key personnel, and those key personnel may change. As a result, you should promote a "we're in this together" attitude and recognize that all employees can contribute to an institution's disaster recovery and business continuity efforts. Employees at every level of your organization should know their role in the disaster recovery and business continuity plans.
How can we communicate?

Hurricane Katrina illustrated that a widespread disaster can strand employees without access to working land-line or cellular telephone services. You may want to develop, test, and update a contact list for senior management, employees, customers, vendors, and key government agencies.

Maintaining copies of this information at all sites, plus one or more off-site locations, can be very helpful in the event of a disaster. You also may want to develop alternate ways for locating and communicating with employees and customers. Less-traditional communication methods might include two-way radios, cellular telephones with out-of-state area codes and/or text messaging capability, satellite telephones, or personal data assistant (PDAs). Employees could use these less-traditional communication methods to report their location and obtain current information. In addition, you may want to establish a central point of contact outside the potential disaster area and make pre-established toll free telephone numbers available for employees and customers.