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CUs get a lucky break in Fay members not so lucky
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. (8/25/08)--Most Florida credit unions were luckier than some of their members during the Tropical Storm Fay's record-breaking deluge in the state last week. Friday credit unions in hard-hit Brevard County were operating again, while those farther north were closed in preparation for the storm to re-enter the state. "You know the saying, 'It's raining cats and dogs? Well, here it was raining elephants and gorillas," said Sara Stern, vice president of marketing at Community Educators CU, Rockledge. "We even had koi fish in the streets." "People could get around in some areas with four-wheel drives," Stern told News Now, adding that she canoed from her home to the street. "My home was an island," she said. Seven branches of Community Educators are located in Brevard County, which has 72 miles of coastline. The branches closed Tuesday and reopened at noon on Thursday. "We found no flooding damage, but a number of people who work in the facilities have damage to their homes," said Stern. "A few homes are flooded. My home was an island." Stern's mother, a credit union member, found six inches of water standing in her home and has moved in with Stern. The credit union will announce Tropical Storm Loans this week for members who need help. "We've launched this for members in the past hurricanes. It's a low-rate loan up to $3,000 to help bridge the gap before insurance kicks in," said Stern. The credit union's executive team is meeting today to determine the loan's rate. "The last time we had the loan, 400 members took advantage of them," she added. To keep communications open with members during the storm, the credit union updated its phone message system and website two to three times a day. "We tried to give alternative ways members could access their money," including ATMs and Internet banking. When the credit union opened Thursday, "members were waiting at the door," Stern said. Not all employees made it back to work on Thursday and the credit union operated through its drive-through. Everyone was at work Friday. "Everyone is helping everyone else, just like a family," Stern said. The credit union's business continuity plan worked. "Overall, the electronic services were fine and kept things going. Having connectivity to the website was very important because everyone needed access to their account and account information," Stern said. Every day, the executive team caucused and individuals were assigned their responsibilities. What would Stern change about the process? "I'd make sure to do more education on the front end for members to get them to prepare for the storm. I'd tell them to have cash and prescriptions ready when a storm is coming," she said, adding, "We learned a lot through the past hurricanes," she said. "There's not a lot of wind damage. It's more the flooding. But our branches did very well," Stern said. "Our new branch in Palm Bay came through fine." Many credit unions News Now contacted reported no damage. “It was a non-event [for us],” said Thomas Randle, CEO, Sarasota Coastal CU. “There was very little rain and wind.” Several Jacksonville credit unions were closed. VyStar CU had a message on its answering service stating that the credit union was closed and would re-open Saturday at 9 a.m. VyStar planned to have extended hours if needed. All ATMs and direct deposit services were in operation, the credit union said. Florida Telco CU said it would re-open Saturday at 9 a.m. First Florida CU planned to re-open today. Container Mutual CU, Fernandina Beach, also was not open Friday when contacted by NewsNow. Space Coast CU, Melbourne, said its primary issue wasn’t building damage, but making sure employees could get to work. “Some employees had damage,” Meredith Gibson, senior vice president of marketing, told News Now. The credit union anticipates that its members will need assistance. “This is often a wake-up call to people who don’t have flood insurance,” she said. “This type of situation is always a wake-up call of what types of things insurance covers.” Because Fay is a tropical storm and was never declared a hurricane, member's hurricane insurance deductibles will not apply, she added. There was no flooding at the credit union’s 31 branches. Space Coast’s business continuity plan went as expected. The credit union has a central resource for employees that is updated by date and time. Space Coast also uses its website and phone greeting to communicate with members. “It was a good opportunity to see how current plans work together,” she said. “Living in a hurricane area, we’ve prepared for this. It doesn’t throw us for a loop,” she said.
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