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Communications technology spotlighted during Ike
MADISON, Wis. (9/22/08)--What Hurricane Katrina did for shared branching, Hurricane Ike is doing for communications technology. Credit unions who went through Katrina still speak of the role that shared branching played in helping their members recover from that ordeal. In the Ike recovery, while shared service centers again play a key role, various technologies also have been crucial in communicating with members and with each other. Those technologies included using Intranets to keep employees informed; website postings for members; cell phones and text messaging; special phone systems with "hot-line" numbers; voice messages; league Web pages that charted credit unions' conditions and status; blogs from credit union staff and members; videos and podcasts; e-mail alerts and updates; and conference calls, among others. Before Ike hit the Texas/Louisiana gulf coasts Sept. 13, credit unions already had communicated their business continuity plans with members and staff. The Texas Credit Union League provided e-mail weather updates and maps as the hurricane moved inland. After Ike hit, the league provided details of the areas hit, the rescue and recovery efforts, the damages, and the impact on the state's power and utilities infrastructures. After the storm, league representatives--some of whose homes were affected--began contacting roughly 180 credit unions in the area to determine their condition and status, said Rick Grady, league vice president of marketing, public relations and communications. The lack of power meant many credit unions could not be reached by e-mail, but the league e-mailed them anyway, "just in case they were able to receive information through that communications channel," he said. "Cell phones were the most-used channel," he said, adding that the league employed both voice, voicemail and text messaging. "Many times, when cell relay stations would become overloaded with voice calls, text messages would still go through," he said. The different channels enabled the league to contact "in some fashion" all credit unions in the affected area. The league also set up special Web pages for credit unions to report their status, then charted it onto a single page. It created a database for a matchup of needs and donations. Communications technology was integral in appeals for aid. Contributions were gathered via a special website, CUAid.coop. Appeals--including video appeals--were sent via e-mail, press releases, and websites. Credit unions could keep track of the devastation on the league's web site, www.tcul.org, which also posted photo slide shows of the area's devastation. Regulators and insurance adjusters assessing damages also kept in contact and used e-mail and websites extensively. Before the storm hit, credit unions focused on communicating their business continuity plans to members. Every credit union provided key contact information, including cell phone numbers, so they could be contacted. They employed the Web, phone systems and e-mail alerts. They left voice mail messages telling members which branches were open or closed, how to make insurance claims, and where to go for shared branches, and generally voiced concern everyone would come out of the storm intact. Credit unions and the league also used video technology via You.tube and podcasts to communicate. The day after the hurricane hit, Texas Dow Employees CU (TDECU) provided the earliest and one of the most stirring accounts of what credit unions were going through: a video of a pep talk and thank you by its CEO to staff manning the call center. TDECU's blog on http://tdecu.wordpress.com/category/hurricane-ike/ also updated staff and members on what it was doing to prepare for the hurricane, what assistance it was providing to employees and members, various alerts from local authorities, and even thank you notes from staff. But, like in any disaster, all the technology didn't always work. Overloaded calls to some credit unions meant long waits in queues or busy signals. Others' communications were down; calls to those got dead air. Phone calls would get cut off in mid-sentence. Internet services for some went down. And some credit unions didn't make full use of the technologies available. Throughout last week, News Now checked websites of credit unions in the area. Unlike the situation during Katrina, only a handful of credit unions did not have a website. News Now's staff saw a range of information available. Some websites ignored the storm entirely and provided no updates. Some updated their sites when they closed before the storm but posted no information after it hit; visitors had to assume they were closed. Other credit unions made savvy use of their sites. They provided extensive information about which branches were closed and open, their hours, what members should do to access their funds, how to process insurance claims, and links to many services. They also used their websites to express concern for their members and inform them of special measures they had taken to "make life easier during this difficult time."


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