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Expert shares disaster preparedness advice with CUs
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (4/30/14)--Already this year Mother Nature has hammered home several stark reminders of the damage she can inflict on a community or a region.

This week, parts of the Midwest and South have been ravaged by tornadoes, leaving dozens dead and wreaking massive destruction through parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Carolina, Iowa, Alabama and Mississippi according to reports by The New York Times (See related News Now story: Tornado season begins: CUs untouched for now).

When tragedies such as these strike, credit unions often play a critical role in the rebuilding process. Look no further than the fundraising efforts of credit unions to help those affected by last month's mudslides in northern Washington (News Now April 25).

But it's not only the work in response to an event that can make a difference. The preemptive steps taken by organizations, especially those as vital as credit unions and other financial institutions, can set the stage for recovery once catastrophe strikes.

Agility Recovery helps businesses, including about 650 credit unions, prepare for such disasters and knows too well the importance of disaster preparation--not only to credit unions but also to the members and communities they serve.  

"Members are expecting (their credit unions) to be up, they have their trusted source ... and they expect they will always be there for them," said Paul Sullivan, vice president/general manager of Agility, a CUNA Strategic Services alliance provider, in an interview with News Now.

If you're not prepared, "you may recover, but the chances of your business being the same after that are probably pretty slim," he said.

Drawing from 25 years of experience --delivering modular offices, repowering offline facilities, offering satellite connectivity and more--Sullivan recommends many ways credit unions can prepare for that worst-case scenario.

One of the most important steps, he says, is diversifying suppliers. For credit unions, that means cash and the vendors that deliver it to the member-owned institutions.

Sullivan says relying on several vendors can bolster the supply chain and ensure that credit unions can accommodate members who may be looking for cash in times of an emergency.  

"Look at having two vendors that supply cash," Sullivan told News Now. "We all know that during a major event cash is always king. You may not always be able to use cards because services could be down."

Further, credit unions should develop--and test--an overarching crisis communication plan that can guide decision making if a disaster occurs. The plan should include creating a phone tree, assigning responsibilities to employees, and making sure employees know what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency, among other things.

Credit unions can even host workshops to teach employees, members and their families about what to do should a disaster occur, Sullivan said.

"The ones that have exercised their program, made sure their communications program was set, the right phone tree (was) in place, really assessed the risk, educated their employees--you could see the difference," Sullivan said. "Typically (they) can recover in half the time as an organization that is unprepared."

Sullivan also suggests considering an alternate branch location should main facilities be damaged, so that members can still access their accounts.

Credit unions have the unique ability to offer members access to their accounts at other credit unions through shared-branching networks, often supported by credit union service organizations, when branch access is limited or unavailable.

Sullivan also said that mobile branches work well.

"What do (credit unions) have in place to be able to restore the business?" Sullivan said. "Do they have an alternate location they can go to? Other branches that can take over the business? Using a third-party business (can be) a great solution."

Use the resource links for additional disaster preparedness tips.
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