NEW YORK (7/8/13)--Surviving and recovering from a devastating event such as Superstorm Sandy requires a well-rehearsed disaster preparation plan and consistent communications with members and staff.
Mike Retelle, right, CUNA Mutual Group property and claims manager, facilitated a panel discussion on lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy during a breakout session at America's Credit Union Conference Tuesday in New York. At left is Shawn Gilfedder, president/CEO of McGraw-Hill FCU. (Photo provided by CUNA Mutual Group)
That was the message shared Tuesday by three CEOs whose credit unions were greatly impacted by last October's disaster, during an America's Credit Union Conference Discovery breakout session.
The conference, presented by the Credit Union National Association, ended Wednesday.
CUNA Mutual Group Property and Casualty Claims Manager Mike Retelle facilitated a panel discussion that included Robert Allen, president/CEO, Teachers FCU, Hauppauge, N.Y.; Gene Brody, president/CEO, Bay Ridge FCU, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Shawn Gilfedder, president/CEO, McGraw-Hill FCU, East Windsor, N.J.
As one of the largest Atlantic hurricanes on record, Sandy left a swath of destruction 900 miles wide across 24 states, killed at least 80 people in the U.S., and caused more than $65 billion in damage, according to published reports in LiveScience.com
and the Los Angeles Times
. While all of the panelists' credit unions remained operational during and after the storm, life for many in the affected area has not returned to normal eight months after it occurred.
"Sandy still has a lingering effect on our membership as insurance recoveries have, for the most part, not covered all their damages," Brody said. "Many of our properties that serve as collateral for our loans are still in need of further renovation and reconstruction."
The physical and emotional damage caused by Sandy is permanent, Brody added. "Many people had to leave their properties for long periods of time, and some have still not gone back to their homes."
Teachers FCU members were afforded temporary relief from their loan payments for up to six months to have the necessary cash flow to fix their properties. The credit union also offered new loans to help affected members renovate their properties and gave employees time off to tend to their properties as well as cash or loan assistance, if needed.
Despite having disaster preparation plans in place, credit unions identified areas for improvement. The three panelists offered these recommendations to their colleagues:
Review and update the credit union's disasters preparedness policy and procedures on an ongoing basis;
Practice leadership before a crisis, have a documented plan representing all facets of the organization and be prepared for the unknown;
Maintain consistent and direct communication with staff and members;
Realize perception will become reality if not managed during and after the crisis;
Identify staff's personal needs. They are impacted by these events personally just like members; and
Employees' core values showcase themselves during times of crisis--make sure all employees have a clear vision of the organization's mission and vision.
During his 30-plus years at CUNA Mutual Group, Retelle said he has seen the bond among a credit union, its staff, and its members strengthen in stressful times. Being prepared to successfully react to a major crisis will showcase a credit union's focus and core values, he added.
"The actions taken by these credit unions spoke volumes to their staffs and members that even in the worst of times the credit union was willing to help on the personal side and still make sure the member's financial needs were cared for," he added. "They showed that their staffs are more than just employees and their members more than just an account number; they are all part of the credit union's family."
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