When Louisianans think about floods, they usually think of “water falling from the sky or blown in by the wind,” says Mignhon Tourné, CEO at $300 million asset ASI Federal Credit Union in Harahan, La. As a survivor of hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Gustav in 2008, the credit union has endured more than its share of natural disasters. But in January 2011, disaster of another sort struck ASI Federal’s corporate headquarters.
During a three-day holiday weekend, a toilet in the credit union’s main branch and corporate offices malfunc-tioned and water poured continuously onto the floor. To make matters worse, rolls of toilet paper stored on the bathroom floor floated over to the floor drain and plugged it up. When some of the credit union’s IT staff stopped by the office later in the weekend, they were greeted by nearly a foot of water on the building’s first floor.
Completely renovating the first floor took three months. “It was a major interruption to our business,” Tourné says. It’s also a reminder that disaster recovery planning must consider not only major weather-related catastrophes, but also less spectacular events.
“As much as people think about hurricanes, tornados, and other disasters, much of what we do relates to events that never make the news,” says Gary Yeager, vice president of sales at Ongoing Operations, a disaster recovery firm and CUNA Strategic Services alliance provider.
Another bit of advice you’ll receive from people who have experienced a disaster is that the recovery process teaches you how to better prepare for future calamities.
Rally and be resilient
After Katrina, ASI Federal set up a permanent disaster recovery site 150 miles away. That location unfortunately was in Hurricane Gustav’s path three years later. “That’s when we started making big changes,” Tourné says.
She ticks off a list of new backup measures:
Overflowing toilets, however, can happen anywhere, not just in hurricane country. After the January incident, ASI Federal’s staff pumped out the water and cleaned up so they could return to work on Tuesday (Monday was Martin Luther King Day).
The branch office in another section of the first floor wasn’t flooded. Business opened there as usual on Tuesday. On the corporate office side, staff adjusted. They doubled up in second floor offices and loan officers worked elbow-to-elbow at their computers in the lunchroom. A couple of days later, Agility Recovery—a CUNA Strategic Services alliance provider—brought in temporary buildings and set them up in the parking lot. Lending and human resources staff moved there for three months.
In light of past experiences, “We have an ability to react that might be different from other folks,” Tourne says. “We know how to rally and be resilient as a team.”
Improvise as needed
At $160 million asset Pinnacle Federal Credit Union, Edison, N.J., this summer’s Hurricane Irene taught staff a critical lesson: Always be ready with Plan B. Faced with power outages, “We had to improvise,” says Harry Jacobson, president/CEO.
He’s speaking specifically of what it took to retrieve backup tapes stored in the credit union’s Fairfield branch, 40 miles north of Edison. The branch wasn’t flooded, but it was in the heart of a flood zone, where access was severely limited.
A member of the credit union’s IT staff was sent to Hagerstown, Md., to use Ongoing Operations’ disaster recovery facility. Before he left, he needed the credit union’s backup tapes. But massive traffic jams prevented him from getting to New Jersey for the tapes from his home in Chester, N.Y. “He might have made it eventually,” Jacobson says, “but we needed to move quickly.”
So Jacobson ran an obstacle course to get the backup tapes. Another credit union employee from the Fairfield branch met him in a town they both could reach by navigating around flooded roads and bridges. Then Jacobson drove to Pennsylvania to meet the member of the IT staff, who took the backup tapes with him to the disaster recovery facility in Maryland. After that experience, Pinnacle Federal decided it needs a different backup tape storage site, not yet designated. And “make sure that whoever has to go to the backup site, such as your IT person, knows how to get into the building and where to find the tapes,” Jacobson says. “It could be a building they’re not familiar with. Don’t take anything for granted.”
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