Take care of employees
Damon McGregory, facilities manager at $800 million asset Twinstar Credit Union in Lacey, Wash., offers another branch-related tip for disaster planning: “When you have branches spread all around,” he says, “you need somebody on site who can go in, look at equipment, and make a quick evaluation of what’s going on.”
That became apparent when a late 2007 windstorm struck western Washington, toppling trees and power lines. Back then, Twinstar had 20 branches located from the Portland, Ore. area to just south of Seattle. Three branches lost power. The one in Ocean Shores, Wash.—right on the coast about 80 miles from the credit union’s headquarters—was a special concern. “That entire community had no power,” McGregory says, “and it’s more isolated. It looked like that branch could be without power for days.”
Work crews cleared area roads quickly, and branch employees were able to get to work. Agility Recovery brought in generators. “We were one of the few places in town with power,” McGregory says. “We gave the appearance that it was business as usual.”
But life was stressful for employees. “They hadn’t had a hot shower or a hot meal for a long time,” McGregory says. “Sure, they showed up for work. But there was a lot going on in their personal lives due to the storm and power outage.”
That’s why Twinstar plans to bring a motor home or something similar to any future disaster-affected branch. “That way, we can provide creature comforts to employees,” McGregory says. “Next time, we’ll take care of that right away.”
Consider what if…
Tornados wreaked havoc across the south in spring 2011. DCH Credit Union, with assets of $34 million in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was left with holes in its roof and some shattered windows. Two members and all but two employees were in the credit union when the tornado struck on Wednesday, April 27. They locked the doors and headed to interior bathrooms as safe rooms. Everyone emerged without a scratch. “We were lucky,” says Kevin Maguire, CEO. “We didn’t sustain a direct hit. The strip mall right next to us was completely destroyed.”
DCH lost power and Internet access. Agility Recovery delivered generators which, because of the heavy demand for such equipment in the area, had to come from Atlanta, 200 miles away. By Friday, DCH had power, and Agility Recovery brought in satellite equipment over the weekend to provide Internet access. The credit union reopened on Monday.
In recent months, DCH has been revisiting its disaster recovery plan and considering additional disaster scenarios. What if the building had taken a direct hit? What if the computer room had been destroyed? The credit union intends to do more disaster drills with employees, and it also designated the vault as its safe room.
“Before people worried about getting trapped in there if something blocked the door,” Maguire says. “Now, everyone knows about the safety features inside, and security officers told us that the first place they look for people in a destroyed financial institution is the vault. The door will have a flag on it to make sure somebody knows we’re inside.”
Experts also stress the need for testing a disaster recovery plan. Tower Federal Credit Union, assets $2.4 billion in Laurel, Md., takes that to heart. “Our testing is continually evolving,” says Sean Zimmermann, senior vice president of operations and technology. “We test once a year at a minimum, and that’s not enough.” Tower Federal’s testing involves running operations from a disaster recovery site to see if everything works. Tabletop testing—or talking through what-if scenarios and procedures—also enters into planning.
The credit union has weathered two events that had a significant impact on its operations. In 2009, a telephone company construction crew accidentally damaged telecommunications lines into its headquarters. A year later, a hardware malfunction brought down the core system. Both times Tower Federal switched over to its disaster recovery site at Ongoing Operations.
Through these experiences, the credit union learned, “it’s extremely important to have almost all areas of your credit union involved in testing your business continuity plan,” Zimmermann says. Otherwise, he explains, staff might wrongly assume certain functions and information will be available after a disaster.
Also, retest the plan when you make system upgrades or other changes. Testing at that time could eliminate nasty surprises later. “We’ve run into that,” Zimmermann reports. “We think we’ve tested, but when we test again, lo and behold, something doesn’t work because we had made some changes.”
Finally, assess up front the impact a new system or process will have on your disaster recovery plan, Zimmermann advises. “You might be choosing among three new systems, and you have them ranked one, two, and three,” he says. “But one option could cost twice as much for business continuity because you have to replicate it for the disaster recovery site. We consider that at the front end now. It used to be an afterthought, but we’ve moved it up to the initial decision-making stage.”
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