2017: An ‘incredibly scary’ year

2017: An ‘incredibly scary’ year

CUs shared several common struggles during last year’s hurricanes and wildfires.

June 12, 2018

When you work for a business continuity and disaster recovery company, you encounter a lot of devastation, says Scott Teel, vice president of organizational development for Agility Recovery, a CUNA Strategic Services alliance provider.

But 2017 stands out as a particularly difficult and “incredibly scary” year, he says.

“I have never personally seen, heard from, talked to, and helped so many people that felt so helpless, unprepared, and literally stranded,” Teel says.

During 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, one of the costliest storms on record, Teel received a call he won’t soon forget from the president of a small credit union in Texas.

The credit union president explained she was calling from her home, which was under nearly two feet of water, and she was struggling to figure out what her credit union would need to recover.

“She was in tears telling me her situation as I heard in the background the noise from nearby National Guard helicopters rescuing people from their roofs,” Teel says.

Overall, the number of events didn't break any records, Teel says, but the severity and duration of some of the larger, regional events was overwhelming.

Many credit union leaders had to fight to maintain branch operations through flooding, evacuation orders, roadblocks, or damaged infrastructure.

“Many of these organizations never considered themselves in the threat area for flooding or wildfire evacuations, yet found themselves either directly affected or interrupted,” Teel says.

He saw credit unions share some common struggles during the disasters including:

• Failing to think beyond the organization. Some organizations, despite investing time in detailed risk analysis, found their strategies focused nearly exclusively on their physical properties versus the location of their employees’ and members’ homes, businesses, schools, and routine commuting patterns.

• Relying too heavily on work-from-home strategies. These strategies often failed during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the California wildfires.

Either employees couldn’t work from home due to interruptions to local utilities or they were relocated out of the area due to evacuations.

“These strategies, while a sound approach in some cases, should only be one facet of a larger strategy for continuing operations in an alternate facility,” Teel says.

• Failing to test shared branching plans. Some credit unions which relocated operations to a neighboring community credit union found that available space, computer systems, and bandwidth for conducting transactions weren’t sufficient.

“If this is a strategy your credit union relies on, you must test it or else it is doomed to fail almost immediately,” Teel says.