Brushing Off the Effect of Sandy

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This issue of Bank Technology News was written from coffee shops, libraries and friends' couches, after SuperStorm Sandy filled the basement and lobby of our downtown New York City building with salt water.

Some of us had no power, heat, hot water nor telecommunications at home, either, so it was an interesting test of resourcefulness to find places with power and wifi from which we could work. Mary Wisniewski filed stories about Windows 8 from friends' apartments, as her downtown building was cut off the grid. Sean Sposito stayed with friends in Phoenix and Florida, far from the storm and cold, yet managed to find and report news about financial organizations' Sandy relief efforts and about Square, Verifone and others. Stalwart John Adams produced stories every day from his home outside the storm's path in Minneapolis.

Banks in the New York region also struggled to deal with the mess. Many made donations of $1 million or more to the American Red Cross and several, including PNC Bank, American Express, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and Citi all waived certain fees for storm victims.

But their own operations and IT were affected. Branches were closed, ATMs were empty, and customers who were comfortable with using mobile and online banking fared best, if they could get an internet connection.

At Alma Bank, whose item processing is handled at a vendor's data center in New Jersey, work was interrupted during the storm due to flooding at the facility. The vendor switched to a data center in Oklahoma City, but the transition didn't go as well as hoped.

"We're still in process, they're still struggling with some issues," Richard Ferranti, executive vice president and COO of the bank, told Shane Kite in early November.

BNY Mellon was better off, as it had beefed up its disaster recovery plan in the wake of September 11. Despite flooding to its lower Manhattan offices during Sandy, the bank didn't miss a beat due to the use of data replication between its primary data center in the Southeastern U.S. and two secondary data centers on the East Coast. Although one of the bank's two backup data centers was affected by the power outages, it immediately failed over to an uninterruptible power supply supported by a backup generator.

The hurricane knocked out power and communications at North Jersey Community Bank's Englewood Cliffs headquarters, but operations were quickly shifted to its Hackensack branch, chairman and CEO Frank Sorrentino told Forbes. The bank has a backup operations center and generators at all of its branches to ensure that business can run as close to normal as possible during a power outage.

Among the other precautions NJCB has taken: giving all employees backup email addresses on cloud-based services like Google's gmail; splitting service on its company-provided cell phones between AT&T and Verizon to ensure not everyone would lose service in the event of an outage for one provider; and preparing staff from the C-suite on communication plans in the event of an emergency.

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