CUSO Offering Biz Continuity Services Opens

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With Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma still fresh in the public's mind, and now with winter storms here, a Maryland CUSO is set to offer credit unions what it says is a long-term, turnkey solution for serving members during disasters.

After two years of research, planning and site selection, a business continuity CUSO called Ongoing Operations, LLC will open the doors to its 32,000-square-foot building in January 2006 in Hagerstown, Md. The center will provide a fully equipped remote telephone center, a complete data center and workspaces that are designed to function just as a normal work environment.

Seven credit unions have signed on, the latest being Agriculture FCU. Kirk Drake, VP-information technology with National Institutes of Health FCU, has been named CEO. CUSO officials say the center is designed to offer more than just data processing back up and could be used during any emergency situation to keep transactions moving.

"It's more business continuity than natural disaster (solution)," Drake said.

A key factor to the new site will be reserved space for each participating credit union. During a storm, flood or terrorist attack, a credit union won't have to worry about available space, as it would pay a monthly fee to reserve it. CUs will be able to use fully functional work areas with working telephones, computers, NCUA Call Report software and core system applications from providers such as Symitar, Summit or Users.

The Washington D.C.-area CUs that have invested nearly $1 million to captalize the CUSO include Department of Labor FCU, HEW FCU, National Institute of Health FCU, Northwest FCU, Synergy One FCU and Transportation FCU. Drake said the Hagerstown building is a former call center location that had existing infrastructure, which helped speed the opening.

"We had to do very little other than security and back up," he said.

Northwest FCU President Juri Valdov said each credit union will decide how to use the reserved space and how often. Some CUs are planning secondary call centers with a small staff located in Hagerstown full time, while others will use the site only during emergencies.

Valdov, who is also the new chairman of CUNA, said Hagerstown's easy access to transportation routes made it a good location in relation to the large metropolitan areas on the eastern seaboard plus offers enough physical distance from coastal areas frequently hit by storms and hurricanes.

"There are a lot of ways to get in there," Valdov said.

A map of Hagerstown resembles a wagon wheel with access to Interstates 60, 71 and 80; two U.S. Route highways; two national rail lines entering the city; plus daily service at Hagerstown Regional Airport. New York City is a four-hour drive, Baltimore is 72 miles away, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are each roughly 180 miles away.

Drake said the 70-mile separation from Hagerstown to Washington D.C. will allow CUs to continue operations even in the event of another Sept. 11th type terrorist attack on the capital.

Ongoing Operations offers different levels of service from providing rack space for a server for $600 per year to the "5 Seat Basic" plan for $350 per month, which includes five desks for computers, phones, etc., plus Internet access and CU industry software. The 5 Seat Basic plan will be first come, first serve. There is an additional $1,000 fee per month for reserving work area during emergencies. Data Center plans range from $1,000 to $3,000 per month, while a telephone phone center work space has a fee of $750 per month. Ongoing Operations will provide each plan with basic office supplies and equipment such as a copier, fax machine and printer per 20 individuals.

Drake said the Hagerstown site will have enough room for CUs ranging from $50 million to $1 billion in assets. The roughly 250 work area "cubes" should be able to handle from 40 to 50 CUs, he said.

Of the 32,000 square feet, Drake said 25,000 would be used for work areas, 5,000 square feet, for the data center and the remaining area for break rooms and other needs.

Drake said Ongoing Operations plans to eventually create 10 to 20 sites around the nation that would require only a four-hour drive from most major markets. For example, Drake said an emergency operations site for Florida could be located in Atlanta. Drake said the company won't be hyping something it can't provide to credit unions, such as too many groups in one location.

"We're not overselling capacity. We're not taking clients from outside the credit union industry," he said.

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