Florida CU (With Help From SWAT Team) Delivers $1.2M In Cash

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When preparations for the approaching Hurricane Katrina were being planned, John Davies, president of Pen Air FCU, in Tallahassee, Fla., knew what the affected credit unions would need more than anything else: cash.

"Whenever we see a hurricane approaching we load up on cash. We know that cash is king," said Davies, who has piloted his credit union through many a tropical storm.

Though it took Davies four days to get through on his cell phone to his friend Scott Broome, president of Keesler FCU, it was only a couple of hours before a team at Pen Air FCU could load $1.2-million in extra cash ordered especially for the emergency for delivery to Keesler's Biloxi, Miss., offices.

It took even less time for the delivery van, a Ford Excursion owned by the Escambia County Sheriff's SWAT Team, escorted by two police cars and one unmarked vehicle to speed the 150 miles to Biloxi, sometimes driving as fast as 100 miles an hour. "Cash delivery was a problem; not only for our credit union, but for all financial institutions in the area," said Broome, of the days immediately after the storm and heading into the long Labor Day weekend.

As of last week, Pen Air FCU was also providing Keesler FCU with other assistance, including use of its mobile branch, and a third floor conference room at its Tallahassee headquarters where Keesler FCU staff had set up a virtual private network to process loans over CUNA Mutual's loanliner.com Internet site.

Keesler, Mississippi's largest credit union, was among the hardest hit from the massive hurricane. The storm destroyed two of its branches and severely damaged the roof on its main headquarters. Damage to phone and electrical power systems along the Gulf Coast shut down operations at nine of the $800-million CU's 13 offices and left as many as half of its 330 U.S. employees homeless, according to Broome. By the end of last week, five of the branches were still out of service. Some employees had been relocated out of the area last week and are not expected to return.

In the days immediately following the hurricane's strike, Keesler, one of a dozen defense credit unions with overseas branches, was actually routing some transactions through its three branches in England for three days.

Luckily, the storm did not damage the basic infrastructure or computer system at the credit union's headquarters. But lack of electric power and phone services rendered the system unusable in the immediate aftermath. CUNA Mutual stepped in to restore some of the loan functions by allowing Keesler to use its Dallas-based call center, where Keesler's toll-free call center phone service was rerouted. Broome sent 20 of his employees to Dallas to support the rerouted operation.

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