Florida's CUs, Leagues Hone Skills In Disaster Planning

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The Florida Credit Union League knew something about hurricanes before. But now the league has become something of an expert at disaster planning and recovery.

"We are not a disaster relief agency," said FCUL's Mark Ivester, almost as if to remind himself of that fact. "But we are here for our credit unions."

In fact, the Florida league has come to be such an old hand at the whole hurricane scene that it was offering advice to the Alabama CU League just before Hurricane Ivan came arrived, when the ACUL came looking for some helpful hints about preparing for and recovering from a hurricane.

Among the tips the Alabama league found most helpful was the idea to set up a phone number with separate voice mailboxes for credit unions so their members and employees could call in for a status report letting employees know if they were expected to report into work and members know where they could go get service.

As storm after storm has come through the otherwise Sunshine State, basic supplies like water, ice, gas, tarps and food have become rare, precious gems only to be had by a combination of sheer luck or by hours spent waiting in line. Yet for credit unions and the league, something else is in short supply.

"Our most stretched resource is our human resource," Ivester observed. "Credit unions are having a hard time getting enough bodies in to run the operation. In some cases, employees have lost their homes and are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. In other cases, it's been an issue of physically getting into work when power lines are down and trees are blocking the roads. At credit unions and here at the league, this adds a lot of work to the load."

While the victims of Hurricanes Charley, Frances and even Ivan became "yesterday's news" as Jeanne plowed through the state, the league certainly hasn't forgotten about them-particularly since applications from grants from the league's Hurricane Relief Fund continue to come in from the past storms.

"There's usually a bit of a delay. First you have to start digging out to see what you've got and what you've lost before you know what you need," Ivester explained. "We're still getting applications from Frances and Ivan, and the ones for Jeanne will start coming in soon."

The grants are given in a two-phase process. "In phase one, we give out $500 for just walking around money. We realize people get caught short just before the storm and have certain expenditures just before and after the storm. This is just to sort of get them back on their feet," Ivester suggested. "In the second phase, we want to make sure we get the most bang for our buck, so we assess and detail the damage and determine what we want to do."

The fund is for credit union employees and volunteers only. At press time, the fund had distributed six Phase 2 grants, with an average size of $1,500.

"For most, that just about covers the insurance deductible," Ivester pointed out, referring to the practice in Florida of making home deductibles 2% to 5% of the assessed value of the home. And each separate storm calls for a totally separate claim with a separate deductible, so even those residents who have experienced damage compounded by multiple storms could get hit with the same deductible again and again. "That's why after Ivan, we said we thought we'd need more money, and that was before we knew that Jeanne was coming our way."

If the hurricanes are becoming "old hat" at the FCUL, then the resident hurricane whiz is definitely VP-Compliance Bill Berg, who attends the annual governor's hurricane conference and helps credit unions prepare for hurricanes. "He's done disaster relief training for a number of credit unions," Ivester said. "I think we can honestly say that credit unions in Florida are a lot better prepared because of the league's efforts."

On the whole Florida's credit unions have fared well. Though a small number of locations have lost roofs and experienced serious flooding, most sustained only minimal damage and, as soon as they had power restored, were back up to full operational status.

While most state credit union leagues will never have to deal with a hurricane making landfall in their areas, Ivester noted that all leagues can learn something from Florida's experience. "This just shows the importance of disaster planning. It may not be hurricanes in your state, it may be earthquakes, like in California," Ivester suggested. "And unfortunately, as 9-11 informed us, it could be terrorism. Be more aware of your crisis planning so that you are ready."

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