Two Years in a Changed World
Two Years After 9/11, Most Back at Work, Others Not; Foundation Has Good News; Tech Vendor Has No News
It was two years ago this week that terrorists struck the U.S., killing thousands of people, causing billions in damage, and forever changing America's sense of security.
Many credit unions and their employees were eyewitnesses to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Some who were closely affected have still not returned to their jobs. Others are moving forward with new plans.
Below, The Credit Union Journal updates readers on stories reported earlier.
'The Enormity Of What Happened'
Municipal CU won't be doing anything special to mark the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because for the men and women who work at 22 Courtland St., they live with a daily reminder of those horrible events just across the street where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood.
"It's incredible to see when I go out at noon or at 5 p.m., and there are all these people milling about the area," said Chuck Robbins, chief marketing officer of Municipal CU. "They come from all over the world, and they come here trying to understand the enormity of what happened."
In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks the credit union found itself back in the news after thousands of people took advantage of MCU's decision to permit withdrawals from ATMs, even though the machines were offline. The theft of as much as $15 million by members who did not have sufficient funds led to arrests and charges from prosecutors for about 70 members who had taken at least $7,500 or more, while thousands of other members who took out far less were not charged but were asked to make restitutions with the credit union. The credit union continues to decline comment on that event.
Municipal's headquarters sustained significant damage when the buildings collapsed, but was not destroyed, and the credit union is back in business at that site.
"We lost some windows, and the soot just came pouring in. But it wasn't just coming in from the windows, the soot used every elevator shaft or air shaft it could to get inside," Robbins recalled. "My office was on the 26th floor, and I remember seeing all the soot just pouring out of the elevator shaft. Getting us back into this building was a monumental task. An enormous amount of work went into protecting our systems from the elements."
Municipal, like so many businesses in the area, brought in counselors to help its employees work through the grief, the fear and the tangle of emotions resulting from the horror of Sept. 11, 2001, Robbins said, noting that he believes the CU doesn't still have any staff members who couldn't bring themselves back to work. "We're healthy, and we're doing well, and when we pass by the site every day, we are thankful to be alive," he commented. "It's an experience I never want to go through again, but it really brought home what an amazing organization we have here. I've never seen a group of individuals that just came together like we did and focused on what we had to do to keep going. We've gone through it all, and we're back."
Blackout Triggers Memories
The recent blackout that left New York and much of the Northeast and Midwest without power also triggered some powerful memories.
"Whenever we have a fire drill or that blackout last month, I think people are a little more alarmed than they would have been before," Robbins suggested. "I think we're a little more watchful. With the blackout I think you saw that most companies within New York City have more of an appreciation for backup. The more redundancy of systems the better. Everyone learned big lessons that could be applied during the blackout."
Municipal CU won't ever forget the catastrophe across the street because it didn't just lose a few windows. With its field of membership made up of municipal workers-including fire fighters, police officers and other rescue workers- many of Municipal's losses were very personal indeed.
"We have a deep regret for those who were lost," Robbins offered. "The rescue workers were so incredibly brave, and we're proud that most of them were our members, and our goal is to serve them the best we can."
To that end, Municipal recently launched an e-bill payment and statement program and is installing a number of kiosks to provide quick, convenient access to its members.
The credit union has put together several public service announcements that will be played on a variety of local television and radio stations, featuring CEO Bill Porter thanking Municipal's members for all of their support. The PSAs will air during International Credit Union Week.
"We've been lucky, and we know it, and we thank God and everyone that we're still here," Robbins said. "We've all got to be reminded to keep our wits about us and keep our eyes open. We can never give up, and we must press on. You learn from the past and apply it to the future. We all must be vigilant.
"But we're also glad to be alive and glad to be here, and I believe Municipal has a rosy future ahead."
NY Foundation Distributes More Than $1 Million In Funds
ALBANY, N.Y.-This Sept. 11, the New York Credit Union Foundation will have cause to celebrate: the last of the funds collected in the wake of the terrorist attacks have all been officially distributed.
"We collected just over $1.4 million from just about everywhere, and over the summer we completed the distribution of those funds," said Frank Kerbein, executive director of NCUF. "All of those funds were used as our contributors intended."
The foundation used a portion of the money raised to support the uniformed services of New York, including the fire fighters and police officers. Another portion was distributed as grants to credit unions needing help to get back on their feet and back in business following the terrorist attacks.
The foundation also established educational grants, including scholarship programs at two New York City college that will help send children of Sept. 11 victims to college.
Since the NCUF wasn't designed to be a disaster relief agency, it sought out partners who were. "We found four relief organizations that are offering long-term support to the victims' families," Kerbein commented. "We don't have the expertise to provide that kind of counseling and long-term support, so we found some organizations that are equipped for that."
"We weren't sure how long this would take, but we always hoped that by Sept. 11, 2003, all the money would be distributed, and it has been," he said. "We are not traditionally a disaster relief organization, so we hare happy to be out of this business and back full time to youth financial literacy and helping credit unions."
A Disaster For Which Recovery Had Already Been Planned
BROOKFIELD, Wis.-Credit unions and their data processing vendors didn't know it at the time, but all their preparation leading up to Y2K-the "disaster" most famous for not having happened-helped prepare them for Sept. 11.
"Of course, we had a strong disaster recovery plan in place even before Y2K, but that did help," said Thomas Neill, president of Fiserv's Credit Union industry Products Group. "All of our core systems have a very strong disaster recovery component."
On the whole, very little has changed on that score, Neill suggested. "I don't see a great deal of change among credit unions since Sept. 11," he related. "Clearly, disaster recovery is an element in every deal that we compete for, and frankly, it's simply a requirement."