Another crisis is always just around the corner. Here’s how to prepare.

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Credit unions support families and local communities. That’s why, if you work for a credit union, you must be prepared to deliver continuous service not just during the current pandemic but when natural disasters strike.

Ken Brock, PenFed's director of operational risk management
Ken Brock, PenFed's director of operational risk management

The 2020 hurricane season is already underway and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted a 60% chance that this year’s season will be busier than normal. To be ready for the disruption a busy hurricane season can bring, planning strategically for business continuity should start now.

I’ve worked on business continuity strategies for over 25 years, the past six at PenFed Credit Union. At PenFed, we’ve weathered a number of hurricanes. In fact, we’ve experienced over 50 typhoon and hurricane warnings and watches. In 2017 alone, we went through four major hurricanes and withstood the devastating Hurricane Maria. That Category 5 storm was an almost unprecedented natural disaster, but PenFed was up and operational the next business day. We know the importance and the value of good preparation.

For many credit unions, the thought of bracing for a natural disaster in the midst of a pandemic might seem daunting. Still, successful preparation is possible, and it will mitigate damages and keep you up and running through adversity. Plenty of people do amazing work and make incredible sacrifices during a natural disaster, but if you wait until a disaster hits to start building for continuity, it’s already too late to minimize impact. The key is to make the investments now and strategize early.

Your business continuity strategy should be holistic. You must be able to continue to run at the same pace your credit union members rely on for their financial support. To that end, you need more than just an immediate contingency plan; you need short-term, medium-term and long-term plans that cover every aspect of a natural disaster.

Crafting a holistic strategy starts with identifying your risks. Don’t try to plan for what a natural disaster may or may not entail; instead, build your plan around a clear-sighted recognition of what aspects of your business are most vulnerable to disruption during any crisis. No one can build for continuity by predicting the unpredictable turn of future events. But you can build for continuity by knowing where you could be impacted, whatever happens. That means identifying and assessing your unique risks.

After you’ve discerned your organization’s crucial vulnerabilities, start preparing for the short- and medium-term. That means drafting a playbook. Create a one- to two-page document that you can share with employees and vendors, and update as the season or crisis evolves. Start pre-buying the supplies you’ll likely run out of and work with your IT and HR teams to set standards for maintaining your workforce during workplace disruptions.

Internal communications are crucial here. In fact, you should err on the side of overcommunicating with your teams. Try to communicate your playbook from a variety of different angles; one company-wide email will never be enough. Crisis preparation requires proactive education of employees. At PenFed, employees are our greatest asset, and they come through for our members every day and especially during times of crisis. Being proactive about educating your employees will minimize stress and eliminate speedbumps on the road to continuity.

After you’ve established your short- and medium-term plans, you should start thinking long-term. At its essence, long-term planning is a question of business culture. It’s here that you’ll have to make the biggest investments – ones that might not pay off for years but that are crucial to building business resiliency into the fabric of your workplace.

PenFed has spent the last six years building a resilient workplace culture by upgrading our infrastructure, updating our technology, and providing laptops and other devices that empower our employees to work anywhere in our buildings, at home or wherever there is an internet connection. So when COVID-19 hit, we already had a workplace culture that was adapted to the flexibility of remote work. As a result, we experienced gains in productivity, not setbacks, after switching to a 90% remote workforce to accommodate lockdowns and social distancing protocols.

If you’re worried you can’t make the investments to build a more resilient workplace culture, third-party partnerships with vendors can help make up the difference. Take a closer look at the vendors that you’re already using internally and leverage those organizations for services. Many of them have the ability to pivot, scale and provide additional services that would support you during a crisis, whether it’s a pandemic or a hurricane.

But there’s no getting around the need to take stock, craft a plan, formulate a strategy and prepare. Natural disasters, major crises and unanticipated workplace disruptions aren’t things you can approach reactively and hope to be successful. No one thought that 9/11, Hurricane Katrina or COVID-19 would ever happen. And yet they did happen – and fundamentally changed our world.

The truth is that you can’t rely on your existing expectations. You have to be proactive in preparing for the things you can’t yet anticipate. And that means building for continuity by putting the strategies in place now that will equip you to weather any storm, literally or figuratively.

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Crisis Management Disaster recovery Disaster planning Natural disasters Business continuity PenFed