With Hurricane Emily looming off the North Carolina coast, banks were preparing for the worst on Tuesday.

By midday, First Union Corp. had organized an emergency command center at its Charlotte, N.C., headquarters. Plans were in place to assess damages at the company's branches and operations centers. Some employees were upgrading safety procedures while others were checking backup systems to help restore storm-damaged services.

|A Sense of Urgency'

The company's biggest rival, NationsBank Corp., was similarly battening down the storm hatches. "There's a sense of urgency about being prepared," said Ellison Clary, media relations director at NationsBank.

With branch networks that stretch from Washington, D.C., to Florida, the bank companies have been battered by hurricane winds before. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 wreaked havoc throughout the Carolinas, and Hurricane Andrew last year flattened much of South Florida.

Those events led to some fine-tuning of the banks' preparedness programs. "We've learned as we've gone along," said Sandy Deem, a First Union spokeswoman.

Mobile Branch Rigged Up

As a result, First Union has a major focus on branches in the northern end of the state's coastal region, known as the Outer Banks. As early as Monday, the bank was outfitting a van to serve as a mobile branch for its vulnerable offices.

Other vans were being stocked with food, water, and supplies for employees. Emergency power generators also were being transported from Florida to North Carolina.

By Wednesday morning, Ms. Deem said, the bank would be ready to handle emergency loan requests from employees and customers.

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