Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gulf Coast CUs were prepared for the worst from Gustav

MADISON, Wis. (9/2/08)--As Hurricane Gustav hit landfall at 10:30 a.m. CT Monday at Cocodrie, La., credit unions, their trade association and leagues, and their regulators were already prepared for the worst.

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Disaster Preparedness Team, working with the Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas leagues, activated CU Locate in each of those states, effective Monday morning.

And the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) announced Monday it would activate its emergency hotline (888-584-6847) at 7 a.m. EDT today so members could check the status of credit union branches.

Hurricane Gustav was a category two hurricane, with winds up to 110 mph at landfall roughly 15 miles west of Houma and about 70 miles west of New Orleans. It had been responsible for the deaths of at least 90 people in Jamaica and Cuba as a category four hurricane and prompted the largest evacuation before a hurricane in history--two million people from the New Orleans area alone.

Cocodrie has no credit unions, but Houma, which has a population of 34,000, has six, according to The Credit Union Directory. They are:

First Industrial FCU;
A branch of La Capitol FCU, based in Baton Rouge;
A branch of Post Office Employees CU, based in Metairie;
TEA FCU; and
Texaco CU of Houma.

The credit unions, like most in the nation, were closed due to the Labor Day holiday and the hurricane. The wide ranging storm was affecting areas in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana Monday and was headed toward Texas. Widespread flooding from up to 20 inches of rain is expected in several states.

In New Orleans, the levees on the western side of the city were holding steady, with Harvey Canal closing its floodgates Monday morning, and storm and wind surge causing steady seepage over the levee at the Industrial Canal.

Outer rainbands of the storm kept tornado watches and three inches of rainfall per hour in Pascagoula, Miss., and Mobile, Ala. Weather forecasters expected flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi up into southern Arkansas.

On Friday, the leagues along the Gulf Coast outlined their preparations for News Now.

"We're as prepared as we can be," Charles Elliott, CEO, Mississippi Credit Union Association, said Friday.

The league have multiple communications systems in place, such as cell phones and text messaging. Emergency numbers for all credit unions and vendors are available.

Back-up branches and "hot sites" were ready. Agility Recovery Solutions and VoiceGard would provide back-up communications as needed. Members also can call 1-800-CU-LOCATE to contact their local credit union, he said.

The league also worked with its corporate credit unions to get plenty of cash--which members came in to get Friday. "Prior to Hurricane Katrina, they came in after," Elliott said..

Friday was the third-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Elliott noted. The current storm was taking an emotional toll on credit unions and their members because of the uncertainty, he said. "But we've got some warning. Credit unions will be able to meet their members' needs."

The Alabama Credit Union League has "been in contact with our credit unions, updating emergency contact information and distributing additional preparedness materials," Adena Whitman Zamora, league director of public and political affairs, told News Now Friday. "We are sending out more information this afternoon and will continue to monitor the situation in preparation for next week's landfall.

"While we hope, of course, that the hurricane will not be a bad one, effective communication and preparation will help us help our credit unions through whatever events occur.

"The league also is poised to provide assistance to our neighboring states in any way we can, however we are needed," she added.

The Louisiana Credit Union League (LCUL) was monitoring the storm, and had its TelSpan system ready for credit unions. Through the system, the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions, which represents Louisiana financial institutions at the Office of Emergency Preparedness, will record information and alerts related to immediate threats and/or disasters in the area.

Financial institutions could dial in and hear messages or alerts at a time that was convenient for their schedules. LCUL is the only credit union league to utilize the TelSpan program, the league said.

"After going through Katrina, I believe the league and Louisiana credit unions are well-prepared for Gustav," Lacey Hyer, LCUL public relations specialist told News Now Friday. "There is still some uncertainty as to where it will make landfall, so we will continue to monitor the hurricane and take necessary precautions."

The Louisiana league's 800 number (800-452-7221) and its website (www.lcul.com) are in effect. The league gave out emergency contacts and phone numbers:

New Orleans and Tri-Parish credit unions should contact Mary Wolfe at 504-487-8147;

Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles credit unions should contact Jim Phillips, 225-603-2642; and

Shreveport, Alexandria and Monroe credit unions should contact Susie Fair at 318-663-7766.

NCUA encouraged all credit unions in the path of the storm to prepare for all contingencies, it said in a statement Friday. Credit unions should:

Identify and prepare alternate sites;
Back up systems and ensure backup data is in a secure location;
Notify the NCUA regional office of the alternate site location;
Identify and prepare deploying employees to alternate locations; and
Test back up systems.

John McKechnie, NCUA's director of public and congressional affairs said Monday that in addition to its emergency toll-free hotline, 888-584-6847, credit union members can obtain additional information at its website at www.ncua.gov.

NCUA will distribute public service announcements to news media in the affected states to provide essential information to consumers about federal deposit insurance coverage for credit unions and how members can access their credit union funds, he said.

NCUA said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "Ready Campaign" at www.ready.gov or at 800-BE-READY provides information about disaster preparedness, including a link to the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit, a checklist of documents and steps consumers can take to maximize their preparedness.

CUNA Mutual Group also was keeping watch over the storm situation. The CUNA Mutual Group Disaster Claim hotline is 800-637-2676.

"CUNA Mutual has activated its Credit Union Protection Disaster Team, which will address any storm-related losses and coordinate property-casualty relief efforts," Rick Uhlmann, CUNA Mutual senior manager of media relations, told News Now. "Once we have a better handle on where Gustav will hit, we will contact policyholders in those areas. Meantime, we are monitoring the storm's path hourly," he said Friday.

The Texas Credit Union League (TCUL) reminded credit unions in the LoneStar Leaguer that it has a special section on its website with advisories for severe weather and disasters. It also offers a site to store critical business continuity plans at www.tcul.coop/Disaster_Preparation.html.

"Hurricane Katrina taught us all a valuable lesson, and that there is no such thing as being too prepared," said TCUL CEO Dick Ensweiler. "We have alerted all of our credit unions, particularly those along the coast, and have provided them with the most current hurricane preparation material, as well as live feeds on our web site."

courtesy of cuna.org

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