With Hurricane Irma weakening to a tropical storm as it pushes northward from Florida and the Caribbean, leaving in its wake flash floods, torrential downpours and millions without electric power, credit unions and related agencies across the country are once again gearing up to assist CUs and members in the afflicted regions.

Three major groups -- Credit Union National Association, CO-OP Financial Services and PSCU – have entered into a collaborative agreement to form a system-wide disaster response for the credit union movement. Among other things, they have established special toll-free numbers (866-564-3519 and 844-897-2060) dedicated to helping credit union members with access and branch information as they may be displaced or their institution rendered unavailable due to both Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“These unprecedented natural disasters call for a unified response from organizations that service credit unions -- whose mandate is always ‘people helping people,’” said Jim Nussle (CUNA), Todd Clark (CO-OP) and Chuck Fagan (PSCU), president and CEO of their respective organizations, in a combined statement. “CO-OP and PSCU are both CUSOs, but even as competitors, the cooperatives are built and owned by credit unions and truly exist to serve credit unions. The two companies are rallying to support our industry because that's what it means to be a CUSO.”

Damage in Tampa caused by Hurricane Irma.
Damage in Tampa caused by Hurricane Irma. Bloomberg News

The joint statement added that they have been “proactively contacting clients and member institutions in the impacted areas to assess needs and determine where we can contribute. More than that, though, CUNA, CO-OP and PSCU will be working together in the long-term to help credit unions smoothly connect with their members, and members connect with their credit unions, in time of greatest need.”

Since the arrival of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, all three organizations have been “working closely” with the Cornerstone Credit Union League (which represents credit unions in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma) and directly with clients in the area.

“Over the past 10 days, we at Cornerstone CUL have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our system partners,” said Caroline Willard, president and CEO of the Cornerstone league. “The toll-free hotlines will be a tremendous resource for impacted members in the Gulf Coast. Even better, it adds to the disaster recovery capabilities for the movement moving forward. We are so grateful to CUNA, CO-OP and PSCU for their collaboration.”

Finally, CUNA, CO-OP and PSCU have also all made donations to the CUAid relief effort.

PSCU, which is based in Tampa, noted that it operates dual, active and redundant data centers in both St. Petersburg, Fla., and Phoenix, Ariz. – but given Irma’s impact on, the “majority of all activity” is now being managed from Phoenix.

Another Tampa-based CUSO, CSCU, said on its website while staff availability may be impacted by adverse travel conditions, it “will be officially open for business until further notice. Employee emails, telephones and mobile devices will be operational as long as we have power in the region. The storm projections are changing almost by the hour and we will continue to update our status based on any major changes to Irma’s trajectory and possible impact to the Tampa Bay region.”

Branch impact

While the storm was initially forecast to hit hard on Florida’s east coast, the hurricane’s trajectory gradually veered eastward, to the Gulf side of the state. Still the entire state was impacted, and credit union branches across the state have closed.

Kim Gay, director of communications at League of Southeastern Credit Unions, told Credit Union Journal the storm “impacted almost the entire state” of Florida, which is home to 136 CUs.

“There are about 6 million homes and businesses without power,” she added. “Our Tallahassee office will be closed today [Monday] and tomorrow as we assess damages but have back up staff and infrastructure in our Birmingham [Alabama] office and they are open today.”

A survey of websites of Florida-based credit unions indicate that many institutions have been closed since Friday, while some expect to re-open on Tuesday, depending upon the weather. Among them:

  • Powernet CU
  • Suncoast CU
  • Florida Central CU
  • Coast 2 Coast Financial CU
  • IBM Southeast Employees Credit Union

The $1.88 billion GTE Financial near Tampa will also have all branches closed on Monday “to ensure the safety of staff.” GTE added that “on an ongoing basis, we will be assessing member needs and will update closures and hours to the best of our ability.”

GTE Financial also noted that it is “tentatively planning” to re-open select GTE Locations on Tuesday, September 12 at 1pm. “Southeastern University and our Ybor City location are the only confirmed locations that will not be re-opening on Tuesday,” GTE added.

Similarly, Space Coast Credit Union, a $4 billion institution based in Melbourne, Fla., planned to remain closed Monday and Tuesday, but announced its intentions to re-open “once we determine that it is safe.”

Three credit unions based in the hard-hit Key West area -- the $136 million Keys Federal Credit Union; the $28 million Monroe County Teachers Federal Credit Union; and the $15 million Southernmost Federal Credit Union -- are also temporarily out of commission.

CU difference

Despite the chaos and damage the storm generated, it also offered credit unions the opportunity to showcase the CU difference.

According to Steven Nazaruk, president and CEO of Ocala, Fla.-based Ocala Community CU, the credit union closed its lobby at 5:00 p.m. on Friday night and didn’t expect to re-open until Tuesday. Shortly after the lobby closed Friday, Nazaruk told CU Journal in an email, a member drove to the drive-up window “begging our drive-thru teller to accept a wire that was just sent to her from another financial institution,” Nazaruk said via email. “Our procedures require members to come into the lobby for such transactions and it being so late our teller was not sure it would be there. Since we [knew it was] the Hurricane Irma evacuation and we [would] be closed on Monday for such, the teller checked and the wire was in, and teller was able to post to her account immediately and give her the cash she needed for this hurricane evacuation. [The] teller went above and beyond to assist this member in desperate need of cash. Keep in mind this is way beyond the hours of the other larger out-of-town credit unions that closed early… in preparation of Hurricane Irma.”

Other regions preparing

While the storm has mostly finished with Florida, Irma was expected to move northward, and CUs there are preparing.

Outside of Florida, up the coast in Savannah, Georgia, several credit unions have closed due to Irma, including the $98 million Georgia Heritage Federal Credit Union, the $20 million Savannah Federal Credit Union, and the $70 million Workmen’s Circle Credit Union.

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