NEW ORLEANS—Credit unions here and throughout the Gulf Coast are preparing today for the pending arrival of Hurricane Isaac, with many having already announced branch closings or preparing for that possibility. The storm is following the path of Hurricane Katrina, which hit hard many CUs along the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans.

Beyond closing branches, credit unions are working to get additional cash on hand and making small loans to help members who may not have savings to withdraw.

Lacey Hyer, VP of communications and public relations at the Louisiana CU League, told Credit Union Journal that the league has been contacting CUs throughout the state with updates. The league, like other CUs throughout the state, was closed on Monday, and expected to remain closed until Thursday at the earliest.

“We have a lot of evacuations taking place throughout our area,” said Hyer. “Our headquarters is in the lower south region, so we’re in a high traffic area for the flood zone. In the areas around us, league staff and employees are having mandatory evacuations with their families and things of that nature.”

Hyer noted that many CUs throughout the state already have disaster plans in place and are executing those plans. The league is also posting emergency preparedness information and league contact info on its website, at http://www.lcul.com/Disaster_Preparedness_190.html.

The League of Southeastern CUs, which serves credit unions in Florida and Alabama, is also using its website its primary communication tool, including posting information about closures and abbreviated hours at CUs. LSCU is also sending out e-mails to member credit unions to keep them updated on the track of the storm and other information.

“On our website, right next to the credit union closures, we have the top 10 things to do at your credit union before a storm hits,” explained Mike Bridges, VP of marketing and communications. “Most credit unions are very well versed on it, but you never know with new leadership and things like that. A lot of times people come from out of state to take over a CU, so it’s good for them to know what the league can offer as well.”

Bridges said that at this point most CUs in Florida and Alabama are fully operational, with the exception of Alabama CU in Mobile, Ala., which has closed some branches due to mandatory evacuations ordered by the governor. He noted that a few CUs in Florida had branches closed because of weekend weather associated with the storm, as well as some closures because of the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

In New Orleans, where the brunt of the storm is expected to hit sometime on Wednesday, several CUs are already closing their doors and notifying members about how they can access funds. Cami Crouchet, COO at New Orleans Fireman’s FCU, said that “standard operating procedure is to have an abundance of cash on hand at this time of year just for times like this” and that there was a rush of people coming into the CU for money in advance of leaving town. Crouchet noted that New Orleans Fireman’s didn’t want to turn away members that did not have cash in their accounts and is looking for ways to make small loans to those members to help them.

NOFFCU is also stressing shared branching and its membership in the CO-OP Network, so that members have access to funds. About 60% of the CU’s members are firefighters or family of firefighters, and will not be able to leave town. For those members, the CU has posted payroll and pension deposits early, as well as automatically raised Visa limits and waived early-withdrawal fees on Christmas Club accounts. “They have enough to worry about, so we want to make sure they don’t have to worry about the financial side of things.”

The storm is expected to hit New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and Kristin Reedy, VP of operations at Jefferson Financial FCU, said that has people a bit more on edge than they might otherwise be. But she and others noted that credit unions have taken the lessons of Katrina to heart, having reevaluated their disaster policies in the aftermath.

“We learned that we needed to be prepared well in advance,” said Reedy, noting that Hurricane Gustav (which hit the Gulf during the 2008 Republican National Convention) provided “another real live practice for us, because we evacuated for Gustav and also worked from our disaster location. It’s really just being prepared, because for so long, people and businesses thought ‘It’s just another storm, nothing big ever happens,’ and once Katrina happened everyone started to rethink that.”

 

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