NEW YORK — Credit unions along the eastern seaboard and Pennsylvania have closed or are preparing to close branches as of mid-day today, as Hurricane Sandy approaches. Many are preparing for power outages and also making plans for assisting members who may be affected by any damage.
• In New York City, the $1.8-billion Municipal Credit Union, whose main office is located adjacent to the Ground Zero site downtown, has closed all of its branches today.
"For the safety of its employees, Municipal decided to close for today," said Sherry Goldman, who handles public relations for the $1.8-billion credit union. "They will be making the decision later tonight about whether to reopen tomorrow, and we will post that on the website."
Goldman said she has heard reports that storm surge has already brought water into Battery Park, not far from Municipal's corporate headquarters. John Bratsakis, president and CEO of the Maryland/DC CU League, noted that heavy winds and rain are already being felt, although many credit unions in Maryland remain open. In DC, however, most have closed due to transit shutdowns and the of many government agencies.
Bratsakis said that credit unions in Annapolis, Ocean City and along the Chesapeake Bay have been making preparations, and he expects the storm to affect nearly every area the league serves.
"We don't have any better intel than what we get by taking a look at the different weather sites," he said. "It does appear that at least the storm itself should be through around Wednesday for the most part. The real key will be what happens after, as far as power outages and any type of damage done. That's the real key to making sure that folks are safe and have their (disaster recovery) plans up and running."
• While league offices remain open in Maryland/DC (with closures expected sometime later today), the Pennsylvania CU Association's offices in Harrisburg are closed, as Sandy is expected to bring rains and heavy winds to many portions of the state.
Speaking from his home, SVP of Communications and Marketing Michael Wishnow noted that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has declared a state of emergency and only essential state employees are working. The league is communicating with members via its "Life Is A Highway" e-mail newsletter (providing member credit unions with emergency contact information and tips) and will be updating its website and social media platforms as well.
Wishnow noted that the governor has advised the public to be prepared to be prepared to stay in their homes for two days without power, as power outages and flooding are the primary concerns. But Wishnow added that many of the main rivers that have flooded in the past are lower than usual right now, easing some fears of flooding.
Residents throughout the northeast have had adequate time to prepare, as many have been talking about the storm since Friday. "Even if you're a real late person, you could probably still sneak out this morning," he said.
He pointed out that while driving east yesterday from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg he saw nearly 80 trucks from power companies in places such as Missouri, Illinois and Indiana already arriving in the state to help with power outages. Maryland/DC's Bratsakis added that the power company in Baltimore has brought in an additional 1,300 employees to assist.
• In Albany, Bonnie Sklar, PR director for the Credit Union Association of New York, told Credit Union Journal that CUs throughout the state have their emergency plans in place, and some CUs in Long Island and New York City have already begun closures. The association has been communicating with member CUs to provide them with emergency contact information both at the league and with CUNA Mutual Group. Beyond that, she said, it's a waiting game to see what kind of assistance is needed after the storm.
• At Vienna, Va.-based Navy FCU, the $51-billion CU's branches along the east coast are closed, though Jeanette Mack, manager of corporate communications, and that affected members are being encouraged to use its call centers (it has a large facility in Florida) and mobile and online banking solutions. The credit union began preparing for the storm last week, she said, and today has been communicating with its members today via social media and on its website.
• In Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, credit unions are primarily preparing for the likelihood of pending power outages. League spokesperson Rob Kimmet said that while safety of staff is top of mind, efforts are being directed at the anticipation trees will be downed by extremely high winds, leading to power outages. He said there are few credit unions operating in low-lying areas that might be affected by any tidal surge.
In addition, Kimmet said, the league and a number of credit unions have been discussing how to provide assistance to members and communities once the storm passes.
• In New Jersey, McGraw Hill FCU has closed all of its branches for at least today and is urging members to visit its website and to do their banking via a number of online and mobile apps.
In Virginia Beach, Va., inclement weather is hitting this state, and concerns over what's coming later has Chartway FCU and others taking action. Chartway FCU has delayed opening several branches today and has closed its BAE Shipyard branch, Norfolk Naval Base office, and its Hampton Road location, all in Norfolk, Va., reported Heidi Worker, corporate communications director. The CU's locations in Wakefield, R.I., and Newark, N.J., are closed. "There has been flooding already in Virginia Beach. We are really concerned about what will happen to the north of us."
Also in Virginia, Hampton Roads Educators CU, Hampton; Langley FCU, Newport News; and Guardian FCU, Portsmouth, have all closed offices.
The Virginia CU League, Lynchburg, reported some minor flooding in the Tidewater, Va., area and that some credit unions were opening late. VP of PR Lewis Wood said the league has let CUs in the state know the league it is standing by to help if Sandy impacts credit union operations, staff, or members.
• North Carolina's credit unions have note been affected to date by the 40 to 50-mile-per-hour winds that have buffeted the state, especially the Outer Banks and shoreline.
Jeff Hardin, director of communications at the North Carolina CU League, told Credit Union Journal that most expect the storm to spare the state, and if any severe flooding or damage is to occur, Hardin said it will be in the northern portion of the Tar Heel State. "For the most part we expect just wind gusts and steady rain."
Hardin added that the league does not expect the league or CU operations to be greatly affected, although he reminded that such storms can be unpredictable.