HIGHTSTOWN, N.J.-As credit unions in the northeastern U.S. work to rebuild their own operations while also helping members in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, at least one league CEO said that moving forward there needs to be a better way for credit unions to join forces and access business continuity services more affordably.

Paul Gentile, president of the New Jersey Credit Union League, said he believes that's one of the key lessons being learned as millions of people and hundreds of credit unions start the recovery process in the wake of the super-storm.

Lessons learned during previous natural disasters are already being cited by CU officials as helping to make the current recovery more efficient.

Hurricane Irene and other storms during the last 18 months, for instance, have helped CUs in the Garden State to be better prepared for emergencies, said Gentile.

"When I talk to our CEOs, they all have their business continuity plans in place," he said. "We had a CEO roundtable recently and talked a lot about disaster recovery. Between the call center and relationships with call center providers in other states and online services, many of them view that as a way to keep their members in touch with their accounts even if roads are closed. I think credit unions are in better shape than they were; the bottom line is that when the roads are closed and there's no power, people aren't out and about anyway looking to get to their credit union."

Disasters don't always mean wholesale changes to procedures, and Bonnie Sklar, public relations coordinator at the Credit Union Association of New York, who noted that major storms often only just mean minor tweaks to the plan.

"I'm not sure there's any real differences in what's being done now than before," she said. "I think whenever anything happens weather-wise where there's an impact, everybody looks at their disaster plan and sees if there's any fine-tuning that needs to be done."

The Value of Social Media

One emerging tool that is increasingly effective is social media, with leagues in several states telling Credit Union Journal they have been using social media, in addition to phone calls and e-mail, to communicate with affiliated CUs.

Michael Wishnow, SVP of communications and marketing at the Pennsylvania CU Association, said that more and more credit union members are relying on electronic services, which can benefit CUs because members can still be served even if it takes a few days to get the branch up and running after a storm. But that's no excuse for not being prepared, he stressed.

"Disaster recovery comes when there's a disaster; if you haven't done it before, when a disaster comes, it's too late to do it," he said. "Those things are critical to keep the business going. In this event (Hurricane Sandy) it looks like for the most part it will maybe take only a day or two."
Wishnow added that CUs in the Keystone State have also applied lessons from their counterparts in the Gulf coast

"More and more CUs in Pennsylvania are jumping on shared branching, just for no other reason than disaster recovery, and I think that trend will continue."

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