EAST WINDSOR, N.J.-McGraw-Hill FCU was back up and running-at least in limited capacity-the day after Hurricane Sandy hit, and while the storm taught many lessons, the recovery is far from over.

Shawn Gilfedder, CEO at the 20,000-member, $298-million credit union, explained that McGraw-Hill has branches in Manhattan and New Jersey that were affected, including a branch in Lower Manhattan that was entirely submerged. "Building management said that the lower levels of the building were filling at about five feet of water per minute. They estimate that about 130 million gallons of water poured into the lobby and the five lower levels of the building" including space where the CU is housed.

That building is not expected to reopen until after the New Year, but MHFCU has branches in other parts of New York that can also serve members. Gilfedder noted that McGraw-Hill's investments in technology (which began three years ago) are proving worthwhile, having already moved many members to mobile and online platforms.

"Bringing that back online quickly helped members understand that if they had access, they were connected with us," he said. The CU communicated with the membership twice daily during the storm period, primarily via its website and social media platforms.

 

A Lesson In Complacency

At headquarters in East Windsor, a diesel generator ensured that McGraw-Hill FCU never lost power and servers never went offline, but there was no way to communicate outwardly from the office.

Gilfedder said one of the biggest lessons he has taken from the storm is that "many of us have gotten complacent with the infrastructure that we rely upon." He noted that Verizon is the predominant communications provider for the greater New York metro area, but many other telecom companies utilize Verizon's network in various capacities, which made communication more difficult.

"We realized that satellite communications are an alternative we need to revisit as part of our business continuity plans, because if all the wires are down and you still have power, if you have a satellite connection, obviously it's probably a better alternative than looking to copper wire," said Gilfedder.

As part of its recovery efforts, MHFCU has also released a short video detailing how the storm affected operations, as well as how staff at all levels came together in the initial recovery process. Gilfedder suggested that the video is an opportunity for members to see that credit union staff dealt with many of the same challenges as the membership. "If they can see that and see that we all coalesced around the mission of the organization and the mission of the staff that's here to help them, then it lets them know that we're available for whatever their needs are going forward."

The video shows MHFCU staff in hard hats assessing damage, rallying the troops and even doing jumping jacks as a team to keep warm in buildings without electricity. "We recognized that we needed to be able to get out and communicate to our membership consistently, even if certain things weren't working, so that they knew we were out there and trying and doing our best," he said.

 

 

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The video can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TJfBL3rC30

Search Hurricane Sandy at www.cujournal.com for similar stories.

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