As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida and the southeastern United States, CUNA Mutual Group is offering advice to credit unions located in areas vulnerable to the storm.

The company has activated its CUNA Mutual Customer Disaster Response Team following the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas last week and also initiated its pre-catastrophe response protocols.

As of noon Friday, the National Weather Service warned that Irma was tracking toward the Bahamas after causing “catastrophic impacts” in the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Destructive winds, storm surge, dangerous surf, heavy rainfall and flash flooding are possible in the path of Irma, NWS said. South Florida and the Florida Keys are both under hurricane and storm surge warnings, and many credit unions across the state have already ceased operations or are planning to as the storm gets closer.

“We started prepping for Hurricane Irma several days ago and have reached out to credit unions in Florida via phone and email communications,” said Phil Tschudy, media and reputation strategist- enterprise marketing & communications at CUNA Mutual, adding that they are also working closely with local officials and its sales partners to “ensure a swift response” to Irma.

“Our vendors have committed and have already deployed teams around Florida and areas in Georgia and Louisiana,” Tschudy added. “It is still too early to tell exactly where the impact might occur, or the hardest hit areas, but we are focusing on Florida and will look to include Georgia and the Carolinas depending on the track.”

Tschudy noted that credit unions in the affected areas should adhere to certain protocols.

“We… want to make sure they are reviewing their business continuity plans for mobile sites, cash flow needs of members if armored trucks are unable to access locations, consider ongoing operation plans, especially if employees work remote or cannot connect offsite,” Tschudy said.

Mobile Claims Unit set up by CUNA Mutual in Texas after Harvey.
Mobile Claims Unit set up by CUNA Mutual in Texas after Harvey.

One benefit of the storm is that disaster preparedness is already on the minds of many credit union executives, with Hurricane Harvey having pummeled Texas just weeks ago. In a blog posting, CUNA Mutual cited some of the lessons learned as a result of Harvey, where the Customer Disaster Response team was deployed to help credit unions begin and continue their recovery.

CUNA Mutual assembled four questions that credit unions must ask themselves in the event of a catastrophe like Harvey and Irma:

How will you access and provide access to cash?
CUNA Mutual explained that as consumers return home to survey, repair and recover following a natural disaster like Harvey, they'll need access to cash. Do your credit union have contracts and plans in place with vendors to deliver it to your branch? Do you have a vendor who can bring in mobile ATMs? Activating plans like these quickly can make a vital difference for the people, businesses and families you serve.

Do you have an alternate location for serving members?
What if your branch or branches are so heavily damaged that serving members isn't possible? Do you have a plan for setting up shop somewhere else? Do you have contracts in place to activate a temporary physical location for your offices? Or, do you have agreements with area credit unions to share branches?

Can you activate alternate staffing?
In the case of a hurricane, CUNA Mutual indicated, it’s important to keep in mind that the people who work in and for your credit union may be personally impacted by conditions such as flood damage to their homes. Do you have a plan for alternate staffing?

How will you communicate with members?
Knowing how you'll reach out and stay connected with members before, during and after a disaster is critical, CUNA Mutual advised. Do you have a plan that maps out how and what you'll communicate? How will you let members know the ways they can access cash and funds?