Disaster Recovery In Florida: A Before And After Look At Hurricane Irma

How CFE Federal Credit Union prepared for and responded to a storm that brought triple-digit-force winds and a state of emergency to the Sunshine State.


Data as of 06.30.17

HQ: Lake Mary, FL
MEMBERS: 152,046
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 17.5%
ROA: 0.67%

Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, as the first Category 4 storm to hit the United States since 2004. Irma’s maximum wind speeds reached 185 miles per hour, and it spent three consecutive days as a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, the longest time recorded since satellites have been monitoring the Earth’s weather. At one point, the storm spanned more than 800 miles in width wider than the state of Texas.

Irma caused catastrophic damage, particularly in the northeastern Caribbean and the Florida Keys. As it continued its move north, however, credit unions along both coasts of Florida and the southeast region of the United States prepared for the worst.

On Sept. 4, Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency; by Sept. 8, hundreds of thousands of Floridians had evacuated, making it the largest evacuation in the state’s history.

For credit unions serving this area, operations were not business as usual. But by sticking to extensive disaster recovery and business continuity plans, credit unions like CFE Federal Credit Union ($1.8B, Lake Mary, FL), stopped the interruption in operations from ballooning into something much worse.

Before The Storm

Ten days before the storm was scheduled to hit, four members of CFE’s senior management team along with representatives from IT, risk, and marketing met to ensure departments were on the same page as Irma approached. This group continued to meet daily until the storm made landfall.

We had daily meetings to keep an eye on the storm’s progress and identify what we needed to do to be prepared, says Dan Sheerin, the credit union’s call center director.

The credit union made checklists for different scenarios, which was no small feat for a credit union with 22 branches and more than 152,000 members.ContentMiddleAd

CFE made sure its backup system run through a partnership with another credit union was operational; it considered how and when the credit union would close branches and formalized by-the-minute member communication plans for the web and social media; and it checked in with its call center backup partner to make sure it was expecting more calls and scripted 1-800 messaging.

We thought through as many what if?’ scenarios as we could, Sheerin says. What if the power went out? What if phones went out? What if we had building damage?

CFE FCU’s call center backup partner is PSCU. Find your next partner today in Callahan’s online Buyer’s Guide.

Before the storm hit, members wanted details about the safety and availability of their money. As long as there was power, CFE underscored, members could access money at ATMs. In the event of branch closures, members could access their money via shared branching partnerships.

Irma was scheduled to make landfall in Florida on Sunday and move inland to Orlando on Monday. On Thursday, CFE decided to close branches on Saturday and later, Sunday and Monday to give employees time to put their personal affairs in order.

Fifteen million people can’t leave Florida at the same time, says CFE’s vice president of marketing Suzanne Dusch. The wisdom here is you run from rain but shelter from wind.

In Orange County, where Orlando is located, a mandatory evacuation order was issued only for mobile home residents. In southern cities and counties, evacuation orders for entire populations were announced. Instead, central and northern residents were asked to not drive or buy gas to clear up roads and resources for southern residents who were evacuating. But sheltering does not equate to sitting still, and securing property against hurricane-force winds can take hours, according to Dusch.

After The Storm

After the storm, the call center activity was pretty intense, says director Sheerin. Even members who weren’t in town had questions about ATM and branch access. The credit union planned originally to re-open branches on Tuesday, but slow-moving Irma forced CFE to push that back to Wednesday.

Members inquired also about loans to finance the cost of damages, extensions on other loans, and fee refunds.

When people prepare for a storm like this, they are worried about taking care of their families, having food, water, and other provisions in their home, Sheerin says. They spend money they don’t normally spend.

Whether it’s deferring a loan payment for a month or two, refunding fees, or offering a repair loan for less than 1% interest, we are doing everything we can to meet members’ needs.

Dan Sheerin, Call Center Director, CFE FCU

CFE’s CEO Kevin Miller sent an all-staff email in the wake of the storm reminding employees to be compassionate, that there was a story behind every member conversation.

We do the best we can to help them overcome whatever they’re dealing with, Sheerin says.

To this end, the credit union introduced three different low-interest loan types that stretched from short-term and low balance to five years and $10,000. According to Sheerin, the credit union will continue to offer these loans until the end of October.

Going forward, CFE will continue to take care of its members and community, both personally and financially.

We have the ability to make members’ lives a little easier, Sheerin says. Whether it’s deferring a loan payment for a month or two, refunding fees, or offering a repair loan for less than 1% interest, we are doing everything we can to meet members’ needs one at a time.

October 23, 2017

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