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It’s Never Too Early to Prepare for a Hurricane
Thursday, August 30, 2018 6:50 AM

Guidance from the National Credit Union Administration

The 2017 hurricane season highlighted the unpredictable nature of hurricanes and the wide range of ways they can affect the credit union system. Case in point: Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf Coast area.

The 2018 hurricane season officially began on June 1 and runs through Nov. 30, so the season is only halfway over. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has projected a 70 percent chance of 10 to 16 named storms this year, including between one and four major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher.

Hurricanes cause damage and disrupt your operations in two primary ways:

  • Wind Damage—Hurricane winds destroy property and injure people, and they can lead to widespread electrical and communications outages. Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, showed how these outages have the potential to affect a large area for several months and even much longer.
      
  • Flooding—Storm surge can cause devastating flooding in coastal areas, but it’s not the only type of flooding associated with hurricanes. Hurricane Harvey illustrated that flooding is not just limited to coastal areas. Heavy rainfall can cause flooding in unexpected locations, far away from where a hurricane makes landfall. In addition to property damage, flooding can restrict or limit access to affected areas for days to weeks at a time.

Although, there is no way to mitigate the effects of a hurricane completely, there are several actions you can take to reduce the impact of a hurricane on your operations, including: 

Familiarize Yourself with Local Building Codes

Many jurisdictions in hurricane-prone areas have recently enhanced their building codes to mitigate property damage related to hurricanes. You may want to consider retrofitting facilities that do not contain hurricane mitigation features. In some cases, retrofitting can also lower your commercial insurance premiums.

Identify Any Facilities You Have in or Near a Flood Zone

Keep in mind that even if a facility is not in a flood zone, access to the facility can be delayed or denied if it is located in proximity to a flood zone. You can easily determine if a building is in a flood zone by going to FEMA’s flood map website and entering the address you want to search for. Once you have done this, you can identify potential mitigation actions. Some potential options are:

  • Relocating vital records or systems to a facility outside a flood zone;
  • Relocating the entire facility; or
  • Accepting the risk if there are no viable, cost-effective options.

Consider Use of Backup Generators to Limit the Impact of Extended Power Outages

Remember that generators require regular maintenance, especially when they're being used for an extended period. It's critical to have the knowledge and equipment necessary to perform basic maintenance procedures or to have guaranteed access to a service provider that can perform that maintenance. While unlikely, power outages can last several weeks or more. Generators that are not properly maintained can fail within as little as one week of continued operation.

Establish Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) and Wireless Priority Service (WPS) for Key Staff

During emergencies, telecommunication networks can quickly become overwhelmed and diminish your ability to communicate with staff and stakeholders. GETS and WPS services will improve your organization’s ability to communicate by phone during an emergency. During Hurricane Maria, only a limited number of cellular towers continued to operate. Individuals with GETS and WPS services were still able to use these towers to place and receive calls during the aftermath of the hurricane. GETS and WPS is an easy-to-use calling card program provided by the Department of Homeland Security. You can find additional information on these programs at dhs.gov/requesting-gets-and-wps.

Carefully Monitor Weather Forecasts and Advisories

Even with the latest technological advances, predicting the direction, intensity, and impact of hurricanes is very challenging. No two hurricanes behave in the exact same manner. Small shifts in the speed or direction of a hurricane can make the difference between catastrophic and relatively minor damage. Therefore, it is critical to be vigilant and prepared to respond to changes in the forecast.

Train Staff on Restoration Procedures

It is important to ensure staff are trained on how to restore critical systems and services after a disaster strikes. This will expedite the restoration of member services.

Remember: investing time and effort in preparedness now can provide huge dividends to your ability to remain operational. Take the time to prepare now, just in case.

Original guidance appears in Q3 2018 NCUA Report.