Florida is home to more than 130 credit unions, and more than two-thirds of them were impacted by high winds and flooding as a result of Hurricane Irma, which slammed into the Sunshine State late last week, shuttering operations at CUs across the state.
With the storm over, credit unions across Florida have begun reopening their doors and assessing the damage.
“Statewide, power outages caused many credit unions to close, while others received less damage than expected and have resumed normal business operation,” said Kim Gay, director of communications at the League of Southeastern Credit Unions, which serves CUs in Florida and Alabama. “Despite adverse circumstances, many credit unions are finding ways to serve their members using generators and partnerships. Many have limited staff available and are performing transactions offline.”
In the spirit of “people helping people,” she added, many CUs are offering low-interest disaster relief loans and waiving fees to provide immediate relief for their members during this time of need.
LSCU is continuing to reach out daily to credit unions, updating their operational status online and assessing needs. In addition, the league’s Disaster Recovery Team activated its Disaster Response Plan early in anticipation of the storm in order to ensure smooth operation.
While Irma was originally expected to make landfall along Florida’s east coast, as the storm moved westward it ultimately threatened west coast and panhandle, including Tallahassee, where LSCU’s offices are located. As a result, league SVP Jared Ross and Chief Technology Officer Tyrell Baker evacuated to Birmingham, Alabama, and out of harm’s way as “a contingency in order to maintain communication and critical infrastructure.”
“The LSCU is now working closely with CUNA and other partners to meet the needs of our credit unions, staff, and board members,” said Patrick La Pine, the league's president and chief executive. “It is critical that we learn as quickly as possible of needs in order to assist our credit unions and expedite recovery.”
Many still in the dark
While much of the state still lacks power and internet access, CUs throughout Florida have offered to help those who are still without, and the Southeastern Credit Union Foundation is ready to assist other credit unions in need.
On Tuesday, LSCU’s disaster recovery team held a conference call to coordinate the next steps in reaching out to its members impacted by Hurricane Irma.
“As Florida continues to recover, our first priority at the LSCU is to ensure that our staff and credit unions receive the assistance they need at this time,“ said La Pine. “We want to help provide relief for immediate needs as we learn more about how each of our credit unions was affected.”
Some credit unions are already on the way to recovery.
Space Coast Credit Union, a $4 billion institution based in Melbourne, Fla., opened 31 of its 58 branch locations on Wednesday, along with its member service call center. As of Wednesday morning, 65 of SCCU’s 110 ATMs were operational.
“Our main concern at this time is the well-being of our employees,” Timothy M. Antonition, Space Coast’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “Our goal is to open locations as quickly as possible to serve members, but only when it is safe to do so.”
“We’re concerned that many employees evacuated and the roads will be congested as they make their way back," Antonition added. "Also, locally, power and water is out, some traffic signals are still out and many schools remain closed. We are in close contact with employees and working to reduce the burden of returning to work for families dealing with hardships after the storm.”
Space Coast CU shuttered operations Thursday, Sept. 7, as the storm approached Florida, serving members through its ATM network and waiving foreign ATM fees associated with using non-Space Coast ATMs.
In addition, as members begin to assess the impacts from the hurricane, Space Coast is asking affected members to contact it directly to determine what financial assistance may be available, including waiving late fees and offering loan extensions.
The credit union said it will work directly with each member to evaluate needs. “Credit union representatives have asked members to please be patient as longer-than-normal call wait times are expected due to higher call volumes and reduced staff; and they are encouraging members as a convenient alternative to use its website’s ‘contact us’ feature or to send a secure message within online banking,” Space Coast cautioned.
Space Coast is also donating to the American Red Cross Hurricane Irma relief fund. The credit union had already announced a $25,000 donation to help with Harvey relief in Texas, and it will be directing another $35,000 for Irma relief within the communities it serves.