Disaster preparedness hits home

By Scott Heitkamp, chairman of ICBA

As I write this column, I’m in the process of cleaning up and rebuilding from Hurricane Harvey. It’s been the textbook example of why community banks need to be ready for anything that can come their way, whether that’s a natural disaster, cyber incident or any other event that disrupts normal operations. As we recognize October as Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I’d like to turn the tables a bit and focus on preparation for any unforeseen event that could hit your bank. As I’ve recently experienced, you and your staff can never be too prepared for a natural disaster.
Living in the Corpus Christi area, we brace ourselves every year for hurricane season. It’s one of the trade-offs of coastal living. Like many community bankers across the country, I need to ensure that I have a resiliency plan in place to ensure my bank continues to serve our customers before, during and after a crisis. Sure, the regulators require banks to do this—but as community bankers, we have a deeper purpose to this mission. As an industry, community banks are the cornerstone of economic recovery in their communities following a natural disaster. We have to be ready to serve our personal and small-business customers quickly and efficiently.

One way our bank ensured we served our customers throughout the course of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath was ensuring customers had access to electronic banking services. We knew many of our customers would be traveling because of the storm, and we wanted to ensure that they had access to their accounts. After the storm, cash did become somewhat of a concern for our Houston market because of the flooding and delivery of money. Our issue was wet cash in our coastal banks. We had a branch where the vault was 4 feet underwater. I had to pull out all the cash, dry it and clean it to have it shipped to the Federal Reserve.
Similarly, I would suggest that in the event of an anticipated flood event, you should urge your customers to empty their safety deposit boxes so their contents aren’t destroyed by flood waters.

Planning for communications during a crisis is also critical. I would encourage my fellow bankers to prepare backup communications plans if both cellular and landline service fail. You may want to be fully informed ahead of time of your cellular and satellite communications options.

Finally, banks should strongly consider joining Sheltered Harbor, which provides proactive, rapid restoration of customer account data after a major event if your recovery plans fail. Sheltered Harbor combines secure data storage with a cooperative recovery plan to get your customers through your outage. By storing your institution’s data in Sheltered Harbor’s industry-standard format, a peer institution or core service provider can restore your customers’ account information.

I am thankful that our bank and, more importantly, my employees and customers survived Hurricane Harvey. As community banks, it is our civic duty to be prepared and resilient in the event of any disaster so we can quickly and effectively serve as that cornerstone of economic recovery in our communities.

R. Scott Heitkamp is president and CEO of ValueBank Texas in Corpus Christi. Follow him on Twitter,