ATLANTA (8/20/08)--With hurricane season under way, a New Orleans-based credit union is reminding credit unions that preparation is key in providing uninterrupted account access to members during an emergency, and that shared branching can play an important role in business continuity. New Orleans Firemen’s FFCU (NOFFCU) encouraged credit unions to become part of a shared-branching network. When Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast in 2005, NOFFCU turned to CO-OP Shared Branching for assistance. While NOFFCU's offices were closed, it directed members to shared branches to get the money they direly needed. Those branches are still used by members today. “After the storm, many members were permanently scattered outside of our proprietary branch network,” says Cami Crouchet, chief operating officer of NOFFCU. “We expected a decline in membership, but instead our numbers remained flat," she said. "Shared branching was an integral part of our disaster recovery plan because our members who moved were able to keep their accounts active by making shared locations their regular branches," said Crouchet who added that members said they were "very impressed by how well they were treated at these locations.” After Katrina, Crouchet attended a conference that included bank counterparts. “In discussing the impact of Katrina, we realized we didn’t experience what banks went through, because of shared branching. We may not be as big as banks, but we’re better, and we have a wonderful sense of community.” “Credit unions really reached out when the hurricanes hit in 2005, and that compassionate spirit made us proud to be part of the movement,” says Carroll Beach, president/chief operating officer of CO-OP Shared Branching. “Credit union members needed access to shared branching in the aftermath of the storm. Maintaining the Next Generation Network switch in-house gave us the flexibility to sign up impacted credit unions, some in a matter of hours, and help get them on the road to recovery,” Beach said. CO-OP said credit unions must avoid a false sense of security--emergencies are not limited to coastal regions. Man-made or natural, large-scale or small, disasters come in many forms. Family First of New York FCU (FFFCU)is prepared to serve members through shared branching in case fires, snowstorms, or power outages close their doors for even a short period of time. “Our credit union branches are vulnerable to various events that a location 25 miles away might escape, such as an ice storm,” says Christine Peters, president/CEO of FFFCU. “It’s important for credit unions to develop the best plan they can to protect members. Why not consider shared branching for business continuity? It is well received in everyday use, and it has its place in disaster recovery.” “Large scale events, such as Katrina, elevate the need for and visibility of the benefits of disaster recovery planning,” said Peters. “Shared branching is a great way to partner with other credit unions to take advantage of each other’s branches when your members need them.” CO-OP Shared Branching offers 3,400 locations, including 120 international branches.