Florida School Shooting Demonstrates Power of CU Disaster Recovery Preparedness

By Sarah Snell Cooke, Principal, Cooke Consulting Solutions

Alleged gunman in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., Nikolas Cruz, left the community reeling after the Valentine’s Day massacre. While all were stunned by the shock and horror of the event, first responders and other heroes persisted. Credit unions in the area trudged through their grief to offer secondary support to their members and the community.

President of the Broward Chapter board of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions, Amy McGraw, used a previously scheduled chapter meeting on Feb. 20 to also hold a 50-50 raffle in support of the victims. The raffle raised more than $700 dollars, and McGraw happened to be the jackpot winner, donating all of the money back to the cause. In addition, four credit union service providers came forward to donate an additional $3,000 that night.

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But McGraw’s day job as vice president of marketing for Tropical Financial Credit Union kept her busy leaping into the fray immediately. Tropical Financial is a SEG-based credit union, serving partner companies—as they call them, including The Broward Principals’ and Assistants’ Association. McGraw characterized Tropical Financials’ business development officer as good friends with the principal of Stoneman Douglas and his son, who’s a teller at the credit union, is an alumnus of the school who knew three of the victims. The matter became personal for the credit union.

Tropical Financial had a disaster recovery plan it had honed through many hurricanes that guided its efforts, but no one could be prepared fully for something like this.

The day after the shooting, McGraw talked to her human resources department about activating its usual annual blood drive just for the emergency situation. Two trucks were brought on-site on Tuesday, Feb. 20, to the closest branch locations in Miramar and Plantation, and so many showed up to donate at Miramar that another was diverted to one of the locations as well. At least 35 pints were donated from the credit union’s drive.

Simultaneously, the credit union got to work on financial support. It was easy to make $5,000 donations each to Stoneman Douglas High School and the Broward Education Fund, administered by the Broward Education Foundation. The fund had raised $1.9 million from 27,980 people of its $2.2 million goal as of this writing. Click here to donate.

BrightStar CU Vice President of Marketing Dustin Jacobs serves on the Broward Education Foundation board. We plan to bring you more from him shortly.

The community where the shooting took place is highly affluent, according to McGraw. One might devise that from the eloquent statements coming from the student-survivors, so lack of money isn’t necessarily a primary concern right now. The credit union is looking to provide support more for the students and teachers rather than the community.

Right now, the hardest part for those involved, and particularly those direction affected, is thinking. Meal planning and dry cleaning—the everyday trifles that people take for granted under normal circumstances. Therefore, the credit union also is urging donations of restaurant gift cards and dry-cleaning services. “It’s all about finding the right way to help,” McGraw explained.

That’s not the say Tropical Financial isn’t doing its part on that front as well. In addition to the $10,000 in financial contributions, the credit union’s CEO also sent a message to all of its members—1,429 of them—in the area that might have been affected, offering a no-questions-asked loan. The maximum $2,000, one-year loan is interest free with no credit check for those directly contacted in case they want to take time off work to be with their families or volunteer in the community or whatever. Several of the credit union employees worked late into Friday night with its mobile banking provider, MeridianLink, to create a single-screen application for the emergency loan program. Reactions from members have included several heartfelt notes and personal thank yous, McGraw said, which was really nice to see.

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One thing McGraw said became clear regarding these loans was the need for internal communications. Initially, some employees were hearing rumors of the loans. They thought the credit union would be charging interest on these loans and taking advantage of people in crisis. Inaccurate rumors are bound to happen when leadership is holed up, making snap decisions, but once that was explained to everyone they were on-board.

“We learn as we go and make adjustments as we go,” McGraw commented. Senior leadership plans a debrief during its weekly meeting, Feb. 26.

Now that the immediate needs have been addressed, the credit union is working with the schools and other organizations to see what’s next. “If there’s a need, we’ll be there to help,” McGraw said. “It’s about people helping people. If there ever was a time for that philosophy, it’s now.”

But it’s not just people Tropical Financial is interested in helping recover from the horrific incident. “Whatever BrightStar [the credit union closest to the incident] needs, we’re there.”