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As Flood Waters Rise, First Tennessee Relies On Disaster Preparedness Process

CIO Bruce Livesay discusses the importance of planning ahead and employee management as the bank weathers severe storms.

Heavy rain, tornadoes, flooding. Banks in the southeast have spent much of the spring surviving the worst weather crisis since Hurricane Katrina.

But where some damage to bank branches and IT infrastructure is unavoidable, banks can work to mitigate the risk presented by catastrophic storms. It's a matter of having processes in place and and taking care of what's most important -- a bank's staff -- says Bruce Livesay, CIO of Memphis, Tenn.-based First Horizon National Corp.

Disaster recovery is as much an effort to stay ahead of the storm as it is to react to the damages and outages a storm may cause, Livesay indicates. It comes down to three things:

  • Plan ahead
  • Know when to declare a disaster (and have a process in place for when you do)
  • Get ahead of the game in terms of storm preparation
  • Have a means to communicate with employees
  • First Horizon, the bank holding company that owns First Tennessee Bank, has suffered suffered power or telecommunications outages at about a third of its branches, Livesay says. One branch was inaccessible for an extended period of time because law enforcement had shut down access to the particular part of the city it's located in. The Mississippi River, which Livesay can see from his office, is currently flooding, with waters not expected to crest until May 10.

    While IT assets are important, Livesay says one of the key factors in disaster recovery is to watch out for employees.

    "Any time we have a major storm go through, we have some processes we put into place to try and keep an eye on our own employees," Livesay says. "The first thing is you want to watch out for is your employees.

    For First Horizon that includes:

  • Maintaining an updated list of contact information
  • Making sure employees are OK and reachable after a catastrophic event
  • Making available a relief fund to help employees who have suffered a loss or damages to their property
  • Working with local law enforcement to find missing employees
  • If employees do lose their home, putting them in touch with organizations that will help with housing
  • Making donations to the local Red Cross and Salvation Army
  • "We try to keep in touch with the employees," Livesay adds. "The most important thing is their safety and to help them out."

    Livesay says six of First Horizon's employees had homes that were severely damaged by the recent storms.

    "We did have one employee where we literally did have to reach out," Livesay says. In that situation the bank worked with its security and local law enforcement to find the employee and make sure they were OK.

    Once employees are accounted for, Livesay says a next step is to help the customers. To that end it's often a matter of donating to local charities that help with disaster recovery. Livesay adds that communication is key, as well.

    "This is a great area for using some of the new social media tools," Livesay says. "We used Facebook and Twitter -- and particularly a lot of the Facebook pages we have -- to communicate many of the anticipated outages."

    From a technology standpoint, Livesay says the bank has an internal group that oversees continuity plans.

    "Any facility in the areas where there’s flooding we are coordinating with them to move equipment off the floor," he adds. " We have 10 branches in Memphis where they’re doing that now."

    On the flooding side, the bank is able to anticipate it by keeping up to date on flood maps produced by the weather service. With a hurricane or tornado, there is less predictability.

    "With a hurricane you know it’s coming, you just don’t know what the damage will be," Livesay says.

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