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How Community Banks Can Lead in Weathering Natural Disasters

By Steven Estep


The coronavirus pandemic, hurricane season, and the wildfires on the West Coast, stand as prudent reminders of how critical disaster preparedness is not only for community banks, but for our communities at large.

And while proper preparedness will never eliminate the risks of the threats our communities face, National Preparedness Month each September is a good time to review safeguards to improve operational resiliency and better weather the long-term impacts of these visible and invisible threats. As community banks look to shore up their operations here are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure resiliency.

  • Practice operational resilience. Business continuity has been practiced by community banks for decades but consider taking it a step further and address key functions of your bank that can remain operational immediately following a disaster with limited disruption. Are there services which can now be completed remotely? Would your bank be prepared if a disaster caused your critical systems – including backups – to fail? Services such as Sheltered Harbor’s data vaulting enables community banks to store critical customer account information that can provide customers with timely access to their data and funds in a worst-case scenario.
  • Exercise your plans. Having a plan is great but having assurances that it will work when the time comes is even better. FEMA offers exercises and tools to help your bank test your preparedness plans to ensure your plans meet the needs of employees and customers before disaster strikes.
  • Educate your customers and staff. A well-informed community means a well-prepared community. Develop a communications plan and share with your employees and customers how you intend to keep them informed during the disaster. As a trusted financial advisor, you can also offer tips to help members of the community prepare ahead of time and reinforce the importance of storing digital and paper copies of critical documents, or whether flood insurance may be appropriate. ICBA offers a customizable release for member use and additional resources on its Crisis Response and Preparedness Center. You can find additional tips on the National Preparedness Month Website at Ready.gov.

Community banks are the lifeblood of Main Street and can be a beacon of stability during a disaster. Mitigating the impacts of disaster is crucial to helping our communities move forward. Through proper preparedness, community banks can create not only a resilient business, but a resilient community.

Steven Estep is ICBA's director of operational risk.