On April 27, 2011 a record number of tornadoes swept through north Alabama, including an EF-5 tornado. 74 people lost their lives. Homes, businesses, and other structures were destroyed including many electrical transmission towers. Most of the Huntsville metro area was without power for five days.

Yep, one of the largest cities in Alabama was without power for five days. No credit card system. No ATMs. No gas pumps. It was intense.

At the time, I was one of the marketing managers for the largest credit union in the state with our headquarters in Huntsville. This credit union has about an 85-90% penetration rate in the area.

Yes, you read that right – almost everyone in that city and surrounding area is a member of this particular credit union. So you can imagine how concerned the public was about their credit union, or more specifically, their cash.

While that crisis is definitely different than the current one, the lessons I learned during that time might be helpful to those who are responsible for communications at credit unions and community banks.

I’m putting together a series of articles outlining those lessons learned. This first one is an overview, then the following articles will go a little deeper into each area.

Clear and Constant Communication

It’s human nature to crave information during a time of uncertainty. As emotions and tensions are a bit raw, it can be easy for people to misinterpret messages. During our crisis we kept the messages very simple, repeated them often and in many different forms – using the available outlets as much as we possibly could.

Areas impacted?

  • Membership
  • Leadership team
  • Credit union staff
  • Local media

Look for details in this article.



That first section covers the “who” and “how”, this this section and article, I’ll discuss the “what” of those communications. ‘Cuz we also learned some interesting lessons regarding what messages were needed and which ones fell flat. Having a good plan ahead of time definitely helps. This will be covered in the second article.

Working Lean

Another challenge we faced was just being able to do the work! Limited electricity, internet access, and especially limited staff – all played a huge role in this challenge.

Luckily, we had two marketing staffers who lived far enough from Huntsville that they had electricity. I was one of those. The other was our web person. So out of a marketing staff of eight, only two of us had ready access to a computer and the internet. We certainly didn’t have access to our work files/network.

But even if we all had the tools to work, there was a deeper impact to being able to work – staff availability. Employees were¬† dealing with their own personal impacts of the crisis. In this article, I’ll cover what our challenges were and how we dealt with them, including a challenge I never thought we’d be dealing with in a million years.


Challenges Before Us

This is a unique moment in history. A situation no one has ever faced. While it will have its challenges, it is in facing these challenges that we have a great opportunity to show our character as humans and as organizations.


Have questions or need access to additional resources? Please let me know! I am here to serve.

256-714-6596 or learnmore@jbcommunicationsgroup.com