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Bank to put its power outage to use in disaster training
Alan closer
Citizens Bank Senior Vice President Alan Lewis said the power outage planned for the Springfield office will help them test their emergency procedures. - photo by Photo by Rick Lott

A disaster is going to hit the Citizens Bank of Effingham in Springfield on Wednesday — at least that’s what it’s going to look and feel like to the employees and customers as Senior Vice President Alan Lewis takes advantage of the planned outage by Georgia Power and conducts disaster training for his staff.

The planned power outages that are being done in stages throughout the county will cut electricity to affected businesses and residents for eight hours in most cases.

But the bank has decided to use the situation to its advantage by training for something that normally wouldn’t be possible.

“We actually get to test in a real-life scenario where we have lost this facility,” Lewis said. “It’s in a controlled environment. At the end of the day, the power’s going to come back on, but it does give us an opportunity to embrace this and make lemonade out of lemons.

“We truly will have tested the plan we have in place and instead of having suppositions as to what we need to do to correct our plan, we will know what worked, what didn’t work, what we needed to improve and how our customers react. There’s the piece you could never judge — how will your customers react to the situation they face.”

He said the FDIC expects them to have a contingency plan and they do, in fact, run tests every year. But having a prolonged power outage allows them to test their operations at a time when their customers have not been affected by the same disaster, and so are expecting the bank to be able to meet their needs.

Lewis said the bank is actually serviced by two entirely different connections to Georgia Power.

“When Georgia Power throws their switch at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, we actually are going to throw our switches here and we’re going to disconnect from their grid,” he said. ‘We are going to operate in a disaster mode.”

While their emergency power won’t keep the entire facility running, they are expecting to be able to offer their customers most normal banking functions. The drive through will be operational, although the vacuum tubes will be down, making it necessary for customers to use the drive through window for withdrawals and deposits. The phone system also will be working so customers can call to get balances over the phone.

Lewis said that in addition to the Springfield office staff, key office leaders from other branches also will be involved in the training that day. He emphasized, however, that operations at other branches would not be impacted. He said they would repeat the training at the Rincon branch during its April outage.

He said that for a bank, a situation like this is far more than just a simple power outage.

“We’ve got to support our customers at the other four offices,” Lewis said. “The way I approach business continuity planning is customers first, but then the welfare of the employees. Those are the most important assets I’ve got. We have to make sure they know where they’re going and what they’re doing and have just very crisp and clear communications.”