A Place to Stay
“It’s not the first storm I’ve been through,” said Kevin Hansen. “But it was definitely one of the longest.”
On a warm, clear September day, nearly two weeks removed from the fury of Hurricane Irma, Hansen, a mortgage loan originator for Regions, recalled how his family of seven took shelter in their Florida home. They live in Volusia County, well north of where Irma made her landfall on Florida’s peninsula. As for flooding, their home is roughly 30 miles from Florida’s Atlantic coast, far removed from places vulnerable to storm surge.
But, because of the wind, there was no escaping the water.
Battered for hours by the force of an unrelenting storm, the Hansens’ roof was weakened to the point of water pouring in. It started coming through the ceiling and down the walls. There was no stopping it.
“We just kept throwing down towels and using the mop and buckets to try to make the water do the least amount of damage as possible,” Hansen recalled. “It was pretty steady from about 9 o’clock at night until 2:30 in the morning.”
Despite their efforts, Irma rendered the Hansens’ home unlivable until repairs could be made. They have insurance for the damage, and the house will be restored. But given the volume of claims the insurance company was handling, it would be nearly a week before insurance could help with the considerable cost of lodging in a state where hotels are currently packed.
Enter the Regions Associate Relief Program.
Available following emergencies such as natural disasters or house fires, the program connects Regions associates and their families with help during times of need. Hansen’s supervisor encouraged him to look into it. That same day, the program delivered.
“It was amazing; I called them after I was told I had to get out of my house,” Hansen said. “Within four hours, they provided what we needed. Now we have a place to stay while repairs are made.”
Hansen isn’t alone. He is one of roughly 40 Regions associates receiving help from the program to meet a variety of storm-related needs. The number is expected to grow.
“To find out your company gives you that kind of assistance, it’s incredible to me,” Hansen said. “When we get done with this process, we’ll be donating back to the program. Our family is so grateful for the support we’ve received that we want to support others in the future.”
A Place to Help
Across the state, relief was coming in, but the power was out. Even several days after the storm, people in Naples still had few places to turn for fuel, food, water or ice.
Local supplies were exhausted. So were the people.
Down Interstate 75 rolled two lifelines: a tanker filled with fuel and another truck packed with more than 4,000 bags of ice.
They were incredibly valuable resources. And for the people who needed them, they wouldn’t cost a dime.
Teams from Regions sent the supplies knowing many of the company’s associates were lacking essentials. Beyond associates, the resources were shared with community members, local law enforcement and anyone else who needed a tank topped off or ice to keep food fresh.
The help was received with immense gratitude.
“Our mission as a company is to make life better in the communities we serve,” said Dan Eveloff, Ft. Myers-Naples City President for Regions. “This is our mission in action.”
Beyond ice and fuel, Regions associates worked hand-in-hand with the National Guard to connect families in Bonita Springs with food and water. In that community, it will take weeks, months or longer to repair damage. But the gift of a nourishing meal and fresh water, in a place filled with floodwater, helped people experience the depth of compassion that Regions and other organizations have for neighbors in need.
“The work our teams are doing sends a powerful message,” said Regions West Florida Area President Marty Lanahan. “And the message is we will stand with our communities throughout the recovery and beyond. That’s resonating with people. They see how Regions truly cares about the places we call home.”
A Place to Serve
The bank had been in touch with customers before the storm. Emails to customers throughout Irma’s projected path reminded people to go ahead and set up online banking credentials so they could manage their money after the storm rolled through. For those who had forgotten how to log in, the steps were spelled out in simple language.
Elsewhere, plans were made to get ATMs back up and running as soon as possible in case machines were knocked offline by Irma. Mobile ATMs were put on standby to send into Florida after the weather cleared to meet emergency cash needs.
But while technology is essential, as the recovery continues, there are some needs that can only be met face-to-face.
From Corporate Headquarters to Collier County, Florida, and all points between, Regions teams were united in around-the-clock efforts to get hundreds of bank branches back open. In very short order, often powered by freshly delivered generators, supported by Regions Corporate Security personnel brought in from several states, and backed by years of disaster planning, Regions resumed service at all but a handful of branches statewide.
At the company’s Lely branch in Naples, as contractors work to repair damage to the facility, branch manager Priscilla Jones-Cotton and her team are welcoming customers into Regions’ portable branch facility, a mobile bank on wheels that was delivered from Regions headquarters.
The portable branch opened to a storm-ravaged community on Sept. 18, the first day of Evergreen – a week Regions sets aside every September to recognize associates’ contributions and celebrate teamwork. In Naples, with bold green banners declaring “Facility Now Open,” the value of that teamwork is on display as associates meet the needs of customers who’ve endured a disaster.
“I’m really proud of my team,” beamed Jones-Cotton. “They have stepped up. They have been enthusiastic. They’ve been positive. They’ve done the work. Half of them have no electricity, no running water, but are still coming to work and still doing what needs to be done. They have done a wonderful job.”
“The strength and commitment of the Lely branch associates really helped move us forward in restoring service to the area,” echoed Terri Bell of Regions Branch Delivery, who traveled to Naples to support local efforts. “To open as early as we did after a disaster is a new milestone in the history of the portable branch facility. In the most difficult of circumstances, Regions associates rose up and reflected the core values of this company. We can all be proud of their dedication.”
A Place to Connect
Not since 2005 has the U.S. mainland experienced a hurricane season like 2017, with powerful punches delivered by Irma in Florida and Harvey in Texas. Over the last 12 years, the way a company responds to a disaster has evolved. At Regions, perhaps one of the most meaningful changes is the Regions Alert system.
“It’s a way to communicate with our associates very quickly,” said Regions Central Florida Area President Tony Stiffler as he described the tool that can send calls and texts to thousands of associates at the same time. “We used the system to say, ‘Are you okay? Do you need help?’ From there, we could quickly see how people were doing and who needed help. I would say within 36 hours, we had everyone in our area accounted for, and in many cases, we were already helping people.”
“What made using Regions Alert so effective was the work done before the storm sending out test messages, making sure contact information was current and building a partnership with our Human Resources colleagues in Birmingham,” added Steve Nivet, Area President for Regions in South Florida. “When we lost power, Danielle Buchanan from Human Resources at our headquarters stepped right in and kept our alerts going out.”
With power, phone and internet services down, some associates were not receiving the messages. But Regions was prepared for that, too. Individual outreach by local teams helped account for dozens of Regions associates who had been unable to reply.
“Associates responded with gratitude that we would take the time to reach out and check on them immediately after the storm,” Nivet said.
As in other areas, Nivet and his team used information gathered from associate outreach to deliver help.
In some cases, associates or their relatives had critical needs for power. For some, power was needed for refrigeration to prevent insulin from going bad. For other families, including the family of Alex Manas, medical equipment needed to be reconnected to electricity as soon as possible.
In those instances, Regions provided generators.
“They made it happen, and I had a generator at my house in about 30 minutes. It didn’t even take an hour,” said Manas, a branch team leader for Regions in Miami.
Manas’ father relies on medical equipment that needs consistent charging. They had been using a small generator powered by a car. But the generator was dying, the car was nearly out of gas, and gas stations were out of fuel.
Manas said Regions not only delivered a generator, but also a supply of fuel to keep it running for days.
“I let them know about a coworker who just had a baby and needed electricity, too, and they made it happen for her as well,” he said. “I know Regions is always looking out for their employees, but I was really impressed by this. It saved us a lot of money because we were about to have to look for a hotel. My father was very grateful for it as well, and he wanted me to let everyone know that he was thankful.”
During the initial days following the storm, affected areas also connected with customers and community leaders to learn of additional ways the bank could be of service.
“We let people and organizations know about disaster-recovery financial services Regions is offering across Florida to make the recovery easier, and we let them know we’re here to help however we can,” Nivet said. “This small touch was met with tremendous responses and great appreciation for the bank’s community support.”
A Place to Start
Indeed, planning for potential emergencies is critical for companies like Regions, whose customers depend on consistent access to financial services, particularly in the wake of emergencies. Even on fair-weather days, teams from the bank are constantly looking ahead and strategizing on how the bank can maintain or restore services in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster or other events.
“I have nothing but praise for our Business Continuity team,” said Bill Linginfelter, Area President for Regions in Georgia and South Carolina. “Kyle Puchta, who leads Business Continuity and Incident Response, you talk about someone who is calm and collected. His ability to manage and maintain the focus of getting our business back to normal is incredible. We felt well supported not only by Kyle and his team, but also by all the business groups that said, ‘We can get these ATMs up,’ or ‘We can get these systems up and working and these resources in place by this time.’”
While Georgia and South Carolina did not see the same level of severity from Irma as Florida experienced, certain areas did see their share of power outages, trees down and more. Even so, teams were able to reopen 126 branches in those states within 24 to 48 hours after Irma rolled through.
“We have very capable people who focus on maintaining services for our customers, and it shows,” Linginfelter added.
A Place to Call Home — Again
Back in Florida, it will take a lot more time before life is back to how it was before the storm. Really, in many ways, recovering from Irma is not as much about getting back to normal as it is about creating a new normal. The experience of the storm will shape people’s lives for years to come.
For Kevin Hansen, the mortgage loan originator, a new normal is beginning to take shape. He and his family are still living in a hotel while repairs are made to their house. But school has started back for his children. And Hansen is back to serving Regions customers every day.
He looks forward to the day when his family will move back into their own neighborhood and wake up in their own beds in a house that is fully repaired.
Describing his experience, he reflects on the recovery that’s been accomplished so far and the help his employer was able to provide during a disaster.
“I would have never thought to call my job for help, but my boss said, ‘That’s what the associate relief program is here for. This program is for everyone,’” he recalled. “I was a little nervous about calling at first, but I’m so glad I did.”
“We’re going through some stress right now,” he said. “But Regions is making it easier.”