Becoming masters of disaster response

Redwood Credit Union applies lessons learned from recent natural catastrophes to the pandemic.

People use adjectives like “dire” and “unprecedented” to describe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on credit union operations. To the staff of Redwood Credit Union, it’s just the latest disaster for which they were ready to swing into action.

In 2015, one of the rural communities $5.7 billion Redwood CU serves north of the San Francisco Bay area endured the third worst wildfire in California’s history. Two years later came the worst fire ever, which destroyed 7,000 homes almost overnight in four of the counties the CU serves and came close to the credit union’s corporate office. The fire blanketed the region with smoke so thick people couldn’t breathe. In all, the disaster known as the Tubbs Fire caused an estimated $1.2 billion in economic damage. And in 2019, yet another regional fire forced residential and business evacuations of 200,000 people, including the credit union’s staff, and led to extended power outages that affected millions.

“Even though it was still standing, we lost the ability to have 400 employees at our corporate office, so we pivoted,” recalls President/CEO Brett Martinez. “We were the only financial institution in many of the smaller communities that stayed open. We had 10 locations on backup generators serving members who didn’t have power or Wi-Fi in their homes. Our people who could work from home were working from home. We had other people working in different nooks and crannies of our locations that were accessible, and we figured out the technology overnight.”


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