14. ‘Muck Yuck’

WRAPPING MONEY: Employees work on wet and damaged currency taken from offices and ATMs / Photo: Unknown

WRAPPING MONEY: Employees work on wet and damaged currency taken from offices and ATMs / Photo: Unknown

An unpleasant problem in the early recovery days was the paperwork left behind in scores of offices the weekend before the hurricane struck.  Transaction tickets from Friday and Saturday branch business normally is processed on Monday, but after Katrina, bags of deposit and withdrawal slips and other items sat covered in floodwater and mud that even infiltrated secure vaults.  There was also wet and muddy cash in vaults, ATMs, teller drawers and night dropboxes.

For weeks after the storm, retail bankers, property management workers and people in Donald Barry’s area struggled to retrieve the transaction tickets and cash, then dry it all out enough to be usable.This uncollected “work,” as it was called, was a nightmare.  Millions of dollars of transactions that came through offices over that critical weekend were complete only in the minds of customers.  They had made a deposit, a payment or a withdrawal, but none of these showed up yet on the bank’s computerized ledgers, because the “tickets” representing them were sitting in the damaged branches.

Information from the tickets had to be put into the computer to properly credit customers’ accounts.  The cash would be returned to the Federal Reserve for credit.

DRYING OUT CASH: Louis Lusignan and Janic Nichols, on hands and knees, work with hundreds of bills / Photo: Unknown

DRYING OUT CASH: Louis Lusignan and Janic Nichols, on hands and knees, work with hundreds of bills / Photo: Unknown

Unsavory work

A small and hardy group of souls drove from branch to damaged branch and painstakingly extracted the vital records and cash.  It was very unsavory work.  They had to trudge through mud, debris and broken furniture, past downed electrical wires and tree limbs, unlock or pry open doors to the branches or just pick their way through broken windows.

Kelly Shepherd, the indomitable MOM for Greater New Orleans, who also coordinated the effort to salvage safe deposit boxes, took the lead.  A small cadre of people like Clarence Romage of property management pitched in.  They soon coined a term for what they had to deal with.Then the fun began.  They used keys, crowbars, whatever it took, to open rusting cabinets, drawers and vaults that were corroded shut.  They endured intolerable heat and stench.  “We called it muck yuck,” Shepherd said.

A nightmare

Darrell Dragon headed up an area called simply “deposit services.”  It performs an essential set of functions in every bank.  Among them is “item processing,” which includes posting all those tickets missing in the muck yuck.

Dragon, 46, had worked for Hibernia 17 years and was one of the company’s rock-solid senior managers.  His department consisted of some 700 people, most of whom were in New Orleans.  He also had operations in Shreveport and Houston.

WANT TO TOUCH IT?: Kelly Shepherd and Allison Griffen puzzle over muck yuck / Photo: Property Management

WANT TO TOUCH IT?: Kelly Shepherd and Allison Griffen puzzle over muck yuck / Photo: Property Management

In this “behind-the-scenes” group, virtually everyone is important.  Their work could not stop, nor even pause for very long.  A disaster recovery site was planned in Dallas, and people were identified to go there.  Dragon, like most, expected a short shutdown, if any, in New Orleans.

Dragon decided to operate the Hibernia Center, where the mainframe and other services were located, for as long as possible.  “We gambled, because we felt this wasn’t going to be a three-month outage,” he recalled.  And the gamble almost paid off.  “The mainframe never missed a beat (through the storm) … so we were thinking that we made the right decision.”

“Once the water started coming up, then things just started to fall apart,” Dragon recalled.  He remembered it was nearly impossible to find and talk with his people as the flood rose in the city.  “You really felt like you were on an island with no means of communication.”

WHERE TO START: Clarence Romage, Allison Griffen and Kelly Shepherd in front of a branch / Photo: Property Management

WHERE TO START: Clarence Romage, Allison Griffen and Kelly Shepherd in front of a branch / Photo: Property Management

When the IMT (Incident Management Team) decided to abandon the center, it created new problems.  Because Dragon’s people were midway through a week’s processing cycle, it was imperative to make the move fast and get the backup tapes to Dallas.  Just making the backups was a big job.  “It takes hours,” Dragon recalled.

During the recovery, Dragon worked closely with his four departments, each of which had its own unique issues.  Among his team were:

  • Donald Barry, in charge of item processing. His group had the unenviable task of handling an avalanche of paper transactions from damaged branches and from branches overwhelmed by evacuees. They also had to deal with the failed U.S. Postal Service.
  • Chip Gremillion, in charge of corporate products administration, an area that does wire transfers and automated clearinghouse activity as well as commercial lockbox service. For a time, this became the central payment mechanism for the bank.
  • Martin Rezza, in charge of exceptions and return-item processing. His area saw an unusually high number of items that required special handling, because evacuees had to transact business without proper credentials or records.
  • Trina Jenkins, in charge of special processing, such as legal items. Her area had to try to keep up with legal requirements even when normal channels were down.


DARRELL DRAGON / Photo: Russ Hoadley

/ Photo: Russ Hoadley

Hibernia’s senior vice president (later executive vice president) of deposit services, Darrell Dragon oversaw critical back office operations.  He and his wife Sheri, and a daughter, 19, and son, 16, lived in Covington.

They planned to stay at home, but when they heard the storm was up to Category 5, they boarded up and went to Baton Rouge, where their son at LSU, had an apartment.  Then Dragon drove to Houston to his main recovery site.

His family returned home but, without electricity, made regular trips for about two weeks to Baton Rouge to do laundry and take showers.


The “item processing” area included receiving and posting deposits, processing checks for Hibernia and other banks, providing adequate cash for bank offices, creating check images and mailing statements.

During his Hibernia career, Donald Barry had worked in human resources and retail banking, but mostly in operations.  In item processing, he oversaw six interconnected functions with 250 employees.  His units provided “first day” back office service to the entire bank.  The managers who reported to him were:

  • Steve Price, regional operations and transportation.
  • Lee Nicosia, check processing.
  • Bobby Duhon, southeast Louisiana cash vault operations.
  • Paul Lungaro, southwest Louisiana cash vault operations.
  • Ray Duplessis, check imaging archive.
  • Karen Wick, statement rendering.
  • Donald Barry: ‘Getting back’


Words of praise

Pulling messy, damaged work from offices was unpleasant, but it welded together the people who did it.  In September 2005, Kelly Shepherd wrote this email to Steve Hebert:

You probably already know this, but I need to tell you myself how incredibly awesome your staff is.  They have been doing some awful work, in awful places, in awful conditions.  We could never thank them enough for all they are doing …  If I could write the check, this is what I would start with to thank them:

  • A monthlong cruise to somewhere tropical, but not quite as hot as it has been here
  • A year’s worth of dinners at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse
  • A season in the suite at Tiger Stadium, and
  • A truckful of their favorite beer

They deserve this and very much more.  They are not saying “no,” just like you asked them.  They just keep going, swinging the tools and breaking the vaults and hauling the coin …  Just wish I could find a way to say thanks besides sweaty hugs at the end of the day …”

* * *

Shepherd herself drew high praise from Judy Dawson, trade area manager for much of New Orleans.  “Kelly Shepherd deserves a crown.”


Some people in areas run by Price and Nicosia were staged to locations other than New Orleans before the storm.  They were to pick up their normal activities at those locations immediately, to keep the bank’s “back office” functioning.  Another team was expected to stay and “camp out” at the center, to keep certain systems running and to do any clean-up processing they could.  The bank provided lodging in nearby hotels, if they could get there.  If not, they had food, bedding and other necessities at the center.

No firm evacuation plan

Barry and his wife, Connie, a former Hibernia banker, have been married 18 years.  He laughed when he recalled that they had no personal evacuation plan, feeling relatively secure in Mandeville.  One thing was clear though: If they did evacuate, Barry had to take their two cherished terriers.  “My wife would have left me behind or gone somewhere else,” he chuckled.  They got accommodations in Houston and drove there Saturday night, arriving around 5:15 a.m., Sunday.  “I barely hit the pillow, and my phone rang.  It was Darrell.”  Dragon asked him if he had heard the news.  “No,” Barry replied.

“It’s a Category 5,” his boss said, “and it’s still coming right at us.  It’s going to be bad, and I want you to call any of your people in New Orleans and tell them they don’t have to stay.”  Barry thought, “Darrell Dragon is one tough cookie, but when he told me he was going, the signs all pointed to something real bad.”  He called his people.

Lee Nicosia, one of the longest-employed people at Hibernia – more than 45 years – did not want to abandon his post.  “You know I’m a company man through and through,” he said.  However, Barry underscored the enormity of the approaching storm.  Finally, Nicosia conceded, “I think I’m going to leave.”


DONALD BARRY / Photo: Russ Hoadley

/ Photo: Russ Hoadley

Donald Barry, 47,  senior vice president in charge of the item processing services group, was a Hibernia employee for 28 years.  He married a co-worker, Connie, 18 years ago.  Their Yorkie named “Mattie” and Westie named “Casper” were “just like kids.”

The Barrys lived in Mandeville.  At first, they did not plan to evacuate, or if they did, they thought of going to the Baton Rouge home of Connie’s parents.  When they decided they needed to go to Houston, they drove all night Saturday.

Barry returned to the city with one of his teams in early October to re-start operations at the Hibernia Center.  He had all of his department back by early December.


Houston operations

When Barry arrived at his temporary Houston operations center, it was a beehive.  The latest news was that the storm track was shifting slightly eastward and would not directly hit New Orleans.  He thought, “… maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as we thought it might have been.”

He heard the New Orleans center was running on generator power, and all systems were operating.  Nevertheless, Barry spent the rest of Monday coordinating efforts to re-direct to Houston all of the paper that normally went to New Orleans.  “Steve Price (in charge of transportation – armored cars, delivery trucks) is a tremendous pro and a guy who has been through these things on a number of occasions,” Barry noted.  Price and his wife, Sharon, a Hibernia trust employee, lost everything.  Their house and a prized automobile were in eastern New Orleans and drowned in eight feet of floodwater.

One night at the Houston hotel, where many of them were living there was a fire alarm.  When everyone evacuated, Barry searched for Price and his wife.  “She was sitting in her robe in the middle of the parking lot with three small suitcases around her, and she said, ‘I had to go back up because this is all we have … This is all we own’.”

“I am amazed at how they were able to deal with the challenges and stress … I still think about it today and am awfully proud that Steve is on my team.”

A hard job

Price had a hard job in Houston.  “We have hundreds of branches,” Barry noted.  The transactions in each branch, besides being logged into a computer, generate a paper record – a ticket – that must be processed and matched with what was entered into the computer.  The two must reconcile before the transaction is “processed.”  When one processing center closes down, the couriers who handle bags and bags of such “tickets” have to be re-routed to another center.  Records from many areas of Louisiana had to be driven in vans to Houston.

Cash needed

Cash – lots of it – was another of Barry’s responsibilities.  While he had to get transaction paperwork out of damaged locations, even more urgent, he had to get cash in to branches not affected by the storms.   They needed more cash than usual to handle the crush of business in cities like Shreveport, Alexandria, Lake Charles, Houston and Dallas.  This was largely the job of Bobby Duhon and Paul Lungaro, the cash vault managers.

Normally, the bank had enough cash on hand – distributed strategically throughout its system – to equal roughly one percent of assets, about $200 million.  That amount was not thought adequate in the storm’s aftermath, when “cash was king” for a while.  In areas where power and communications lines were knocked out, people could not use credit or debit cards.  They had to have cash.

“We added about $100 million in currency to our usual reserve as a result of the storm, and we staged it in a number of key locations,” Barry said.

TRICKLE OF MAIL: Normally there would be dozens of boxes / Photo: Russ Hoadley

TRICKLE OF MAIL: Normally there would be dozens of boxes / Photo: Russ Hoadley

Post Office

A major obstacle reared its head for Barry from a strange source — the U.S. Postal Service.  New Orleans mail was completely shut down by flood damage to the main Post Office on Loyola Avenue.  Barry tried to get all mail routed to Houston, but only a trickle of normal volume was coming in.  Mail was being held up somewhere, and even though the bank was a big client of the USPS in Louisiana, the company could never get a straight answer about what was wrong.

Mail constituted a major source of financial transactions that must be processed each day and night.  Cutting it off put the company in a terrible bind.  (See Chapter 18: Dead Post Office)

Getting staff

A further hurdle for Barry was getting adequate staff to Houston.  Typically, the jobs in his areas are entry-level ones, with higher-than-average turnover.  “In some cases, we lost 60% of the staff.  In proof,[1] for example, people just left and never came back.”

The staff that made it to Houston often had harrowing experiences evacuating.  “There were stories of some of our people who were rescued off rooftops and who ended up in the Superdome, then the (Houston) Astrodome, and then found where we were in Houston and came in,” Barry recalled.


Heartbreaking evacuation experiences

A parttime clerk, Agnes Daniels, who was hearing-impaired, lived in an apartment in eastern New Orleans.  Rescued from her rooftop, she eventually got to Houston.  “Imagine how horrific it must have been when you really can’t hear the people who are trying to help you and enduring the sight of bodies floating in the water,” Donald Barry said.  “That lady did survive and made it over there.  It was a wonderful story for her to end up doing that … but she was so devastated by the happenings in New Orleans, she told me right off the bat that she’d never go back.”


Barry also recalled the ordeal of Catherine Newman, who worked in check processing.  She was one of those designated to stay at the center to run some operations after the storm.  Monday night, when the hurricane seemed over, she walked from a nearby hotel to do the work.

Then when the city began to flood, she and her husband heeded the call to evacuate and prepared to go to Houston.  But by this time, their hotel had lost power.  They were on the 8th floor, with their two elderly dogs.  As they wrestled luggage down the stairwell, Catherine’s husband fell, breaking two bones in his forearm.  A nurse in the hotel formed a makeshift cardboard splint, but he was in excruciating pain.

As the couple drove away, their car stalled in the water on Loyola Avenue  They pushed it to the side, then waded down the block, struggling with their dogs and luggage to a nearby garage where they had parked their second car.  After reloading, they managed this time to make their way out.  However, the ordeal was taking its toll.  It proved too great for the frail dogs.  “They both died in the back seat,” Barry said.

“I just can’t imagine driving and having that happen – having your husband in pain and your pets die.  It’s just impossible to understand the level of hurt some people had to go through.”

When the Newmans arrived in Houston, Catherine’s husband required surgery to set the broken bones.  Catherine went to work.  In early December, the couple returned to New Orleans.  Fortunately, their Kenner home was not seriously damaged, and Barry understood they were beginning to look for new pets.


Charged with a task

“Everyone who came (to Houston) had the same attitude.  Nobody complained about having to work long hours.  It was as if we were charged with this task, and everybody understood the seriousness of the situation and just tried to do the best they could.

“The people who are the unsung heroes in my world are my Houston staff.  Those people had their world turned upside down in one day.  They used to process 15-20% of the bank’s volume, and all of a sudden they were now processing 65%.”  To do that, the local staff had to share space with those who came in, and they had to learn new techniques they had not used before.  “There is a kid over there by the name of Andy Hutchinson, a daytime supervisor, who worked hour after hour doing all kinds of things – ungodly hours.”

Coming home

As weeks rolled by, Barry’s focus turned back to New Orleans.  Many other departments could not return until he could get his “day one” services back.  He found it just as difficult to go back as it had been to regroup in Houston, but by early December, it was accomplished.

Not to say everything was normal.  His central money vault was still “homeless,” with Duhon’s department working out of Baton Rouge, using armored trucks to make the long roundtrips each day to carry cash.  This affected some commercial customers who brought in cash and coin by 2 p.m. and in normal times got same-day credit after the money was counted. With the drive to Baton Rouge, it could not be done until the next day.

Nor were proof operations and check operations back to normal, as they struggled with short staff.  In addition, the building’s first floor mailroom, with large-volume processing equipment, was damaged beyond repair.  A makeshift mailroom was set up in a conference room.

With smaller staffs, Barry’s people had to work longer hours.  “Monday nights are always the worst you can imagine.”  His goal used to be midnight to complete transaction processing from the day.  Now, if lucky, his people might get done by 2 a.m.

Occasionally, they simply have to cut off the work and release what has been done to the general ledger, so other processes could be completed in time for branches to open the next morning.  “You could have a situation where you have 20,000 pieces of paper left, and those could represent who knows how many deposits, but you can’t hold up that for the rest of a $20-billion corporation that has to be operational by the time the doors open.

“So, we still had a long way to go, but we were getting back,” he concluded.

Automated clearinghouse

An area which was pre-positioned and got running very quickly was the automated clearinghouse and wire transfer function managed by Chip Gremillion, 42, an 18-year employee.  With four direct reports and 150 employees, he also was in charge of bookkeeping, exception processing, lockbox operations and Bank Secrecy Act oversight.

Dragon had high praise:  “Chip has always done a great job.  His area was pre-positioned in Shreveport over the weekend, and they were up and running and ready to go … They never missed a beat.”

Gremillion assumed his staff in Shreveport would be able to keep up with the volume he expected after the storm. He assumed commercial clients would be closed for a few days.  “I hoped the volume would decline,” but just the opposite occurred.  “It went up two to three times.”

Volume through the roof

Both the volume and the type of transactions changed.  Before the storm, Gremillion’s people were in the habit of handling average wire transfers in the range of $250,000.  Their clients normally were large commercial customers – public agencies, oil and gas firms, utilities.  After Katrina, the average dropped to $250-$500.  Many hundreds of individual customers pleaded to wire small amounts because they had no other way to get money to loved ones.  “The volume just went through the roof.”

Eventually, Gremillion had to tell customers, “We could not handle a wire under a certain dollar amount.  They could go to Western Union or other companies that do a lower value.”

Company’s ‘paymaster’

Gremillion acquired another recovery role temporarily. The bank had to rely on him for some days to wire funds to vendors for emergency supplies.  Accounting  and accounts payable systems were among the 150 applications that were shut off, deemed less mission-critical in the recovery plan.  They would be turned on after banking systems were running again.  In other storms, a 2-3 day wait had never posed a problem, but in Katrina, that had all changed.

The company was contracting for millions of dollars of urgently needed recovery services, material and equipment.  During the disaster, suppliers demanded immediate payment.  The accounting department needed Gremillion’s help, and he temporarily became the “paymaster” for the whole bank.


CHIP GREMILLION / Photo: Russ Hoadley

CHIP GREMILLION / Photo: Russ Hoadley

Unlikely ‘paymaster’

Chip Gremillion, 42, had been with Hibernia 18 years, starting as a management associate.  He and his partner of 20 years, Joel Vanderlick, had a 14-month-old adopted daughter, Mary Claire, and a Golden Retriever named “Max.”  Although they usually did not evacuate, this time they set out for Alexandria.  En route, they were diverted to Meridian, MS, and only after eight hours did they finally make it to the home of his parents.

On Sunday, Gremillion drove to Shreveport.  About two weeks later, he was able to return to his damaged home where he found “knee-high green grass” growing in his basement.  He returned again 75 days later.  His biggest disappointment?  “I couldn’t be in Alexandria to have a birthday party for Mary Claire.”


Surprised by special demands

A planner at heart, Gremillion liked to be ready for anything.  “We get to practice for real sometimes two times a year (for a hurricane),” he reflected, “and I didn’t think we were inexperienced,” but he admitted there were things his group did not anticipate, especially these new duties.

They scrambled to make it work, but it wasn’t easy.  They had left important references in New Orleans – directories of banks around the U.S. with routing information needed to transmit wires, for example.

He needed more staff in Shreveport in a hurry, and he was able to call his people in, but he didn’t know where to put them.  His operations colleagues helped get computers set up, and Harold Turner, head of regional commercial banking in Shreveport, told him, “We’ll get whatever you need, whatever it takes.”

Gremillion was imbued with the idea that “We were sent here to save the bank.”  The supreme effort made by Fidelity and Hibernia people to restart the mainframe computer in Dallas was a perfect example.  “It took 40 hours – as a group – without sleep to get all the sequencing right,” he recalled.  He thought Debbie Bertuccini, John Nunez, Joanne Wilkins were heroes.  The cohesiveness and resilience of the people are what stood out to him.  “It did not surprise me that people who were expected to rise to the occasion, did.”Sent to ‘save the bank”

Inspired by others

In his own group, he was inspired by Rebecca Chauvin, manager of ACH, and Fran Owner, manager of wire transfer.  Chauvin, for example, crammed her 8-person staff around a single table in a small room where they operated from a single laptop.

Many vendors also pitched in, Gremillion said.  Belinda Hill and Cary Evans, both with Check Free, Hibernia’s wire transfer system vendor, went to Dallas to help with the ACH system transfer there, writing software for it on the spot.  The operation of Gremillion’s unit drew plaudits from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the bank’s primary regulator.

Lockbox staff shortage

In the lockbox area, Gremillion had a real staff shortage, as many as 60 “MIAs” out of 150.  The manager, Mike Liza, had a very difficult time.  First, there was the meltdown of the U.S. Postal ServiceAfter the storm, hundreds of commercial lockbox clients accustomed to daily inflows of mailed payments from their customers suddenly had none.  “There was a perception at first that we were sitting on the mail,” Gremillion recalled.  The fact is there was no mail.

He and his people had to fight to get a normal flow of business mail restarted and to set up procedures as it came in.

One of the frustrations was “knowing how well things ran pre-storm.  Everything was tweaked, lean, automated.  We could do things at the push of a button,” he said.  After the storm, “automation was out the window, and we had to rely on people who knew how to do it – who had history and could do the work in the pre-automation way – the old manual ways.”

More to the story

There were a myriad of other back-office issues.  The printing and mailing of statements was held up for a time.  Concern about fraud losses worried many.  There was a mountain of “exception” items – ones that were questionable – to be analyzed and processed.

Statement “rendering,” as it was called, involved organizing information for individual customer monthly accounts, then printing and mailing the paper statements.  The process occurs on a cycle that never ends.  The function was run by Karen Wick, who reported to Barry.  “Statement rendering is anything that prints out and needs to be put in an envelope, and she is responsible for it,” he explained.

The work entailed about 1.5 million pieces of mail every month, and this activity depended on computer applications and equipment, all at the Hibernia Center.  The bank did not consider statement rendering a mission-critical activity.  “The plan … was that we would wait about two weeks before we started mailing statements again, because these days so much is available online … No one envisioned what happened,” said Barry.


They just did what had to be done.


With the statement system out of commission and the New Orleans Post Office sidelined, Barry enlisted a company in Philadelphia.  Wick and Raymond Duplessis, head of the check archive, went there to coordinate the printing and mailing.  “Here are two people – both sustained flood damage to their homes in Metairie – who were so far away that they could not get home to look at any of their loss.  Raymond’s family was still in Montgomery.  Karen is a single mom.  They did not question going or complain.  They just did what had to be done,” Barry said.

The task turned out to be bigger than the vendor could handle, and the process bogged down despite the best efforts of Wick and Duplessis.  Barry realized he needed to get the work back to its New Orleans home.  “My people came back, when there wasn’t anything else going on in the building other than the bare essentials.  That group – about 6-8 people – were some of the first people back … They had practically no services whatsoever.”  The company managed to find a hotel nearby for lodging, but it was hard to find food and other necessities.

When they completed their work each day, they had to drive 200-300 trays of envelopes 85 miles to Baton Rouge to put in the mail.

Exceptions and reconciliations

If transaction items – checks, deposits, whatever – have problems, they are called “exceptions” and are kicked out for trouble-shooting by a department run by Martin Rezza, who reported to Gremillion.  Many things could create an exception.  “We all work in a control environment where everything has checkpoints, and unfortunately those checkpoints fell away because we did not have the resources to do them,” explained Darrell Dragon.  “Just trying to do the daily work was taking 16 hours, so some things were going unchecked, from the branch all the way to the back office during the month of September.”

Sometimes the problem was simply that a name, address or an amount was illegible.  Sometimes it was more serious.  But, with so many unusual transactions passing through offices, especially in Texas, the volume of exceptions quadrupled, Dragon recalled.

“There is a problem of running things too efficiently, in that you really lack adequate resources.  We quickly found that our people knew how to do their jobs if nothing changed around them, but if you started to throw nuances in the process, it became a huge issue … Now we are paying for that …”

Two days without the mainframe

The two days without a mainframe also created a huge number of exceptions.  “Let’s say a customer makes a cash deposit of $200.  The tellers are so rushed that they create a deposit ticket without the customer’s information, so when we get it we don’t know what customer it goes with.  We don’t know anything.  No account number, no nothing,” Dragon explained.  Consider also, what happens when a $200 deposit is entered as $2,000, a simple error normally caught in daily reconciling.  “No one knows unless the customer comes in and tells us, ‘I made a deposit of $200, but you gave me credit for $2,000’.”

“On the withdrawal side, we had another issue if we didn’t know whether the person had an account or not, but we said we would provide a minimum of $300.  So, they show us an ID and tell us what they think their account number is, and if they have filled out a withdrawal slip, hopefully it is legible.  If Hibernia has 10 customers by the same name, and an address is missing or illegible, where do we post that one?”

Dragon and other departments had 50-75 people working to clear up this tangle of snarled transactions – some 10,000 different items.  Eventually, after everything was checked, some transactions just could not be cleared and resulted in a loss write-off.  “That unfortunately was the cost of the business interruption that we sustained,” Dragon concluded.


That unfortunately was the cost of the business interruption that we sustained.


Up to the challenge

Despite the problems, Hibernia’s operational capability and capacity proved to be up to the un-paralleled tasks after the disaster.  Although sorely tested, the people responsible for the systems “hung tough” and got back to normalized service in relatively rapid order.  In November, when the IMT released a report on the recovery, it could recite a long list of accomplishments:

  • Mainframe. Totally recovered in Dallas by Sept. 3 and moved subsequently to a permanent, and more secure, home in Little Rock.
  • Applications. 86% of 150 second- and third-tier applications recovered by Sept. 16; 100% recovered by Oct. 19.
  • Work space. New workstations for more than 1,400 employees built and outfitted in record time in Shreveport, Dallas, Houston, Baton Rouge and other locations.
  • ATMs. Of 288 impacted, 226 recovered.
  • Branches. Of 155 affected, technology restored to all but 24.
  • Expenses. $3.7 million for Dallas data center; $2.9 million for equipment and set-up of displaced employees.


I felt proud to see people perform when their personal lives were so completely shattered.


More than numbers can show

The numbers hardly do justice to the effort.  The activities of the operational units overseen by Ron Samford did everything from getting weather forecasts and cleaning up broken glass to renting hundreds of hotel rooms; from restoring systems, getting mail out, and starting a new phone system, to buying huge quantities of new equipment and building out new operations areas.

“We couldn’t catch a break for a while,” noted Bart Bragg, “but seeing the attitude and the hard work and the ‘can-do’ attitude Hibernia people had through all this adversity … They were able to ‘bleed green’ … that made us real Hibernians.”

‘Feel really good’

Samford summed up it up.  “I feel really good about the quality of the effort I saw people making to keep the ship afloat.  I feel very good about our ability to make decisions.  I thought we did a great job of adapting to what was thrown at us – almost in a military style – as well as anybody could under the circumstances.  I also felt really good about our plans for system recovery and about the level of cooperation I saw from Capital One.”

“Mainly, I felt proud to see people perform when their personal lives were so completely shattered, and to see the level of support we all gave each other.”

[1] The proof department is an area where clerks encode checks, each sometimes processing more than a thousand an hour, so the checks can be run through sorting machines.

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