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A contingency plan and quick action helped a Connecticut bank branch reopen a week after a fire destroyed its building.
"The specific request (from corporate executives) was let's not skip a beat in terms of customer service," said Dorothea Brennan, risk manager and senior vp of Bridgeport, Conn.-based People's Bank. "We will have this done by the end of the week."
With the help of its property insurer and employees of its Bethel branch, People's Bank did just that.
On a Friday night in August 1996, an electrical fire caused by a severe thunderstorm burned everything in the bank, leaving only the building's structure, which was located in a strip mall. By the next Saturday, eight days later, a bank-albeit temporary-complete with a safe, a teller counter, security cameras, fire alarms, computer systems, an automated teller machine and even a handicapped-accessible restroom, was in operation.
The process of restoring operations cranked into gear quickly. Ms. Brennan had numbers to reach all necessary employees, the insurer and other service providers over the weekend. Branch staff met the day after the fire to decide how to proceed.
On Sunday, the manager of facilities and environmental services sought out space for rent. Officials settled on a vacant former hair salon and signed a lease by Tuesday. Conversion of the hair salon began that day, bank officials said. Rather than bid out the work, bank managers chose contractors familiar with the bank to speed renovation.
The purchasing manager began ordering replacements for lost supplies Monday morning. By Friday morning, more than 1,000 items were in place.
"We do contingency planning, and we work with our vendors to be prepared in a case such as his," Ms. Brennan said. "We were at the site as soon as it was released by the fire marshal at 9 a.m. Monday." Because of the Labor Day weekend, however, the bank reopened Tuesday, Sept. 2.
"Until the place across the street was ready, we had picnic tables set up right outside the bank," said Judi Ogrinc, branch manager of the Bethel bank. Bank tellers braved the late August heat, with armed guards available "around the clock," until the exposed safe deposit boxes, which were not damaged in the fire, were moved to a more secure location, she said.
People's Bank's insurer, Waltham, Mass.-based Arkwright Mutual Insurance Co., covered the cost-after the deductible-of replacing equipment, furnishings and supplies, which was about $500,000, said Laurie Fisher, a customer service executive in Arkwright's Norwalk, Conn., office.
People's Bank, which has 110 branches nationwide and assets of $7.8 billion, has been insured by Arkwright for 10 years and had no other substantial claims before the fire.
Because the building space in the strip mall was leased to People's Bank, Arkwright was not responsible for structural damages, which were handled by the landlord's insurer, Travelers/Aetna Property Casualty Group of Hartford, Conn. The building sustained smoke and some structural damage, and the combined damages, Ms. Brennan said, were "in the moderate six figures." Travelers would not comment on the claim.
People's Bank rents the space in the mall from Steven Hoffman of Hoffman Brothers in Stamford, Conn.
While the building does not have a sprinkler system, "Arkwright looks at the entire risk of the bank," said Ms. Fisher. "The bank doesn't own all of their facilities, and we recognize that. The bulk of the properties are HPR quality."
People's Bank was in its temporary quarters until May, when renovation of the former location was completed.
"The bank is FDIC-insured," said Ms. Ogrinc. "But that has to do with customers losing money. No money, nothing in the safe deposit boxes, was ever destroyed. Everything was in fireproof vaults."
Most of the damage occurred to a room that housed the ATM. But, a thunderstorm the day before the fire had caused a power outage, so there were few transactions the rest of the day. Six ATM deposits were lost to the fire, but these were recovered because the ATM records account numbers of each transaction, the bank said.