Reliving the Crisis
Newkirk, Kristine M., Independent Banker
One community banker looks back with gratitude
On Saturday, April 19, 1997, 65,000 residents of Grand Forks, N.D., and its sister city, East Grand Forks on the Minnesota side of the Red River, were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses. Fleeing the rising floodwaters, local residents watched smoke rising as electrical fires burned down a dozen buildings in Grand Forks' historic downtown.
Amid the chaos, Community National Bank in Grand Forks miraculously escaped overland flooding, but it succumbed to something infinitely worse. A power outage throughout the city caused eight feet of raw sewage to back up into the bank's lower level main office, submerging $750 million dollars of computer equipment and 1,000 safe deposit boxes under offensive muck.
"For the first three weeks, every day you got up it just got worse," recalls Bill Lee, the bank's chairman, president and CEO.
By Sunday, April 20, the entire area was declared a disaster zone, and many of the bank's 70 employees fled the city for drier ground across the state. With no equipment, few employees available and no bank, Lee set in motion his bank's disaster recovery plan.
Previously untried, the plan worked like it should. By Sunday evening, the bank's contingency plan partner had processing equipment en route to Larimore, a city 30 miles outside of Grand Forks. By Wednesday, April 23, Community National Bank had opened a temporary office facility in a vacant building on Larimore's Main Street with a skeleton staff. When Lee returned to his bank in Grand Forks, the situation looked bleak. But the bank's employees refused to be demoralized, he says. Right away, they began the dirty work of salvaging safe deposit boxes and bank records, often putting in 18- to 20-hour work days. …