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Can your bank withstand a natural disaster?

Q: In light of hurricane Katrina, I wonder if bank accounts insured by the FDIC are truly safe. If a bank is destroyed in a natural disaster and an account holder has no personal records, what recourse does that person have?
V.S., Seattle

A: Banks prepare for such emergencies, says John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association.

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By law, every bank in the United States has a disaster-recovery plan, Mr. Law says. Bank files are backed-up routinely and housed in off-site locations, often hundreds of miles away. Banks also have backup facilities in place should their normal locations become inoperable.

Federal regulators such as the FDIC, Federal Reserve, and Comptroller of the Currency regularly examine banks, credit unions, and thrifts to make sure they have detailed - and tested - disaster-recovery procedures and business resumption plans.

If there's a weak link here, it may be with safe-deposit boxes. Banks have no idea what clients store in them, and if the bank is flooded or the safe-deposit box vault somehow gets crushed (a long shot, though not impossible), it's not the bank's responsibility to replace what they didn't know about in the first place.

So if you have valuables in a safe-deposit box, check with your insurance agent to make sure they are covered.