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Monday, 29 October 2007 03:15

River Pours Through the Levee

Written by  Patti Fitzgerald, CDRP
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On the morning of July 30, 1993, at approximately 7:00 a.m., employees of the Chesterfield Bank were getting ready to go into work as usual. Little did they know this wasn’t going to be a typical Friday at the bank. Bank officials had already been contacted by the Chesterfield authorities that a potential for a disaster existed.

Chesterfield Bank is approximately 18 miles west of St. Louis, and is nestled in a 500 year flood plain along the Missouri River known as the Chesterfield Valley. The Valley is protected by the Monarch Levee.

Chesterfield authorities were requesting a voluntary evacuation of the some 500 Businesses and countless residents of Chesterfield Valley. Judging by the rate the flood waters were inching up the Monarch levee, there was concern that flood waters would run over the levee and flood the Valley by nightfall. If this did happen, the maximum flood waters expected would be 3-4 feet. At this point officials were only recommending an evacuation. Those who elected to stay were urged to sandbag and install water pumps in their facility to handle the ensuing water.

But, Chesterfield Bank were not taking any chances. That same morning, the President of the Bank of Chesterfield had a meeting with all bank employees and put the flood contingency plan in motion. The flood contingency plan identified key personnel and their respective responsibilities in the event of an evacuation.

Carol J. Clayman, Executive Vice President, and spokesperson for the Bank of Chesterfield stated "we had already identified two potential locations as alternate facilities just in case we had to evacuate." Clayman continued to explain, "once the space was secured, we started sandbagging, and began moving out working files. We didn’t move out the furniture, we just stacked things on top of desks and credenzas. After all, we were only expecting possibly two to three feet of water."

Regardless of the amount of water the bank would take on, Federal Banking regulations required that the bank be open for business Saturday morning. This is where the problem begins. Since the bank had to be open for business on Saturday, do they risk entering into a lease at an alternate facility or do they take their chances and assume the bank would not flood? Either way, they were required to be open for "business as usual" on Saturday morning. All PCs and teller terminals were left in the building just in case the bank didn’t flood. Also, as a precaution, two cash drawers were left at the bank for business as usual on Saturday.

"As the activation of the contingency plan got underway," Ms. Clayman continued, "The response we got from employees and their families, Bank Directors, and even customers were wonderful! Everyone pitched in and helped sandbag, move files and stack furniture. We did not have to search for trucks, like several other businesses, we had an overwhelming response from everyone."

By midday, the main artery into the valley was congested with Uhauls, semis, vans and pickups. Some of the estimated 500 employers scrambled to get their equipment and vital records out before the flood waters came. Each one was hastily subleasing office building space where ever they could find it.

Fortunately for Chesterfield Bank, First Nations Bank of Missouri had recently vacated a banking facility approximately five miles from the Chesterfield Valley facility. They were able to move into the facility and begin recovering the banks critical functions late Friday afternoon (July 30).


On July 30 at 10:17 p.m. the surging Missouri River muscled its way through the Monarch Levee. A wall of flood waters spilled through a 100 foot section of the gaping rupture, filling the Chesterfield Valley with thousands of gallons of flood waters. Authorities closed both directions of Highway 40 at 12:50 a.m. Saturday, July 31. In addition to the businesses affected, the Spirit of St. Louis Airport, and thecounty's Adult Correctional Institution were deluged with the murky flood water. By dawn the valley was completely flooded with over eight feet of water and debris. Truck trailers floated like toys in a bathtub.


Chesterfield officials said Sunday (August 1) that the “situation in the Valley continues to be extremely dangerous, with strong currents, and chemicals in the water.” The valley officials barred owners and occupants of businesses from the flooded Valley, saying its necessary for safety and security reasons. The Chesterfield Police Department announced it would move to the county emergency operations center.

Chesterfield Mayor, Jack Leonard, issued an executive order barring anyone but emergency and authorized personnel in the flood zone. Some business owners traveled into the flood zone by canoes, and johnboats. The U.S. Coast Guard and St. Louis County Park Rangers immediately escorted the violators to dry land.

By 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning the Bank of Chesterfield was open for business at their new location. With the help of South County Bank, Chesterfield Bank employees were able to mail out thousands of letters to all bank customers letting them know where they had moved. South County Bank offered their postage meter to Chesterfield Bank in an effort to help out. "Every Bank in the area offered their support during our time of need. Mark Twain Bank offered their safe keeping for Chesterfield's collateral at no charge. Boatmens and Commerce Banks also offered their services. It was great to know that networking through local service clubs really pays off in a crisis." declared Ms. Clayman.

If it weren't for the employee support and the fact that the check processing and statement preparation is outsourced to a service bureau, Chesterfield Bank might not have had such a smooth transition. Fortunately, the service bureau is not in a flood plain, and had no potential for flooding.

Even companies lucky enough to have flood insurance will still be crippled by the interruption in work, and some will never recover. Several businesses were able to take advantage of a government program, that allowed them to move into free or low-cost lease space on the campus of McDonnell Douglas as well as other locations. Even with the temporary office space, flooded companies will need small business loans to aid in their recovery.

It seems you can not ever be too prepared for disasters. Of course, you need to expect the unexpected. These and other case studies are ones that we'll refer to again and again as we are preparing our own contingency plans.

Patti Fitzgerald, CDRP, is the Adverting Editor and Conference Coordinator for the Disaster Recovery Journal.

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