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Q&A: How the Bank of Hawaii is Responding to COVID-19

Nearly, if not all, industries have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. From everyday tasks to maintaining a business’s larger functions and services, security leaders are helping their organizations manage impacts of the virus.

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To find out more about how the coronavirus has impacted business continuity, and how different security professionals are dealing with its effects, Security Management connected with Brian Ishikawa, CPP, senior vice president and director of corporate security for the Bank of Hawaii Corporation. The bank is the largest independent financial institution in Hawaii, with roughly 70 branches throughout the region. Ishikawa is responsible for the overall physical protection of the bank’s assets, managing fraud investigation activities, and overseeing business continuity. 

The following discussion has been lightly edited for clarity.

SM: As a business based in Hawaii, how is your risk profile different from other organizations?

Ishikawa: First off, Hawaii is the furthest U.S. state to the west and the closest to Asia. The Honolulu International Airport is a major hub of international travel. Secondly, Hawaii’s major industry is tourism, with a vast amount of tourists originating from China, South Korea, and Japan—all locations where COVID-19 was very active at its initial start. Third, Hawaii’s “Aloha spirit” embodies physical contact with hugs, handshakes, and “Shaka” signs (the only one not involving touch). Fourth, unlike other U.S. states, Hawaii has major cruise ships docking at various docks on each of the major islands—Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, and Kauai—thereby increasing the opportunity for a virus to present itself. Lastly, Hawaii was threatened in several other previous viral incidents with the bird flu and SARS, that also originated out of Asia.

SM: What level of exposure are you currently operating at?

Ishikawa: As of March 15, [when this interview took place] Hawaii had seven confirmed cases. But the fear is that the protocols to test folks without symptoms were significantly delayed, thereby causing folks to think that there must be other infected parties in our community.

SM: What impacts has COVID-19 had on your bank and its employees so far?

Ishikawa: There has been a wide spectrum of impact relative to employee response. Some have taken it very seriously and planned accordingly, ensuring remote working capabilities and fulfilment of food supplies at home. Meanwhile, a minority have been slower to respond accordingly.

SM: What are some preventative or educational measures your organization is taking? And what are some methods the Bank of Hawaii is recommending for dealing with customers?

Ishikawa: Given Hawaii’s threat of hurricanes and even lava flows, we have invested a lot in a strong business continuity program. We were lucky to already have a very robust pandemic plan that we recently exercised company-wide. Our plan already recommended social distancing with remote work capabilities, and we also recently upped our VPN capabilities to enable this; an increased level of janitorial antibacterial cleaning schedule, along with the purchase and deployment of extra cleaning supplies; and educational pieces on good hygiene, including hand washing, coughing etiquette, social distancing, etc.

We closed the dining areas in our cafeterias located in two major facilities and made them “take-out” only. We have established plans to enact if our staff level significantly decreases or if the government requires a more drastic quarantine, reducing our operating hours and locations. We strategically increased our ATM fund levels, increased the cash held within specific regional branches, and pushed our clients and community to adopt digital banking capabilities to be prepared for online banking if a full quarantine is enacted.

SM: Is the bank currently involved in or seeking public partnerships with organizations like the Hawaii Department of Health?

Ishikawa: Yes, we have already been involved in Hawaii FIRST, a financial institution critical infrastructure cooperative which also involves our state’s banking commissioner. We are also an active participant in the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HIEMA) daily virtual teleconferences with our governor, local mayors, state and local emergency personnel, Hawaii’s Department of Health, and other critical infrastructure entities. Fortunately, banks are considered critical infrastructure, thereby allowing me to participate and hear firsthand about incidents and intelligence prior to news media obtaining it.

SM: Are there any other national or international resources that are proving useful in keeping staff informed and protected?

Ishikawa: Due to Hawaii’s isolation, we are mostly reliant on local and national resources and are not relying on international resources.

SM: What protocols or response plan does the bank have in place in case an employee tests positive?

Ishikawa: We have prepared SWAT-type, quick-response janitorial teams to temporarily close the location and sanitize the location thoroughly prior to allowing staff to reenter and use the facility. We have also deployed a significant supply of hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, Clorox wipes, masks, and gloves. We have also pushed more than 80 percent of back office staff to work remotely from home.

SM: How were these responses developed?

Ishikawa: A good majority of our responses were created more than five years ago when we updated our pandemic plan. Given that banks are considered critical infrastructure, we are also under U.S. federal regulation to have a pandemic plan.

SM: Has your current response matched your preexisting business continuity plans, or have you had to adjust responses?

Ishikawa: Yes, we just made some adjustments as to the triggers that will move us to our next level of response.

SM: What lessons has your organization learned so far – either from the current pandemic or previous epidemics or health crises?

Ishikawa: That in addition to actual positive cases, there are other important factors that may trigger a necessary response to increase a level of response. When the governors of several states closed public schools, this created a childcare vacuum that resulted in many staff across the United States staying home to watch their children. Another lesson was the positive reinforcement we obtained from our early adoption of improved digitalization, whereby more staff can truly work from home or in remote locations.  

SM: How are you planning to ensure the bank and its clients’ assets remain protected if employees begin to work remotely? Are you working with internal departments, third-parties, both?

Ishikawa: In the event that our normal operations, such as armored cars, become threatened, we have engaged a special contract with a service provider to render a limited specialized security response. As we fear that our uniformed guard service providers will be challenged with personnel staffing, we have also established contingent strategies to reduce physical guards and increase virtual surveillance patrols.

For additional resources and news on COVID-19, please visit our ASIS Disease Outbreak Security Resources page.