In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, BellSouth Corp. won kudos for its nimble response to the crisis. Along with distributing supplies, the phone company arranged with local banks to have stacks of small bills on hand to distribute to employees, who were facing their own liquidity problems. Now, as companies brace for the upcoming hurricane season, Bank of America has introduced a suite of prepaid cards to assist corporate treasuries and government entities address the need for quick cash during emergencies. The new BofA emergency relief Visa cards are available in three product configurations. Two are designed for distribution to employees and victims of disaster for everyday purchases, with a set amount of money that cannot be added to. One also can be programmed for use at ATMs.

The third offering, however, is unique: Designed to be part of a corporate business continuity plan, this final card would be issued before a disaster and kept in a secure place, explains John Gruce, senior vice president of prepaid card products for Bank of America. In the case of an emergency, companies would go to a secure Web site and initiate a transaction that loads monetary value onto the cards instantly. These cards are then disseminated to disaster victims. The cards also can be "re-loaded" with additional funds, as needed.

What happens in the event the client can't access the Internet? Every couple of weeks, clients send BofA a file with card numbers and an associated value to be loaded on those cards in case of a disaster. "If Internet access is not available, the client can call our service center and instruct us to take the last file sent and load the value," says Gruce. "We do that, and they then can get the cards out to whomever they're planning to give them to." In addition, BofA conducts a mock emergency drill once a year with companies. The reality, notes Gruce, is that the cards most likely will never be needed. But he adds: "These cards are an insurance policy on your business continuity plan."

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