Here's an idea I just want to put out there so it's on the radar...
For a while last year I was doing double duty as ward website administrator and the ward emergency response communications specialist. During that time I couldn't help but think that ward websites have great potential for use in emergency communication. There are some small glitches that keep it from being practical at the moment. Email broadcast is a bit clunky. Some emergency contact information is not listed in the directory that could be helpful - IM, cell phones, work phones, out-of-state contacts, etc. All-channel email communication is not possible as far as I know (where everyone in a group is allowed to email everyone else in a specific group). Only certain file types can be stored and shared. It is hard for us to post our ward URL to other groups and agencies in the community. We could use a database of what resources exist in the ward and who has what types of talents and training. We have a zone based pattern in our ward so that members can communicate with each other on walkie talkies and check on each other until the priesthood structure of home teaching is available. We need good mapping or mashups for this. There is no short URL like "lds.org/YOURCITY" that hooks you into the various ward websites corresponding to that city. We have multiple wards, stakes, regions that overlap our city so it is difficult for us to connect with each other inside the church in order to put a common face forward to the city, but with the right web functionality it could bring us together for that.
There is no convenient wiki or blog functionality that would let individual members securely post information on the fly to the ward website. The current system seems to require approval from site administrator before any content ends up on the site, which creates a central point of failure and a chokepoint for the information flow during an emergency. If we had more open information channels but yet inside of a secure environment available to church members it might also allow information to flow more freely out of the disaster area and into church HQ in a standard manner that would give better information to priesthood leaders. In many scenarios, Internet is often available before phone service is restored since it can withstand the peak traffic loads better. I have anecdotally heard that after Hurricane Katrina it was hard for some affected ward members to find out where other ward members relocated to, but if people have email addresses and web accounts set up ahead of time it isn't so hard to reconnect since those are unlikely to change based on geographical location.
Until something changes, we're stuck between a rock and a hard place. With no access to the code or the servers that are running our ward websites, we can't add functionality like this to our existing site. And of course it's not in the program to have everyone creating a cacophony of ward websites that are all isolated from each other. I see the wisdom in the current direction. I acknowledge this software engineering problem we are facing is a tough nut to crack. But it's worth cracking. This could save lives and allow priesthood leaders to do more ministering and less administering after a crisis hits.
All of the suggestions I've listed above are technically possible. It would be great to have a team of experts in the church developing emergency communications features for our ward websites, allowing wards everywhere to benefit from them.
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