An emergency communications plan should ensure that Church leaders can:
- Contact missionaries and members following a disaster.
- Determine the condition of and potential impact on members and their homes, missionaries, Church property, and the community.
- Report the status of missionaries, members, buildings, and other necessary information to the Area Seventy or Church headquarters.
- Coordinate Church relief efforts.
- Request needed response supplies and volunteer service.
This requires plans for communications methods that are not dependent on either the phone system or the power grid. Whatever mode of communication is used, the key to reporting conditions and requesting assistance is giving the disaster information to the Area Seventy or another Church representative who has a working telephone outside of the affected area and can relay the information to Church headquarters.
Priesthood leaders may call a welfare specialist to assist in identifying and analyzing the best mode(s) of communication and to provide emergency communications support in emergencies (see the Emergency Communications Specialist Guidelines). The specialist should have the knowledge and experience required to evaluate communication needs and recommend a practical solution to leaders.
As solutions are studied, consideration should be given to various communication needs leaders may have, which may require different modes of communication. These needs could include:
- Having personal, one-on-one communication.
- Distributing data, lists, photos, maps, and so on.
- Disseminating warnings, evacuation notices, and other information to leaders or members.
- Gathering information from government, media, and other information sources.
The effects of disasters often cause an overload in or shutdown of cell and landline phone systems; such incidents greatly limit service. If the phone systems are physically damaged, restoration of service can be delayed. Backup modes of communication should be able to survive the effects of the disaster and function well without normal power and without relying on standard cell and landline phone systems.
Backup communication modes to consider:
- Amateur radio is simple and flexible and does not depend on the phone systems. Amateur radio technology is widely used by public safety agencies for backup communication. Church member and community amateur radio resources can be identified, and relationships between Church members and other community members can be developed so that this mode of communication is available when needed. Some storehouses in the United States and Canada have amateur radio equipment and conduct regular network exercises.
- Internet-based communications (Skype, email, social media, and so on) often survive disasters and have often been the first source to provide information about seriously affected areas. Digital subscriber line (DSL) service is more likely to remain operational than wireless or cable Internet.
- Local, short-range communication services do not depend on the phone system. They are available for purchase in some retail locations, and are owned by many members. It may be valuable to identify members who already own one of these forms of communication.
- Family Radio Service (FRS)
- General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
- Multiple Use Radio Service (MURS)
- Citizens Band Radio Service (CB)
- Satellite phones are generally reliable and available at bishops’ storehouses. However, they are expensive to own and maintain and are prone to overload in large-scale disasters. Further, handheld models generally will not access the satellite from inside buildings or in heavy cloud cover.
Church headquarters can provide technical support or other assistance through the area welfare manager.
Although having alternate modes of communication is essential to an emergency response plan, wards and stakes should not purchase or accept donated satellite telephone or amateur radio equipment for use in an emergency or for installation in a meetinghouse. Leaders are encouraged to identify individuals who may already have their own equipment to assist with specific ward and stake communication needs. No permanent installation of equipment, including antennas, is to be made in any Church meetinghouse. Exceptions must be approved by the Meetinghouse Standard Plan Committee.
Priesthood leaders may utilize resources outside of the Church organization to assist in emergency communications planning as appropriate. A leader may also choose to call a member of the Mercury Amateur Radio Association (MARA) or another amateur radio organization to serve as a ward or stake communications specialist under priesthood direction. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no formal relationship with any amateur radio organizations or clubs, but it may be useful to access the training and experience of Church members who belong to these organizations during an emergency. As a reminder, amateur radio clubs or associations, including MARA, may not use Church meetinghouses to hold association meetings or other club events, as this use could be interpreted as a form of remuneration and could possibly be a violation of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations.