After 2 dorms were destroyed by a tornado and its website went down, Union University relies on a blog and its Facebook page for its online emergency communications

February 6th, 2008 Karine Joly 5 Comments

By now, you’ve probably heard (or seen on TV or on the Web) what happened last night at Union University in Jackson, TN.

As reported by Ashley Anthony of The Jackson Sun in “Union University tornado damage update”, 2 dormitories were destroyed in Tuesday night’s tornado, 51 students were taken to the hospital and 9 stayed overnight.

But, this emergency situation also made another casualty: the university website.

As far as I can tell, the website was down all this morning — until 12:30PM ET.

Since an error page including an online form showed up at that time, I guess it wasn’t due to power failure, but more probably to a surge in web traffic (although I could be wrong on this and will update you as soon as I hear back from the communication office at Union University).

This didn’t prevent the communication team to do its job and keep the campus community as well as parents and alums updated about the situation in Jackson, TN.

At 1:12AM (local time, I presumed), a first post including updates was posted on the UUEmergency blog set up at

This blog was accessible via a special web address:, an address mentioned in the Jackson Sun article:

People interested in university updates should visit, until Union University’s Web site is working.

“As soon as we can get the Web site back up, we will use that to communicate with parents, volunteers, whoever,” Mark Khahler, communications director, said.

Several updates were posted on this blog as well as a slideshow of photos from campus. And, the blog also allowed parents, friends and alums to ask questions or offer help by posting comments.

Union University also shared updates, photos as well as videos on its official Facebook page.

All this was done as the website was down. So, kudos go to the web/communication team at Union University.

The only thing (besides not having the website go down) I would have done differently is get my IT folks redirect traffic to when the campus servers were down, which would have automatically provided updates to the people checking the homepage. I might be wrong, but I think blogspot – i.e. Google – servers could have handled the surge in traffic

What do you think?

5 Responses

  1. Kyle says:

    This is a great breaking information. The folks at Union definitely will be in my prayers!

    Thanks for keeping us updated.

  2. nourisha says:

    I thought this was a great and informative posts. It brings yet another dimension to the emergency communication strategy discussion. We rely heavily on technology but when technology isn’t available, are we prepared to respond. Quick thinking on their part. One question for the site admin: why are the blog post urls so long? I hate copying them because they go on forever.

  3. Mark says:

    Have you been watching Louisiana Technical College’s coverage of the shooting today?

    – Shooting happened around 8:30am
    – First update listed at was timestamped 10:04am (but no details of injured/dead)
    – By 3:50pm, the list of updates was moved from homepage to the News & Media area.

    Also – notice all the smiling faces!

  4. Karine Joly says:

    Yes, Mark. I’ve noticed.

    The fact that the information was handled at the level of the state community college system might explain some of this approach.

  5. […] After 2 dorms were destroyed by a tornado and its website went down, Union University relies on a bl… […]

Got a question or comment?