Strong Angel III – What have we learnt of using web browsers from Katrina?

FEMA got a fair amount of well deserved flak for its use of web based technology that was only compatible with Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Although evacuees, rescuers and others seeking to provide assistance in the aftermath of the devastating storm and flooding have relied heavily on computers and the Internet to search for loved ones and information, the exclusion of other Web browsers for FEMA claims — including Apple’s (Nasdaq: AAPL) Latest News about Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox and others — has again prompted criticism of the government and FEMA, which has already been blasted for its delayed response to the disaster.

Excerpt from TechNewsWorld article.

Strong Angel III demonstrated a incredibly information rich that aggregated GIS data today, available here. Unfortunately, just as in Katrina, the solution only works for Microsoft Internet Explorer.

This is what it looks like on Firefox on a Mac.

This is what it looks like on Safari on a Mac, which is even worse than Firefox.

Design wise, looking through the website a fellow participant from Internews and I both observed that there was too much of white space on the top of the website, taking away from space that should have gone into the display of information on the map – which after all is the most important aspect of this website.

One other issue plagues this website – it doesn’t degrade gracefully on slow internet connections. SA III wired and wireless access has, to date, been very slow – and the website is highly unstable on slow connection – sometimes taking over 2 minutes to load, sometimes loading partially, sometimes just not loading at all.

As it stands at the time of writing, this website is a text book example of how not to design GIS solutions for the web as part of humanitarian responses. I submitted some of these observations to those who had made the website and left them with the following ideas & suggestions:

1. Speak to the Operations Command, ascertain the most critical information, have JPGs in a size that made them easy to print on A4’s, and have a list of them that could be downloaded from the site (with full meta data) – so as to enable even those with a dialup connection access the maps.

2. The need to have a script that automatically identified the browser / OS and changed the stylesheet of the webpage accordingly – so as to enable the proper display of information across browsers and platforms.

3. As noted above, the need to show more information on the map instead of white space.

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