In a major emergency, such as a pandemic, all that the authorities can provide to the community is advice. There are not sufficient resources to provide each individual with material assistance. It is therefore important that useful advice is provided. The web would be a useful way to provide such advice, if we could to learn to use it effectively.
The Australian Government has provided some useful information online, but the formatting and arrangement of that information could be improved. Better use could be made of the web to distribute and present information. The PDF versions of information brochures could be replaced with easier to read web pages. Simple animations which demonstrate techniques such as hand washing could be created. These could be displayed on web pages and also be suitable for use on smart phones, iPods and on digital signage in schools, offices and workplaces.
The Australian Government home page provides a link for "Swine Flu Outbreak" as the second feature, after the Economic Stimulus Plan. This appears to be an appropriate level of priority. Unfortunately the link is to a web page with the vague title of "Heath Emergency" and subtitle of "H1N1 09 Outbreaks" <http://www.healthemergency.gov.au/>. Many readers are likely to stop at this point, think they are in the wrong place. The page should have a title like that of the home page "Swine Flu Outbreak".
The web address for the page is generic, referring to "Heath Emergency", however there appears to be no provision for more than one health emergency, nor of distinguishing between them. There is also no provision for government information on other forms of emergencies. The Australian Government should establish a web address for emergencies and include health under that.
The information on the "Heath Emergency" page is not intended for the general public and is not suitable for them. The page is intended for health professionals, school administrators and business people. The page lists information for individuals and households last in a menu of seven items. It is unlikely that many people will even notice this menu item. This should be changed to put the information for individuals on top of the home page.
The "Individuals and households" has a menu at the top which lists "Personal protective equipment" as he first item. However, this is not the most important way to combat flu, which is good personal hygiene, and so should be the first item. Many people will click on "Personal protective equipment" and thus miss the first section "Protecting yourself and others".
The web address for the page contains upper and lower case text. It works with all lower case text. The mixed case will cause confusion and should be replaced. The web address is too long and should be made one third the current length.
The page has been formatted to omit the left menu when printed and prints well. The bottom of the page contains details of where to get further information. However, there is no link to state and territory health departments. There should be a link to the corresponding health department pages.
The web page failed a TAW automated web accessibility test, TAW 3.0 (6/8/09 12:51 AM) Validation conform to WAI guidelines, W3C Recommendation 5 May: 1999. There was one Priority one problem, 12 priority two and 1 priority three problems. There is a ALT text tag missing from one image on the page, which should be added. It would also be useful to offer audio and video versions of the information and in other languages.
The page scored 79/100 with the W3C mobileOK Checker, which is a good result.
The page is 53KB, with 34KB for the images. The text of the page is 16 kbytes, indicating that there is not an excessive amount of formatting used. However, the page might usefully be split into two smaller pages.
The image providing advice on hand washing is relevant and useful but should be optimised for online use.
The image is a 24 kbyte GIF file. It contains text which makes the image file unnecessarily larger and is not accessible by those using assistive technology. The image contains 203 colours, which is more than needed for a simple line drawing. If reduced to 8 colors, the image size decreases to 6 kbytes. Consideration could be given to reducing the complexity of the images, making them simple pictograms.
The web page lacks keywords, description and other metadata in the HEAD. This should be added and the irrelevant "powered by IBM Lotus Workplace Web Content Management(r) 2.0" removed.
The web page failed validation, due to the missing "ALT" on an image.
The validation also noted that:
"The character encoding specified in the HTTP header (utf-8) is different from the value in the <meta> element (iso-8859-1). I will use the value from the HTTP header (utf-8) for this validation. "The missing ALT should be added and the character set mismatch corrected. Consideration should be given for using a later version of HTML than HTML 4.01 Transitional, for the document.
The web page contains a link to flu posters and information brochures. However, most of these are not relevant for individuals and could cause confusion and panic, with mention of protective gloves, gowns and respirators. The items on this page should be reordered to place those relevant to the general public, such as how to wash and dry hands, first and the ones for professionals lower down.
To assist the community, I had the Australian National University COMP2410 students undertake their web design assignment on a swine flu advice web site for Australia. That experience is now available, if needed.
An RSS feed for changes to the Heath Emergency pages would be helpful too.
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