Friday, January 21, 2011

Delays with National Registration and Inquiry System

Delays are being reported with the National Registration and Inquiry System due to high demand with the floods in Queensland and Victoria. The system is provided by Emergency Management Australia and the Red Cross to help people find family and friends in a disaster. The system allows for registration and search for people via web forms:
Welcome to the National Registration and Inquiry System website.

We are experiencing some delays with NRIS due to high volume. Please be patient while we work to rectify this as soon as possible.

During an emergency, letting people know that you are safe and well can bring your loved ones great peace of mind.

This service is launched during emergency situations to help people reconnect with family and friends.

To get started, choose an emergency event from the drop-down box, then continue to register yourself and family members, or search for loved ones. ...
I noticed some difficulties with the design of the web interface which might be slowing the system down:
  1. Encryption of home page: The site Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) page for its home page. This may slow down response time as the page content has to be encrypted. There is no need to encrypt the home page as it contains no sensitive information. Encryption may also prevent the caching of page content. The home page should be changed from HTTPS to HTTP.
  2. Encryption of Images: The Australian and Red Cross logos on the top of each page use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).
    img src="../../images/EMA%20Logo.jpg" alt="Attorney Generals Department"...
    img src="../../images/RedCross_PowerOfHumanity.gif" alt="Red Cross" ...
    As with the home page, there is no need to encrypt these images.
  3. Not Selecting Emergency First: Registration and search facilities are provided separately for each emergency. Thus the user has to select which emergency (Queensland or Victoria) first and then if they want to register or search. However, the interface presents tabs for register and search prominently on the top of the screen before requesting the emergency further down. As a result it is likely many people will select register or search without having selected an emergency first and then either get no response or be presented with an error message. The interface should be changed to first ask the for the emergency and only then offer the choice of register or search.
  4. Use of ViewState: Microsoft ASP.NET "View State" is used to communicate information between the on screen form and the database application.
    input type="hidden" name="__VIEWSTATE" id="__VIEWSTATE" value="/wEPDwULLTEzODc3MD ...
    While this can be used to create sophisticated interfaces, it does add a considerable overhead. It is not needed for simple interfaces. As an example, all of the options in the search forms (such as the names of all the countries of the world and the list of all the forms of street name), are being duplicated in the ViewState field (encoded as a base64 string). This doubles the size of the search form file. View state should be disabled for these controls.
It is likely these problems are due to the interface the general public see being a cut down version of a more complex system used internally by emergency staff. But because many more people will use the public interface it needs to be optimised for efficiency.

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