Emergency Web Page Design for Local Government

A short introduction to Emergency Web Page Design for Local Government Agencies. This may also be of use for state and federal government agencies designing web pages for use in information the community of how to prepare for an emergency, such as a natural disaster, how to obtain assistance during an emergency and recovery operations afterwards. By Tom Worthington.


An emergency is a situation which poses an immediate risk to life, health, property or environment. ...

From Emergency, Wikipedia, 18:44, 30 May 2007

Emergency management (or disaster management) is the discipline dealing of with and avoiding risks.[1] It is a discipline that involves preparing, supporting, and rebuilding society when natural or human-made disasters occur. ...

From Emergency management, Wikipedia, 17:33, 5 June 2007.

Government agencies have a major role in emergency preparations and disaster management. However, it should be kept in mind that non-government agencies also have a role to play, particularly in recovery.

The Internet and the World Wide Web can be used to help prepare for an emergency, during an emergency and recovery operations afterwards. While loss of telecommunications and power supply may limit Internet access in a disaster, it can be used beforehand and afterwards. The Internet and web can also be used outside the disaster zone for coordination and can be used in the zone with low bandwidth and mobile devices.

The major problem with the use of the Internet and web for emergencies is not a lack of power or communications, but a lack of preparation. Systems need to be prepared in advance of a disaster, so they are ready when needed.

Phases in Emergency Management

Adapted from Phases and personal activities, Emergency management, Wikipedia, 17:33, 5 June 2007.


Mitigation efforts attempt to prevent hazards from developing into disasters altogether, or to reduce the effects of disasters when they occur. The mitigation phase differs from the other phases because it focuses on long-term measures for reducing or eliminating risk. ...


In the preparedness phase, emergency managers develop plans of action for when the disaster strikes. Common preparedness measures include: the


The response phase includes the mobilization of the necessary emergency services and first responders in the disaster area. This is likely to include a first wave of core emergency services, such as firefighters, police and ambulance crews. They may be supported by a number of secondary emergency services, such as specialist rescue teams.

In addition volunteers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the local Red Cross branch or St. John Ambulance may provide immediate practical assistance, from first aid provision to providing tea and coffee. A well rehearsed emergency plan developed as part of the preparedness phase enables efficient coordination of rescue efforts.[4] Emergency plan rehearsal is essential to achieve optimal output with limited resources. In the response phase, medical assets will be used in accordance with the appropriate triage of the affected victims. ...


The aim of the recovery phase is to restore the affected area to its previous state. It differs from the response phase in its focus; recovery efforts are concerned with issues and decisions that must be made after immediate needs are addressed.[1] Recovery efforts are primarily concerned with actions that involve rebuilding destroyed property, re-employment, and the repair of other essential infrastructure.[1].

From Phases and personal activities, Emergency management, Wikipedia, 17:33, 5 June 2007.

Emergency Organisations

While there are numerous government and non-government organisations (NGOs) involved in emergency planning, it should be kept in mind that in a disaster most aid is provided informally by the community, family and friends. One use for the Internet is to aid coordination of those informal methods of aid.


Australia has the federal government agency Emergency Management Australia (EMA) as the key federal coordinating and advisory body for emergency management. Each state has their own State Emergency Service. There are arrangements in place for state and federal cooperation.

From Australia, Emergency management, Wikipedia, 04:08, 9 June 2007.


Red Cross/Red Crescent

National Red Cross/Red Crescent societies often have pivotal roles in responding to emergencies. Additionally, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC, or "The Federation") may deploy assessment teams to the affected country. They speacilise in the recovery component of the emergency management framework.

United Nations

Within the United Nations system responsibility for emergency response rests with the Resident Coordinator within the affected country. However, in practice international response will be coordinated, if requested by the affected country's government, by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), by deploying a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team.

From International, Emergency management, Wikipedia, 04:08, 9 June 2007.

Emergency Web Sites

AusDIN is a federally provided portal for national emergency materials. It is intended for emergency professionals, not the general public. It covers topics such as: Alerts and Warnings, Critical infrastructure, Disasters and Emergencies, Education and Training, Emergency Management, Emergency Response Services, Spatial Information and Mapping, Terrorism, Volunteers, and Weather.

Emergency Management Australia provide training and research services at the national level, but in most cases the State Emergency Service coordinates operational matters in an emergency. Each SES has a web site with details of current emergencies. In addition, some state governments provide web pages detailing some emergency information, particularly for security related matters, such as terrorism.

Emergency Links

Emergency Links from Government Home Pages
Government Link
New South Wales Emergency Services
QueenslandLaw and safety
South AustraliaEmergency & Legal Services
Northern TerritoryEmergency Services
VictoriaEmergencies & Safety
Western AustraliaPolice & Emergency
Australian Capital TerritoryEmergency services

All levels of Australian government should have a link labeled "Emergency" on their home page, which takes the general public to one web page which provides information about what to do in an emergency, how to prepare and what current emergencies may be in progress. This site could also provide links to the details of administrative structure of the emergency services, but this should be a secondary function and not confuse the reader with detail.

Most Australian state governments have a link for emergencies on their web home page. Unfortunately most do not link to a clear page of emergency information for the general public, but instead to a confusing list of state agencies, administrative structures and separate emergency pages for different types of emergencies. The ACT Government is an exception, with a specific page: ACT Emergency Information. The Queensland has no link labelled "Emergency" on its home page, using "Law and safety" instead. The WA government has two links mentioning "emergency", neither of which has the State Emergency Service referenced. The Tasmania Government has no emergency link, instead requiring the reader to navigate through three level of menus to the SES.

Emergency Page Layout

Typical web page layout
Header: logo

Org-Name Emergency Information

Menu items
  1. Item
  2. Item
  3. Item

What to do

The State Emergency Service ...

Preparing for ...

Latest News ...

Emergency agencies ...

Emergency Contacts

  • Police, Fire, Ambulance: 000
  • State Emergency Service (SES) ...
  • Org-name Customer Service Centre ...
Footer: copyright and legal notices.

A typical layout for a web page is to divide the page into a header, body and footer area and then divided the body further into a number of columns. For an emergency page, the header should have the logo of the organisation and the name of the organisation followed by "Emergency Information" or similar. The most prominent area of the page should display contact telephone numbers for emergency services. Another section should supply background information about phases of emergency management: Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery. The non emergency contact details should also be provided, so the public can avoid overloading the emergency lines. There should be an area of the page for displaying, or linking to information about a current emergency.

The emergency page should be a permanent part of the organisation web site design. Waiting until there is an emergency to put up the page is not an effective strategy. The page needs to be in place in advance so as to help with mitigation and preparedness. Staff may not be able to update the web page quickly enough during the response phase of a disaster and web search engines may not be able to index it so that the public can find it. Recovery operations may allow additional pages to be placed on the web site.

Many people do not need immediate emergency help, but want reassurance, want to know what is going on or want to offer help. Having web links allows people to find out answers to routine questions without having to tie up the emergency phone lines by calling.

Test Web Pages

  1. W3C Markup Validation Service for HTML and CSS
  2. Net Mechanic tests for load time, standards and spelling
  3. Accessibility for the Disabled Tests: WebXACT and TAW

An emergency web page needs to be about to download quickly on the widest possible range of equipment and software. The content needs to be easily readable by persons in a hurry and under stress. Widely used web standards should be used, along with techniques for accessible web design. Web pages can be checked using automated tools. As well as assisting with web pages for conventional PCs, this will help pages operate on hand held devices with wireless links on emergency deployment. For more on this see the course "Writing for the web".

Emergency Web Example

Web system developed for the December 2004 Asian Tsunami:

Sahana is a Free and Open Source Disaster Management system. It is a web based collaboration tool that addresses the common coordination problems during a disaster from finding missing people, managing aid, managing volunteers, tracking camps effectively between Government groups, the civil society (NGOs) and the victims themselves.

From Sahana , The Sahana Group, 2005

Sahana is an application developed in response to the December 2004 Asian Tsunami. Sahana is an example of free open source emergency management software which can be downloaded from the Internet and used in emergency relief operations. See "E-government for emergencies".

Optimising Sahana after the Tsunami

Sahana home page

Sahana on desktop PC

  1. Removing extraneous code, such as Javascript,
  2. Removing formatting to external style sheets,
  3. Replacing table based layout with CSS,
  4. Optimising images, and
  5. Adding extra CSS for hand held devices.

Version 1 of Sahana was created shortly after the December 2004 Asian Tsunami to meet an urgent need for coordinating relief operations. The software was then further developed as a general purpose system. The web interface of the system was modified to improve its efficiency, portability and accessibility. The HTML of the web page was automatically cleaned up with utilities such as Tidy. The layout of the home page was to a non-table design using Cascading Style Sheets. The World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were used to help ensure an efficient design. The design was checked with tools, such as Bobby.

Download Improvement

Sahana home page

Sahana on Smartphone

Sahana Home Page Size (kbytes)
File Existing Size New Size Mobile Option
HTML 5.63 1.99 1.99
default css 3.20 2.38 2.38
images 40.49 11.88 1.35
Total 49.32 16.25 5.72
Reduction - 67% 88%

Tidying the HTML and CSS halved the file sizes. However, as is usual with web pages, images make up most of the data downloaded (83% in this case) and so optimizing these greatly reduced data requirements.

Live Demonstration of Disaster Management System

Demonstration of Sahana:

  1. Desktop interface
  2. Mobile interface (via Google Mobile)

A demonstration version of the Shana Disaster Management System is available on-line. The appearance of the system on a smartphone or other handheld device can be approximated by using the Google Mobile service.

More Information

Slides for these notes are also available.

Copyright Tom Worthington © 9 June 2007 Tom Worthington

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