Wednesday, September 07, 2005

FEMA Can't Seem to Get Anything Right

As the the flood waters from Hurricane Katrina recede, the number of voices that have criticized the FEMA for its rescue efforts in the hurricane's wake have approached untold millions. People all over the world are weighing in on the government agency's ridiculously slow response to Katrina's devastation, and the entire fiasco represents yet another blemish on the Bush Administration's less than stellar record. Between turning much-needed aid workers away from the region, to waiting days before mass evacuations began, FEMA definitely has a lot of 'splainin to do.

And the criticism and complaints continue to mount. Today, it was revealed that FEMA's emergency response websites are not Mac or Linux compatible meaning that emergency workers who are not running Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6 cannot use the aid website that FEMA has established. While this might not mean much on the surface at first, the fact is that many aid workers use either Linux distributions or donated computers that are running an OS that is older than XP. In order to gain access to the site, aid workers have to tap into already stretched funds in order to buy OS licenses from Microsoft.

Sigh. Just another crappy reminder of how bureaucratic our government really is.


Blogger Freebird said...

It's downright criminal what they did to those people.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Any Windows OS including 98, not just XP, will work as long as IE6 is on the computer. In fact, you could even use Linux with IE6 running under Wine. Many Linux users would know how to do that. I don't know if there is a comparable program under OS X.

Plus, it may be possible to spoof the user-agent setting of Mozilla to make it appear as IE to the site. Sometimes programmers get lazy and just forbid any browser that isn't IE even though the others would work.

Other OS's only represent about 4% of all OSs sold in the US but Macs are real popular with students so it should have been forseen.

Despite possible workarounds, it's still bad programming practice. The thing that is odd about it is they choose JSP for their error message. If they're using JSP (Java), it is supposed to be universal.

I don't know if I'd blame FEMA for that, though ultimately they are responsible. They probably paid a contractor to do it. With Government contracts, if you don't specify it, they don't do it. Since most people don't use the other browsers, whoever did the specifying probably didn't even think about the possibility of another browser. A good programming shop should have alerted them to the possibility but we'll never know. It wouldn't come out under acceptance testing unless someone tested it with a Mac/Linux machine.

It is possible to register via phone and a 1-800 number, an option that is presented on the site just before the online registration form.

12:52 PM  
Blogger djkibblesnbits said...

There are plenty of programs available on OS X that mimic IE6, such as the Opera browser, which includes the IE6 profile. But, why should people have to resort to such measures in the first place? I agree that FEMA probably did contact the website work to someone else, but, come on, why should any government website run only on one operating system, especially considering that the government is moving away from the Wintel environment? They should have definitely been more careful about who they contracted that work to.

Not to mention that it's actually easier to make a website that conforms to open-standards instead of to just IE6...that's just plain stupidity on the contractor's part. You hit the nail on the head with the JSP thing.

I'm happy to see that I have a computer-savvy reader on my hands. Yay! :-)

2:56 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Yeah it sucks that you have to do work-arounds but when you're not the big dog and the big-dog is real big, you either do it their way or you get left out.

Actually, I don't believe government is moving away from Wintel. That's the odd part in light of the monopoly action brought about by the US government. The Navy and Marine corps are actually more geared to it than they were 5 years ago with their NMCI effort (Navy & Marine Corps Internet), moving away from the more expensive Sun systems in favor of Wintel platforms. NMCI mandates Wintel platforms for everyday use.

Plus, government mandates that purchase contracts have to be provided to the lowest bidder; an advantage which Wintel has over Mac & Sun. We fight this all the time when purchasing hardware even down to the component level (e.g. "Why do you need this video card when this one is $20 cheaper?").

As for ease of programming, it's always easier to program exclusively for one browser than to do a cross platform build because until they all agree, you're forced stick to very basic code (which isn't very flashy) or you do a check for each type of browser and write code for that browser. Things are getting better now but in the early days of web programming, it was pretty convuluted. Try doing anything fancy in CSS that's cross platform. You'll quickly find it isn't easier than just programming for IE.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Wireman said...

I've been trying to wait to write about the hurricane and have been doing some research through google to see what resources were/are out there to prevent this in the future.

"Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy."

10:02 PM  

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