Australian emergency services sites aren't up to scratch

Web monitoring site puts the boot into emergency services Web sites

A Dutch Web site performance monitor today released a report claiming that only one Australian emergency service Web site performed in line with industry standards for errors, availability and performance.

WatchMouse monitored 26 of Australia's emergency services Web sites over a one month period from 25 January to 26 February, testing the availability, load time and speed of the sites every five minutes.

The company says its ranking system is based on industry standards, where a 'good' rating represents a site's uptime at 99.9 per cent.

A ranking of 'OK' is given to a site with uptime between 99.89 per cent and 99.01 per cent, and 'poor' if it is less than 99 per cent.

Only one site, the ACT Emergency Services Agency, was found to have 'good' uptime at 99.91 per cent, or 40 minutes of downtime per month. The vast majority fell in the 'OK' category of between one to six-and-a half hours of downtime per month.

The worst performing site was St John's Ambulance Western Australia, which WatchMouse claimed to have 56 hours of downtime during the one month test period. The next poorest performers were the South Australian Police and the NSW Ambulance Web sites, both with more than eight hours of downtime over the test period.

A representative from St John's Ambulance WA told Computerworld that they were aware of the problems the site was having during February and are busy resolving the issue. He said that while it is important for St John's WA to achieve better availability and user satisfaction ratings for the site, it must be noted that the site is not directly related to any of their emergency service functions.

WatchMouse CTO Mark Pors said that while 99 per cent uptime sounds efficient, it equates to more than 80 hours of downtime a year - or one working day per month.

"The emergency services phone lines could not be down for a day each month so why is it acceptable for the site?" Pors asked.

"Mackay represents a small proportion (approximately 4 per cent) of Queensland's total population but given that the sites of QLD emergency services struggled during the [recent] Mackay floods, we can only imagine what will happen to those sites in the case of a disaster on a greater scale, when hundreds of thousands of people attempt to visit," he said.

A spokesperson for the NSW Ambulance service said a representative from a Web site monitoring company had recently contacted NSW Ambulance Service offering to boost their site's performance, but was unable to confirm whether or not it was WatchMouse.

The Australian Government Information Management Office referred Computerworld's enquiries regarding WatchMouse's study to individual State Governments.

Computerworld contacted the NSW government, and was referred by the NSW Department of Commerce and Government Chief Information office to the administrators of the individual emergency service web sites.

The NSW Ambulance service referred Computerworld to the NSW department of Health, which said it was currently updating its guidelines for Web standards but was unable to provide or comment on specific details.

The South Australian Police force and the Victorian Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board said they had forwarded Computerworld's queries to the relevant departments, but were yet to respond at the time of publishing.

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Andrew Hendry

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