Defra's online response to bird flu outbreak

Saturday morning probably isn’t the time you’d choose to announce a major bird flu outbreak, with a full two days before offices are fully staffed again. Mind you, it could have been much worse: like, say, six weeks ago. A national turkey crisis in the week before Christmas… can you imagine?

I have to say, Defra have done a decent job in splashing their homepage with bird flu links. ‘H5N1 avian influenza (Asian strain) in poultry, Suffolk’ doesn’t perhaps include the magic words ‘bird flu’, but the H5N1 reference is clear enough, and it’s right at the top of the page’s body area, so you aren’t going to miss it. It’s especially good to see a single page describing the ‘latest situation‘, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that gets prominent front-page promo space on Monday.

Search-wise, Defra’s bird flu homepage currently appears at slot #6 on Google results for ‘bird flu’, behind a few BBC pages and something from Health. Not a bad showing, really.

But perhaps the most encouraging aspect of all this is the extent to which they’ve clearly been planning ahead. Not only do we have lots of background information, but there’s an interactive map application which (by the look of it) has been sitting ready-to-go. A shame, then, that it’s a mapping tool from the era before Google Maps. Navigation is awkward, and it’s a full page-refresh every time you pan or zoom. A hint of Ajax technology would be relatively easy to implement, and would be much more user-friendly.

And it’s a bit of a pity that we’ve got nothing from David Miliband (yet) on the ministerial blog. The recent trend seems to have been to use the blog merely as a ‘have you seen?’ bulletin board, with few posts going beyond a few sentences. So I’m a bit surprised there isn’t at least a one-line pointer to that ‘latest situation’ page; but maybe it’s a conscious decision to keep ministers (and indeed Defra generally) out of the spotlight.