Group modifies preparedness Web site after DHS complains
Alternate site created by intern looked too much like the original, leaving the potential for confusion, lawyer argued.
In response to a request from the Homeland Security Department, the Federation of American Scientists has made its version of the government's emergency preparedness Web site slightly less identical to the original.
An intern at the organization spent her summer developing an alternate version of the government site -- one which the federation said contained more useful information and corrected deficiencies found in the Homeland Security site. She also wrote a lengthy critique of the DHS site.
The work did not go unnoticed by the media, appearing in the Washington Post and elsewhere. Then came the letter from the government.
The new site infringed on the department's intellectual property, according to a DHS lawyer. The sites just look too similar, the government claimed.
"This will cause substantial confusion to the public and, in our estimation, already has confused the public given the press coverage of your Web site," the lawyer wrote.
The main bones of contention were the color scheme, the check-mark logo and the wording on ReallyReady.org, all of which originally approximated the government's Web site. Homeland Security asked that they stop using the designs.
"We changed the color of the checkmark and put a box around it so it clearly looked different," said federation biology policy director Michael Stebbins, author of the organization's response to the government.
The federation rejected Homeland Security's complaint -- "We do not believe there is anything novel in the use of a green checkmark over the word ready," Stebbins wrote in a response to the agency -- but slightly changed the site's design anyway.
"We didn't want bad blood between us and the Department of Homeland Security," Stebbins said. Still, he called the government's response to the site "somewhat petty."
"I don't think anyone was confused about the site as the department has claimed," Stebbins said.
Intern Emily Hesaltine's analysis of Ready.gov - which is available on ReallyReady.org - criticized the government site for containing incorrect and incomplete information, generic advice and overly lengthy explanations.
Hesaltine also noted the lack at the time of information available for people with disabilities or special needs. There are only 21 lines of emergency preparedness advice aimed at the disabled, she wrote, the same amount devoted to preparing one's pet for an emergency.
The goal of the project was to spur Homeland Security to improve its Web site, which was launched in 2003, Stebbins wrote in his response to the agency.
Since the federation launched its site in early August, at least two changes have apparently been made to government site. Ready.gov has added two new sections, one for people with disabilities and one for older Americans.
"We believe this is excellent," Stebbins said. "This is clear and bullet-pointed unlike the other information on the site."