FEMA to Katrina Survivors: Use IE or Tough Luck
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FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is shutting out survivors of Hurricane Katrina who don’t use Internet Explorer (IE). Those Katrina survivors needing to request assistance from FEMA and who use Firefox, Opera, Netscape, or any non-Windows system are, as they say, SOL. Apparently when it comes to relief aid, MSFT is the mark of the chosen.

Those trying to register for aid with a non IE browser or with a non Windows machine get this message on their screen: “In order to use this site, you must have JavaScript Enabled and Internet Explorer version 6. Download it from Microsoft or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to register.”


Now, it’s completely understandable that you may already have your website optimized for a particular browser (well, maybe not completely, but hey, we know that it happens), and that you may not want to make wholesale changes to a website upon which tens if not hundreds of thousands of people in extreme need may be relying to apply for aid. But to completely close out a large group of users – a minority to be sure, but a substantial minority – many of whom have already lost everything they have, and who are relying on your agency for relief in the face of a monumental disaster, to say to them “I’m sorry, we don’t support your browser because we choose to build our site to only work with this other browser … yes yes, we know that your browser is standards compliant, and more secure, but we choose not to support it,” well that’s just unconscionable.

And wrong.

Exactly how long would it take for them to either fix the site to work with a wider variety of browsers, or to put up an alternate set of pages for those not using IE?

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Actually, judging by the time it took them to respond to Hurricane Katrina itself, don’t answer that.

No Paywall Here!
The Internet Patrol is and always has been free. We don't hide our articles behind a paywall, or restrict the number of articles you can read in a month if you don't give us money. That said, it does cost us money to run the site, so if something you read here was helpful or useful, won't you consider donating something to help keep the Internet Patrol free?
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2 thoughts on “FEMA to Katrina Survivors: Use IE or Tough Luck
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  1. I agree with Spencer — this is a direct violation of Section 508.

    Also… I used a Firefox extension (User Agent Switcher, to make it appear that my Firefox browser was IE… and it seemed to work just fine. Bad FEMA, bad.

  2. I notice that most people write that a website “supports” a particular browser. Even though this is commonly used language, it hides the simple fact that websites do not “support” some browsers and not others–websites like FEMA’s are accessible to all browsers unless they purposefully block other browsers. To use language like “supports” a browser makes it seem that the site must be rewritten over and over again (at great timne and expense, of course) in order to “support” other commonly used browsers. All browsers will display properly written web pages.

    What FEMA did was to make a decision to purposefully block browsers other than IE. Someone at FEMA made the decision to prevent all other browsers other than IE from accessing the page, and then went to the extra trouble to add a browser sniffer to the page.

    And they did it in clear and arrogant violation of federal law, which requires all federal government web sites to be Section 508 compliant–accessible to all browsers, operating systems, and internet connections.

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