Use of a web portal for support and research after a disaster: opportunities and lessons learned

Background: In this report we describe the development and use of a web portal in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. This large scale disaster confronted many displaced people with death, despair and need for information and support. Awareness and insight in the emotional impact of disasters can provide pportunities for surveillance and early treatment. Moreover, online support systems can contribute to community building, empowerment of victims and resilience. Objective: We evaluate the development and use of a multilingual web portal that combined a platform for information, emotional support, self assessment and referral with search opportunities. The rapid development, use, advantages, difficulties and learning points are discussed. Methods: A multidisciplinary working group from the University Medical Centre Utrecht, the Major Incident Hospital and the Central Military Hospital developed a web portal for tsunami victims. The webportal combined: (1) a forum aimed at community building, (2) self assessment tools that in the same time function as a reseach survey, (3) e-consultation, and (4) an information portal. Results: Within 3 weeks after the tsunami, the working group launched an open, online service ( Tsunami Intrenational Survey on Emotional Impact) to foster community) support in the aftermath of the disaster. It combined four functionalities that were earlier previously only used separately. The portal had over 36.800 unique visitors in the first two years. At least 31% (144/464) percent of the Dutch surviving victims could be reached for a survey through the site. The TISEI-environment was available in 15 languages and visitors came from all over the world. Ninety-five percent of all visitors came from Europe or the United States. Subsequent to immediate disaster support, the web portal also served as a memorial archive for anniversary meetings and follow-up incentives. Difficulties we experienced were lack of funding, time pressure, victim-anonymisation, international collaboration and long term maintenance. Conclusions: A multilingual website with combined modalities for emotional care and research after a natural disaster proved feasible. Web based services like in the aftermath of mass disasters can help community building and deliver low level, patient centred and easily accessible information and care. A multilingual website with combined modalities for emotional care and research after a natural disaster proved feasible. Growing Internet penetration world wide and especially the rapid expansion and influence of online communities enables delivery of care and perform research with the internetInternet as a platform. The unpredictable nature of disaster does put time pressure on the development of online solutions and influenced the yield of our site. This highlights the necessity of developing methods and (inter) national collaborations in advance, secure funding, and learn from earlier initiatives.

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Geertruid M.H. Marres [et al.] | 2012
In: Interactive Journal of Medical Research = ISSN 1929-073X | 1 | 2 | e18- | [host]