With a third of avalanche deaths in the United States occurring in Colorado, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) was created in 1973 to provide snow forecasts and data to promote avalanche public safety. CAIC is managed in partnership with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation, and the Friends of the CAIC to provide avalanche information, education, and promote research for the protection of life, property, and the enhancement of the state’s economy. To fulfill this mission, the CAIC uses web-based and mobile applications to promote avalanche safety information. When the original site became outdated, CAIC sought to not only update the website design and content management system, but provide data to users in a more accessible and intuitive way that would contribute to greater awareness of dangerous snow conditions.
GovWebworks was selected through a competitive bid to update the content management system and make the content more accessible. Our team met with CAIC during discovery to assess the needs and interests of the user community and recommend a Drupal implementation as the best CMS for a custom design and the required back-end integrations. Working with other contractors for the UX/UI design and the implementation of the AvIDfx PostgreSQL database with the front-end applications, we collaborated to adapt the design files to a functioning, accessible, mobile, and user-friendly CMS that included the desired database integrations. To ensure accessibility, we advised on optimizing content with semantic markup and alt text and descriptions. We also installed a contextually-aware search engine to guide users to the right content, and employed language translation tools. Our UX team then conducted usability testing to ensure full compatibility and a full-featured browsing experience.
Based on the homepage designs from the design vendor, the avalanche forecast map for Colorado’s mountain areas is now the focal point of the new site. The map still uses the original polygons for danger areas, but we added slidable trays that contain multiple types of information such as graphs, text, and images in order to reveal as much or as little data as the user needs to see. Building on the universal color guidelines and established icons for the danger-scale coloring system established by avalanche reporting agencies, we added additional accessibility features including a color-coded icon that provides a prominent signal for the level of danger in a particular area. Furthermore, when a polygon area on the map is selected, the unselected polygons dim and the new slidable tray extends from the right hand side with a higher tier of information. We also added focus states that allow for users with keyboard assistive technology to easily scroll through the areas on the map, and a border around the selected item to make sure the user can easily see where they are on the page. To differentiate between the levels of information, we used tiers, with most basic information at the top layer and the more in-depth information in the layers below. The new public safety information portal meets CAIC’s goal of providing the most accurate avalanche forecasts in an accessible and usable format that makes layers of vital avalanche safety information available to all.
Read more on our blog about Putting Snow Safety First.