Planning underway for next phase of WHISPers development
Why this matters: Following the philosophy of One Health, the health of wildlife, domestic animals, humans, and the ecosystems they reside in are inextricably linked. Information about disease in wildlife is therefore important not just for wildlife but for the health of all. While the current WHISPers focuses on wildlife disease information, we are now exploring a more robust national wildlife disease database that can help inform action at the ecosystem level and advance One Health.
Background on WHISPers
WHISPers, the Wildlife Health Information Sharing Partnership - event reporting system, is a partner-driven, web-based repository for sharing basic information about historic and ongoing wildlife mortality (death) and/or morbidity (illness) events. The information, including county-level locations, onset and ending dates, species affected, and diagnosis has been generously shared with the USGS National Wildlife Health Center over four decades by hundreds of state, federal, and tribal natural resource managers and stakeholders across the U.S. and beyond. The primary goal of the system is to provide natural resource management partners and the public with timely, accurate information on where wildlife disease events are occurring or have occurred for better situational awareness, preparation, and decision making. WHISPers is also the online portal to request diagnostic and epidemiologic assistance from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center.
Future WHISPers development efforts
In 2021, Congress provided funding to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 “... to address wildlife disease outbreaks ...” and specifically called for the development of a “national wildlife disease database.” Subsequently, FWS has worked with the U.S. Geological Survey and its National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) to further WHISPers development.
The next phase of development will advance the current goals of providing a centralized repository for agency provided and laboratory verified wildlife health information that is national in scope and species and disease agnostic and will be split into two primary efforts.
The first will be a short-term effort to address usability of the existing platform based on feedback gathered over the past few years from current users, as well as development of a mobile pilot application targeting in-field use. With the assistance of a usability specialist and a front-end developer, we are developing user personas, user testing scripts, and prioritizing feedback to inform application redesigns and workflows. This effort is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2023.
The second, long-term effort will focus on expanded functionality, including capturing targeted surveillance information, improved data tools and output, establishing data porting capabilities for API (Application Programming Interface)-driven data sharing, and building out a complete mobile ready application.
We are currently engaged in scoping activities with the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) and additional key federal and tribal stakeholders to gather and better understand the information and business needs and concerns of the wildlife health community. This feedback will be critical in defining and informing the next phase of development.
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