WHISPers Overview

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Detailed Description

The “WHISPers Overview” narrated PowerPoint is an introduction to the features and benefits of the Wildlife Health Information Sharing Partnership-event reporting system (WHISPers), a platform for State, Federal, and Tribal natural resource agency partners to share wildlife health information with each other and the public. Note: All images used in this video were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic and before social distancing and mask wearing became recommended practices.
 

Details

Date Taken:

Length: 00:23:58

Location Taken: Madison, WI, US

Video Credits

Abby Ward, Jenny Chipault, Bryan Richards, and the NWHC 2.2 Partner Action Team and Friends Group contributed to the video.

 

Images used in this presentation:

  1. Wildlife Health Information Sharing Partnership-event reporting system (All screenshots, slides 2, 11 -13, 19, 20, 22-25, )
  2. Slide 3 photo: Black footed ferret & prairie dog
  3. Slide 4 photo: Fish
  4. Slides 5, 11, 15, 18: Background image
    • Yellowstone wetland, https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wetlands.htm
    • Credit: Yellowstone National Park website. Photo caption “Wetlands provide essential habitat for Yellowstone’s rare plants, thermal species, reptiles and amphibians, and for numerous insects, birds and fish. NPS”
  5. Slide 6 Five photos: WHISPers screenshot, bear, deer, snow geese, salamander.

Bear

Deer

Snow geese

California Tiger Salamander

  1. Slide 7 Two newspaper screenshots:

Eagle

  • https://www.centralmaine.com/2015/08/25/eagle-tangles-in-waterville-wires-electrocuted/
  • Credit: Central Maine news source. Photo caption. “Central Maine Power employee Don Higgins pulls the body of an American bald eagle off the wires of a utility pole on Allen Street in Waterville after it landed on the pole and was electrocuted on Tuesday. The bird was in the wires for several hours until CMP turned off the power after 5 p.m. to disentangle the bird. Staff photo by David Leaming”

Rabbit

  1. Slide 8 photos: Bat and field work
    • Photo credit USGS National Wildlife Health Center employee Kimberli Miller
    • Field investigation Vermont, New York.
  2. Slide 9 Two maps and field work image:

Background map

Inset map

Field work

  1. Slide 20 Laboratory image
    • USGS National Wildlife Health Center staff photo
    • Credit: USGS National Wildlife Health Center photo collection
  2. Slide 21 Field work
    • Photo credit USGS National Wildlife Health Center Kimberli Miller
    • Field investigation New York.
  3. Slide 22 Field work

 

Transcript

Welcome to an overview of WHISPers, the Wildlife Health Information Sharing Partnership- event reporting system. WHISPers is a collaborative platform developed by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center for sharing information and visualizing where diseases are occurring in wildlife. WHISPers was designed to see information from multiple sources in one location. It provides better understanding of real-time and historical context for disease events. WHISPers data entry solves several collaboration issues that can occur in responding to a disease die-off.

 

Reports of sick and dead wildlife are received by wildlife professionals in State, Federal, and Tribal natural resource management offices across the country. WHISPers provides an online space for documenting and mapping these reports for easy viewing and searching. Collectively, these reports provide the wildlife health community with a much better understanding of what is currently happening on the landscape.

 

So first and foremost, WHISPers is a secure, no cost, real-time, data management tool that allows authorized system users to enter information about sick and dead wildlife. In addition, WHISPers can provide a historical perspective of wildlife disease through a searchable database containing decades of previously documented wildlife events.

 

Whether you are the black-footed ferret or the prairie dog in this picture, situational awareness is crucial. It is important to know what is happening around you to make informed decisions. That is the whole point of the WHISPers platform. It was designed by wildlife health professionals for wildlife professionals to have a place to share wildlife disease outbreak information with each other and preserve that information for future use. We are asking partners to participate by adding information to WHISPers. In turn, what you get out of WHISPers is a better understanding of wildlife health risks to inform your management decisions.

 

WHISPers is built around partnerships- it’s in the name. Just as there are many varieties of fish in the ocean, there are multiple agencies and organizations involved with wildlife, so it is important to understand who can participate in WHISPers and how. WHISPers is for wildlife professionals. Although anyone, including the general public, can view basic information in WHISPers, only State, Federal, and Tribal agencies with wildlife management authority can enter data, access detailed information, and use WHISPers’ advanced features. Other organizations can participate to a more limited extent. All users that want to enter or access private detailed information must register on the site and be granted permission. WHISPers has built-in layers of security so you control who can see your data. WHISPers is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of partners and data access needs.

 

It is important to know that in WHISPers, an event is defined as one or more sick or dead animals that are clustered in time and space. If it is important to you and your agency, it can be entered in WHISPers. That’s called “creating an event” and doing that, generates a dot on the map.

 

As a natural resource management professional, you may be involved in managing multiple wildlife species across multiple habitats. So, whether you work with birds, amphibians, or mammals, WHISPers is flexible and can accommodate information on a wide variety of species and diseases.

 

The magnitude and distribution of wildlife events can vary greatly, as seen in these two headlines, one, reporting a single eagle electrocuted by a powerline, the other, reporting a rabbit disease affecting multiple rabbits in multiple locations across a state. WHISPers is flexible enough to handle all kinds of event scenarios.

 

Actively responding to reports of sick and dead wildlife, such as this bat clinging to an icicle, often involves visiting the site to learn more about what is happening, collecting carcasses for diagnostic testing, and taking steps, when possible, to reduce further losses. Sometimes managing a wildlife mortality event involves the collaborative efforts of multiple people and agencies, as seen here with staff from different organizations entering a cave during a white-nose syndrome field investigation. WHISPers was designed for storing field observations and sharing this information with collaborating partners.

 

You are probably thinking – we already have our own way to track this information, I already know what is happening around me, why do I need another place to put information? Each organization may have their own data system and that is what can make sharing information so challenging. The background map shows the individual states, each with their own Natural Resources agency and own way of storing their data. The inset map shows states grouped in Department of Interior regions. Often agencies work together on shared disease concerns.

 

While you may know what is happening in your immediate area, it is harder to know what is happening in other agencies or in neighboring states or regions. Often, the field information organizations collect may be stored in notebooks, databases, spreadsheets or other platforms, that for IT security reasons are not accessible outside of the organization. As a result, the only way to share information with others may be by email, or conversations. It can be hard to keep track of these bits of information and it can be a challenge to keep everyone updated. WHISPers is a communal space, so that within an event you can collaborate with people in other offices and agencies, with each person contributing information into the shared space. WHISPers makes it easy to share information and find it again later.

 

In WHISPers you have ready access to over 8,000 current and historical events. This information has been shared by many State, Federal, and Tribal organizations with the USGS National Wildlife Health Center over multiple decades. The Center used to release this information in quarterly reports but has now made these data available to search and download from the WHISPers website. Think of it as crowdsourced wildlife health intelligence. This historical information is helpful because it helps provide context for events occurring today.

 

WHISPers is easy to search – for example, you can query the data by disease, species, location, event size or dates and the results will display on the map. If you want to work with the data, it is easy to download it to a spreadsheet and if you prefer a report to share or print you can generate one for a single event or multiple events.

 

With WHISPers, partner organizations and agencies can enter events and manage event information and invite others to add information to an event. The notifications feature automatically sends alerts on events or specific topics of your choice. You decide what and how you receive the information. Submission requests to the National Wildlife Health Center’s diagnostic lab will now flow through WHISPers. Once an event is entered, the Center’s assistance can be requested anytime with a couple of clicks.

 

By populating the situational awareness map in WHISPers, the entire wildlife community benefits from better understanding of where wildlife diseases are occurring on the landscape.

 

Behind the “dot on the map”, WHISPers event records contain a wealth of information including species affected, location details, and partner communication. In order to provide situational awareness for the wildlife community, some general information needs to be shared publicly. Partners relayed during WHISPers development that they were okay with sharing basic information such as county location, species, numbers affected, and diagnosis that could be seen by anyone on the WHISPers website.

 

Partners wanted more specific details such as exact location latitude and longitude coordinates, field observations, and partner communications to be kept private. By design, access to those details are restricted to the event owner, others in their WHISPers organization, and WHISPers users specifically invited to view the private information. That is similar to how medical records are handled, with general information shared and detailed information reserved.

In special cases, such as a legal investigation of a wildlife mortality event, the event owner may choose to make the whole event invisible to the public so that a dot does not appear on the map.

 

Here’s an example of the public view of event details that you can access from the map dot on the homepage. This example is a made-up event, not an actual dieoff. Notice the map on the right only shows the county outline, that is because the exact spatial coordinates are not made available on the public view. The public view of the event details also includes a table with basic information on the species present, numbers affected, as well as the diagnosis by species and for the overall event. The map and the table are the only information on the page and can be seen by anyone visiting the WHISPers website whether they have a log in or not.

 

In the next example, WHISPers users that have permission to see private information for a specific event, and are logged in, will see an additional section on the event details page, below the basic information table at the top that you saw in the previous image. This is a view of part of the page for the same example event. Notice that within the county outline, in the private view, the two locations in this event are pinpointed to their exact latitude and longitude coordinates.

Clicking each section on the left of the page displays additional information such as location details and comment fields, as well as access to features such as adding collaborators and requesting services from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center.

 

What a user can see and do in WHISPers depends on three things

 

  • The user’s agency such as a State Department of Natural Resources or a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge.  
  • How that agency is structured in WHISPers, meaning how users in that agency are split up or grouped together into WHISPers organizations.
  • And lastly, the role the individual user is assigned.

 

All three together, determine the access the user has to view public and private information.

 

How does this work? Well, each box represents one of the many different groups such as State, Federal, and Tribal agencies, non-government and academic organizations, and many others that contribute time and resources to wildlife issues. Responding to wildlife events, especially large events such as the bat dieoffs, are often a collaborative effort between multiple agencies and organizations. The collaboration that happens in the field can also happen within WHISPers.

 

There’s a lot of information here so let’s take it step by step.

 

As mentioned, WHISPers is centered around State, Federal, and Tribal natural resource management agencies, those are the three categories identified as WHISPers content creators within the blue box. It is important to have a good degree of confidence in the information provided. Since those agencies have the responsibility for managing wildlife and responding to dieoffs, they have the lead in entering data. As the primary content creators, those users generally can “put a dot on the map”, see detailed information for events owned by their organization, and be invited as a collaborator to see detailed information in events owned by other organizations.

 

Other government agencies, University staff, Diagnostic labs, and Non-government organizations are also involved in working with wildlife. Those are the boxes in the yellow rectangle. They can be invited to participate with the Natural resource management agencies on an event-by-event basis. They can contribute information to an existing event, but they can’t create a new event.

 

As mentioned, WHISPers data access is based on the role a user is assigned and the permissions that go along with that role. Some roles have full access to private information and special features, other roles have more limited access.

 

So, while all the different organizations and the public can see publicly available information, only designated organizations and those users assigned certain roles can access detailed private information and special features.

 

This table is a view of the user roles available and their ability to view, edit, and create events, as well as manage users within their organization and be invited to collaborate on events.

 

As mentioned, everyone viewing the WHISPers website has access to basic public information. You don’t even need to be a registered user. All users that apply for a log in are assigned a public user role that allows them to save their searches. In addition, natural resource wildlife professionals may be upgraded to one of four possible WHISPers user roles that allow access to detailed private information.  Those roles are Partner Administrator, Partner Manager, Partner User, and Affiliate.

 

There will be one designated Partner administrator for an agency or natural resource group such as a state DNR and they will decide what roles the other users in their group should be assigned. There can be many partner managers, partner users, and affiliates within the same organization.

 

The main point is that there are different roles within the partner space with variations on what they can see or do. This was by design, to provide flexibility for organizations to manage access to their information.

 

There is also flexibility in the organizational structure set up in WHISPers. This is important because events are “owned” by the WHISPers organizations that created them. All the users, regardless of role, within an organization that owns events can see the detailed, private information for those events. Putting all of your users in one group where everyone can see everything may be what an organization needs. However, other agencies may find this example, which has the wildlife health program and field office staff in their own organizations with their own events and the non-technical people in an organization that can only see behind the scenes if they are invited to do so, might be a better fit. We can work with the WHISPers partner administrator for the agency to help determine what structure might work best for their situation. This is one of the several ways that WHISPers provides flexibility to wildlife management partners.

 

Creating events puts a dot on the map. So, when you learn about a wildlife dieoff, come to WHISPers and add a dot. There is a step by step process to fill in information as seen in this screenshot. Many of the fields have drop down menus for faster data entry. WHISPers generally stores the same information you were providing on the National Wildlife Health Center’s submission request form- such as onset and ending date, species, numbers sick and dead, and history. There are some required fields to enter in order to save an event, but many are optional. Put in as much or as little information as you like. As the event continues, return to WHISPers and update the record to capture the changing situation by adding field observations, numbers, new species, and new locations. Once the dieoff is over, come back one last time to do a final update to complete the event.

 

There are multiple collaboration features in WHISPers. For example, it is easy to request assistance from the National Wildlife Health Center from within a WHISPers event. If you want to submit carcasses or to talk with us about disease control, you can do that with a couple of clicks, either when the event is created or later. Epidemiologists at the National Wildlife Health Center are notified and receive a link to the event so they can see all the event details. You no longer need to email a diagnostic submission request form to the National Wildlife Health Center, since you’ve already entered event information in WHISPers.

 

Another feature in WHISPers is the ability to add collaborators or “Circles of Trust” to an event. That means WHISPers users from other organizations can be invited to participate in the event to view and contribute information to the event record.

 

Let’s use the bat mortality event mentioned earlier as an example. In this image there are five people entering a cave. Say they are all authorized WHISPers users representing three agencies- a State Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a University. If the state partner user entered the event into WHISPers, that organization owns the event. The people in the other two organizations can only see the publicly available information for that event because they are not in the organization that owns the event. Since all three organizations are working together on this dieoff, the State DNR user can choose to add the other users to the event as collaborators with read or read and write permission. Now, all five WHISPers users can contribute information and receive notifications when new information is added.

 

If you regularly need to add the same group of WHISPers users to an event, you can create a circle of trust, which is a list of those WHISPers users. In this example, the State DNR partner user could create a circle of trust titled “Bat biologists” and add the four users to the list. Now, when that DNR user creates another bat event, they can add the Fish and Wildlife Service and University biologists in one click, rather than having to list the users one at a time. You can also send a message to one or more collaborators from within an event.

 

Another collaboration feature is that all users assigned to a WHISPers organization can request to be added as a collaborator to an event. If you see an event on the map and have information you’d like to share, clicking a button on the event details page brings up a form like the one in the picture so you can email the event owner asking to be added as a collaborator.

 

WHISPers also has a built-in report function. With a click, you can generate a report for a single event or a summary report of your search results such as shown in these images. Reports are handy if you want to send a synopsis to your boss, for example. You can also download search results as an Excel file if you want to further examine or work with the data.

 

There’s a lot of useful information in WHISPers but we know you don’t have time to check every day to see what is new and interesting. That’s why WHISPers has built-in notification functionality. With notifications, WHISPers checks nightly for anything entered that day that meets your chosen criteria and notifies you with details and a direct link to the event, by email or via a message on your user dashboard. This feature is available to all WHISPers natural resource management professional users.

 

This screenshot shows the two types of notifications- Standard and Custom. Standard notifications are centered around your events, your organization events, and your collaborator events. You can even choose to get updates about all events in WHISPers if you like. Custom Notifications can be set up around your special interests, such as species, disease, or state. You could set notifications for the states adjacent to yours, for example, if you wanted to keep up with what is going on around you. Notification checks are run every night for any triggers you’ve entered. You decide whether you want to be notified about new and or updated events and whether you receive them only on your WHISPers dashboard or by email too.

 

The notification message you receive not only tells you there was a change to the event but relays what data changed.

 

WHISPers solves many problems. Where data was once hard to find because it was scattered across emails and notebooks or offices it is now all in one place.

 

Instead of data being lost with staff turnover and attrition, it is now stored securely online and is always accessible via the internet.

 

Where it can be challenging to collaborate and gather information from others, WHISPers contains multiple collaboration tools to make it easier to share information and coordinate efforts.

 

With over 8,000 current and legacy events it is easier to search and see on the map where events have occurred over time and generate reports or export the data for further analysis.

 

Where it was once hard to keep up with what’s new, with WHISPers, you can receive automatic notifications about events, locations, diseases, or areas of interest to you and the system will let you know when there’s a new or updated event that meets your criteria.

 

All of these features are designed to make it easier to do your job.

 

WHISPers was designed for data sharing and collaboration among wildlife professionals. WHISPers is not a new idea. Through funding made available by the National Biosurveillance Integration Center and the Department of Homeland Security, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, with input from State and Federal partners, worked with IT developers in the USGS Web Informatics and Mapping office and the Science Gateway Community Institute to bring this concept to life.

 

WHISPers is flexible, easy to use and helps users be aware of what is happening in wildlife on the landscape. WHISPers success depends on a vibrant community of resource management agency users. We hope you’ll become an active WHISPers participant. To see the WHISPers situational awareness map, learn more about WHISPers, and register as a user, go to WHISPers.usgs.gov.  Thank you for your interest in this helpful tool.