Victims site a 'work in progress'

The Justice Department has launched a Web site to provide information and assistance to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, including some information that will be restricted to victims and their families and will be password-protected.

The site will eventually include information including where to get counseling, how to deal with media interviewers and where to seek reimbursements for funeral expenses, a Justice Department official said.

The site (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/vfa} is called the Victims and Family Assistance Website. On the day it was launched, Sept. 18, the site was inaccessible via Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer Web browser on some computers. A Justice Department official said corrective steps were taken that afternoon, and for a brief time, the site could be reached using Internet Explorer. But Sept. 19 the problem returned at least sporadically. The site is accessible using Netscape Communications Corp.'s browser.

In areas restricted to victims and their family members, the Justice Department expects to post sensitive information such as case-related notifications. There might also be password-protected areas for discussions among victims, the official said.

The Justice Department set up a similar password-protected Web site for family members of the victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Justice Department posted updates during the investigation that followed the Pan Am bombing. And during the trial, which ended last January, the site posted transcripts of court proceedings almost instantaneously, the Justice official said.

When password-protected parts of the new site are set up, victims and family members will be instructed to call the Justice Department's Office for Victims of Crimes (OVC) to register for passwords. The OVC will take steps to verify that the registrants are genuine victims or relatives of victims, said Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller.

For now, the site is open to the public, but contains only a smattering of information. The "Resources and Assistance" section leads to a few links, including one for a page of victim benefits and assistance contacts that contains a table of agency names and phone numbers. A link for volunteers offers numbers for the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

A link labeled "Helpful Web sites" listed eight sites, including the National Domestic Preparedness Office, which contained no information related to the Sept. 11 attack, and www.fbi.gov, which offered a Sept. 14 press release and a link to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, where individuals can report terrorist activity.

The Victims and Family Assistance Web site remains "a work in progress," the Justice Department official conceded, but the department wanted to get a site online as quickly as possible.

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