Making sense of the Hawaii Incoming Missile Alert

The alert sent out to everyone in Hawaii warning them that “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL” was apparently set out by a wrong button push. I doubt this means there was an actual button that sent out that alert. Most likely it was a computer program and the person thought that they were sending to a small group of testers.

The person who initiated the warning has been reassigned from the Hawaii Emergency Management System. After the alert was sent many people were calling for the person who accidentally sent the alert to be fired. This completely misses the real problem: that tremendous risk is placed on an individual by bad decisions made by people higher up in the organization.
If a circus decides that they want an inexperienced trapeze artist, but it is too expensive to have safety nets and other precautions, would you blame the trapeze artist for ruining your circus experience if they fell and were injured. Most likely you would blame the circus owner for not requiring that there was a safety net. We blame them because they set the trapeze artist up for failure.

The same logic should apply to this false alarm. The person who sent it shares some of the blame, but the fact that someone could accidently trigger the alert and then there is no way to inform people that it is a false alarm for 38 minutes is a major problem.  

How did the managers accept that? We have this system in which an alert can easily be sent to over a million people making them fear for their lives, but it takes 38 minutes to load up a new message to inform people to disregard the previous message. First of all, something that can send messages to millions of people should have safeguards in place to prevent someone from accidentally sending an alert. There should have been a warning along the lines of “You are about to send this message to over a million people. Are you really sure you want to send this?”

Additionally, if the message does go out by mistake to over a million people, there should by default be a message that says disregard the previous message.

The fact that there was such a high risk without it being addressed, points to a failure at a higher level. They reassigned the employee that accidentally sent the alert, but what are they going to do about the larger failures? Are they going to fire the head of the Hawaii Emergency Management System? Will they actually fix the system to prevent this from happening again?


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