Usability Importance, Post-Hawaii

Bethea-Hawaii-Missile-Warning-1We all saw what happened in Hawaii yesterday.

A message went out over the EMS that nukes were inbound and this was no drill.

40 minutes of chaos ensued before the “All Clear” was given. Panic. Terror.

Today, we know WHY it happened- BAD USABILITY

Quoting a national news agency, when discussing the guy who sent out the alert:

“This guy feels bad, right. He’s not doing this on purpose – it was a mistake on his part and he feels terrible about it,” said Miyagi in a press conference Saturday afternoon.

Miyagi, a retired Army major general, said the employee would be “counseled and drilled so this never happens again,” but he did not say whether there would be disciplinary measures.

Rather than triggering a test of the system, it went into actual event mode. He confirmed that to trigger the alert, there is a two-step process involving only one employee — who both triggers the alarm, then also confirms it.

“There is a screen that says, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?'” Miyagi said. The employee confirmed the alert, inadvertently causing a panic in a state already on edge over saber-rattling missile threats from North Korea. “

Seriously? This is the system in place at EMS?

Here’s the issues I see on just the first reading:

1- If it is a “two-step process involving only one employee”… it’s a one-step process.

2- Nobody EVER pays attention to an “Are you sure…?” screen because they are so common.

3- Your “Test” system and your “Oh crap, we’re being nuked!!” system should not be so similar that you can’t IMMEDIATELY tell them apart, at least by color.

We don’t know how many accidents, possibly resulting in deaths, this mistake caused.

I know that I and those like me always preach how “vital” or “critical” or “important” usability is. The situation in Hawaii is the BEST and WORST case example I have ever seen for proving the point.

– J


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