Hawaiians got a small taste of cold-war nostalgia last week with a false alarm that warned of an imminent but non-existent ballistic missile threat. While authorities were relatively quick to clarify the lack of impending doom for the tropical islands, they could not forestall the sharp criticism from many fronts, including North Korea who was probably glad for a moment to not be the brunt of global scorn. At the crux of the 38-minute gaffe: a terrible user interface and-surprise, surprise-a human.
What we should take away from this
Aside from the uneasy reminder that North Korea appears to be a button-push away from making this false alarm into a very real one, this unfortunate mistake gave us a glimpse into a critical technology system (poorly) designed by humans. While it may be psychologically useful for us to shake our heads and make jokes about the government’s tendency to award crucial projects to the lowest bidder, Hawaii’s recent tour of nuclear apocalypse came courtesy of a system undoubtedly produced by such thinking. “Lowest bidder” and “technology” rarely result in quality in which you would entrust your business, so why should it be any different for our most critical technology platforms, just because they aren’t profit centers? The next time you are evaluating a technology purchase, make sure your budget matches the importance of the purchase.
It’s also important to note that for as much as we depend on technology to do everything from getting us to work, keeping us safe, and moving the human race forward as a whole, it has yet to replace or even supplement one very critical human trait that seems to be in short supply these days: common sense. A moderate investment in training your people on the reasonable and SAFE use of technology will pay off dividends far in excess of your costs, and can prevent panic-inducing moments like Hawaii’s False Missile Alert.