I, like many people, had some pretty strong feelings last week when an errant emergency alert went out to Hawaiians informing them that nuclear missiles were inbound. I saw the videos of the kids being loaded into storm drains for protection. I’m a child of the cold war, and I sympathize with them. I can only imagine the horror, but believe me, I’ve been imagining it since I was five.
We all know the truth now. Hawaii was never in danger. It was a false alarm, sent out by some poor schlep who hit the wrong button when running a test of the system. This guy has been vilified in the media. He got reassigned to a different job, but everyone wants his head on a stick. The questions are obvious: “Why is this guy still working there?” “How the hell can you screw up this badly and keep your job?” And of course, the jokes just write themselves.
But, I don’t think it’s his fault. And it’s certainly not funny.
I got something in the mail this morning. Now, I haven’t been able to confirm this. All I’ve been able to find is a Buzzfeed piece, and I take anything from that site with an entire shaker of salt. Maybe even the whole bag. But, it came to me from Codecademy, and it makes a valid point.
If what I got is accurate, here’s the menu the person in question had to contend with:
Now, I gotta tell you, I’d never be able to figure out which one I was supposed to hit. And, that’s on a pleasant Saturday morning when the sun is shining and the world is not about to blow up. In the heat of the moment, with missiles streaking my way and about a half hour remaining between me and eternity, I’d just hit them all and make a beeline for the door.
This is a user interface nightmare. I can’t blame the guy who hit the wrong button. I have too many other people to blame. There’s the guy (or gal) who built the menu. There’s also whoever designed it. Somebody had to sign off on it, and they deserve a heaping helping of blame, too. What were these people thinking?
It’s also a system failure. It took one person to send this message out. A single point of failure. There was no second person required to verify the correct message was going out. Furthermore, it took over thirty minutes to send out a message that it was a false alarm.
One thing is clear, this shouldn’t have been able to happen. It’s the job of the designers to make sure it doesn’t. If you want to go after someone’s head, those are the ones you should be hunting.
But, there’s one person who shouldn’t be tossed under the bus. The guy who hit the wrong menu entry. You know why?
He’ll never hit the wrong one again. If there’s anyone on Earth who’s gonna know exactly what each menu item on that screen means, it’s him. He’s the only guy I’d trust with that clunky, poorly-designed mess.