Poor UI Blamed For Statewide Nuclear False Alarm in Hawaii

You read that correctly. At the center of an already tense political temperature between our United States and North Korea, countless Hawaiian citizens were sent an erroneous message which prompted the population to “Seek immediate shelter — THIS IS NOT A DRILL”. One could imagine to find fault at some high-end, technologically superior, ballistic tracking system involving satellites and a scurry of military personnel inside a dark bunker lit by a multitude of computer monitors and such. The reality was much, much simpler and mundane.

The blame for this entire ordeal was firmly placed on poorly designed UI. Having read this and after I chuckled a couple of times I thought, “how could this be?”. Since my expertise is on user experience and user interface, I will focus my discussion solely on this matter. When I mentioned this to a colleague at Palm Beach Software Design, he pointed out that many of the systems used by the government have similar shortcomings. It is worth to point out that his experience included having served at the United States Air Force in the capacity of computer systems admin. After hearing this I immediately thought of how I would design said portion of the software both from the architectural point of view and the user interface.

One Central Idea
One central idea occupied my mind and it involved forking this selection process between Test and Not-A-Drill much earlier. I would imagine, that for testing purposes, such as the intended action by said government employee, the user would have one of two choices to “Test” or “Not a Drill”. This would clearly define which path the user would take. Inside each one of these, the experiences would be the same with the critical distinction that each one would be clearly labeled “Test” or “Not a Drill” prominently, throughout the entire process.

Additionally, both the recipient pool and text message would be decided by which of the two options is selected. The current system required a confirmation from the user but only a single instance acceptance. This “robot-like” response from the user could potentially be avoided by requiring a second person in the confirmation. I can assume that the system is designed in a way that there are few obstacles to take a single action but this was not the case for Hawaii as they waited for 38 minutes before receiving notification that the previous message was in fact, erroneous and that no threat was taking place.

By all means I’m not claiming to have the perfect answer for this UI challenge but off the top of my head I thought of two ideas. Ideas in which both the user experience and the user interface can be greatly improved. The take away being that successfully deployed software requires carefully planned and designed wireframes, including scenarios, from multiple angles, the admin and the end-user, in this case.

We Strive For Better — Better User Experiences and Interfaces
At Palm Beach Software Design, we strive to deliver exceptional user experiences that add value to our customers and provide attractive and friendly user interfaces that take each user to their intended destination swiftly and efficiently. We implement industry authentication methods and validation queues which allow the user to have a pleasant experience. We also function in a consultation capacity so should you need design assistance with your business software, do not hesitate to call us at (561) 572-0233.

About Martin Pillot, Senior UX / UI Designer at Palm Beach Software Design
I have been involved in user experience and interfaces design since my early years as web designer for notable companies such as Icanect, Cybergate, ValueWeb, Sony Discos, Carnival Cruise Lines, PBS-J, Vistacolor, to name a few. I have been part of the Palm Beach Software Design team for a year now and am fortunate to have worked on some fantastic projects.

As we continue to forge ahead we look forward to your comments.