Bad user interface design has been blamed for Hawaii experiencing a brief spate of nuclear panic over the weekend.
In case you missed the news, anyone with a smartphone in the island State on Saturday morning received an emergency message stating “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
The message was sent in error, but advice to that effect took 13 minutes to emerge.
Hawaii's State government has explained, in a timeline [PDF] that the message was sent as part of a “routine internal test” at 8.05 AM on Saturday, January 13th. That test message went through the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) 8.07 am.
As the timeline shows, officials realised immediately that the message was a mistake – but did not post notifications the message was wrong until 8:20 AM, when the news hit Facebook and Twitter.
The Washington Post alleged (syndicated to the Chicago Tribune) that the alert was sent thanks to a poor user interface.
The Post reports that the messaging system offers a drop-down menu two options: "'Test missile alert' and 'Missile alert'." Whoever sent the message chose the latter instead of the former, with now-well-known results.
In the wake of the panic inspired by the message, Federal Communications Commission boss Ajit Pai initiated an investigation, saying the false alarm was “absolutely unacceptable”.
The FCC said: “Based on the information we have collected so far, it appears that the government of Hawaii did not have reasonable safeguards or process controls in place to prevent the transmission of a false alert.” ®