A good general rule of thumb for doing stuff in life is that every process should have checks and balances proportionate to the potential level of consequences that process should have. Could your $58 million satellite launch disastrously fail because someone put in the wrong coordinates? Make sure at least two sets of eyes have to see and confirm those coordinates. Is it easily possible for an employee to select ‘Missile alert’ instead of ‘Test missile alert’ from a drop-down and for them to unknowingly hit confirm? Maybe make sure it tells you in huge, red letters that you are about to make thousands of people grapple with their own mortality and reconcile their hopes, dreams, and regrets with their impending death. Process design matters.
Fucking up at work (and also in life, generally) is an inevitability, and it must surely suck to be one of the few people in the world whose minor work fuck-up means something like terrifying existential panic for an entire country, as opposed to something like forgetting to put olives in someone’s salad. Luckily, it seems the consequences for the poor individual behind the drop-down fiasco haven’t been too harsh.
As the New York Times reports, the individual (who has not been named) has been temporarily reassigned to another job where he no longer has access to the alerts system, but there are currently no plans to fire him. Hawaii Emergency Management Agency public information officer Richard Rapoza said they won’t be doing anything until an investigation is complete, telling the NYT that they’re “not going to take action till [they] have all the facts.”
Rapoza also said that while the employee of 10 years responsible for the incident was presented with a confirm dialogue, it was a “standard, confirmatory pop-up“, not one that stressed the significant gravity of what they were about to do.
According to Rapoza, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has already made two additions to their alert process: one that requires a second employee to confirm the missile alert, and another that allows them to very quickly retract a false alarm.