Interface creators, take note: a ‘terribly designed’ one was responsible for probably taking years off the life of the average Hawaiian at the weekend.
Saturday’s utterly, utterly, utterly horrible false nuclear attack alarm was caused by some oaf attempting to press the button labelled ‘Test Missile Alert’ but accidentally pressing the similarly titled ‘Missile Alert’.
‘Test Missile Alert’ is supposed to test the system without actually sending out any alerts, while ‘Missile Alert’ sends a text to every mobile phone in Hawaii that reads ‘BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL’.
Imagine getting that. First thing in the morning. Half dressed. Just put two potato cakes on. Thinking about going back to bed…
The Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency’s (HEMA) computer system and its deeply idiotic interface tripped up an employee who was trying to instigate a drill. Even then it took them 45 minutes to tell the population – who were probably tearfully saying goodbyes, rapidly discovering religion and digging holes at the time – that it was an error.
Since the near-apocalyptic cock-up, HEMA has had a go at tightening up its system, including adding a button that cancels wrongly sent warnings of imminent atomic oblivion BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T EVEN HAVE ONE OF THOSE.
Writing on a webpage named after himself, computer security expert Graham Cluley said: ‘This sounds like terrible user interface design to me […] Even though the menu option still required confirmation that the user really wanted to send an alert, that wasn’t enough, on this occasion, to prevent the worker from robotically clicking onwards.’
The moral of this atrocious story? If you’re building a computer system that contains the option to activate something that you certainly wouldn’t want to activate by mistake, try to make it very, very difficult, in fact nearly impossible to activate it by mistake.