Hawaii’s false alert shows the sorry state of government technology

Article/Op-Ed in The Washington Post
Dev Factory, Flickr
Jan. 19, 2018

Hana Schank and Sara Hudson wrote for The Washington Post about the state of government technology:

Last weekend, people across Hawaii spent 38 minutes thinking they were going to die because a government worker selected the wrong option on a missile alert interface. Multiple images, including several from the governor’s office , later circulated showing an interface similar to the screen the employee would have been using. They all shared the same quality: outdated, confusing, problematic design.

We don’t know if the system in Hawaii was ancient or simply poorly designed, but we know that no user-experience designer worth her salt would create a giant list of links or a drop-down menu for a lifesaving function. It’s the design equivalent of installing a hand-cranked engine on a Tesla or communicating with Alexa via smoke signals.

The incident in Hawaii exposes a problem far larger than a single confusing screen: Government is not good at buying, building and using technology. So maybe the most shocking part of this story is that mistakes like this don’t happen more frequently.