False missile alert in Hawaii: the fault of the interface? Not sure.
The year 2018 had begun in panic in Hawaii, after the blunder of an employee who had issued a missile alert when he should have simply started a test procedure. We were then at the Los Angeles airport, back from CES, and we were following this panic in real time on American social networks. That said, shortly thereafter, the role of the employee was minimized by the ergonomics, a priori absurd, the programming interface of these tests … or these alerts. We learned that a two-way drop-down menu was one of the functions that separated the machine test from the real alert.
Today, the story ends badly for the employee in question. After the investigation of the American authorities, the administration decided to send it back. Indeed, whatever the responsibility of the interface in the case, the employee was not at his first blunder: he would have confused several times trials and real events. In his statement, he himself felt that he was convinced that a missile was well on its way to Hawaii. There are several factors that led to this blunder which remains predominantly human: the incompetence of the operator and the confusion of the interface were retained.
Now, it will be up to the US administration to decide how critical an interface like a missile alert can be handled under these conditions. On the one hand, it may not be wise to let an employee repeatedly noticed for his mistakes at the controls of such a tool. On the other hand, if the software was not designed to minimize human error, then it was poorly designed. Maybe a redesign is to be expected.