Under The Microscope

Usability Nightmare: Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s Alert System

It’s been a few years since our last Usability Nightmare post, but today’s particular design disaster is definitely worthy of being featured. You’ve likely heard about the recent false missile alert in Hawaii, which scared the heck out of a whole lot of people. Over at Dev.to, Ben Halpern had a good overview of the general issue, correctly noting that this was almost certainly a failure in design.

Today, Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency (HIEMA) released an annotated image showing the system which was used.


An incredible trainwreck of a design

The same selection screen contains both drill and real options, in extremely close proximity to one another. The naming of these options is inconsistent, and often opaque. Further, there’s no grouping to differentiate items. While there was a confirmation screen after this, it seems certain that it did not fully spell out what would occur. All of that led to literal panic in the streets.

This false alarm wasn’t even the worst thing which could happen as a result of this terrible design. While it caused a great deal of distress, there were no serious injuries reported. Far worse, and clearly possible, would be for someone to accidentally select the “Drill” option if a missile actually were inbound. In that case, no alert would be sent to the public, and the devastation could be greatly amplified.

Just a few minutes of time from a designer with even minimal experience could improve this layout dramatically. Here’s hoping HIEMA improves things, and that other agencies take notice as well.

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