No one who's used a long-running government website expects such things to be fancy — just functional. But there's a limit to what can be tolerated, and I believe we've reached it with Hawaii's emergency alert system, which is so dated that it would be hilarious if it hadn't just caused a statewide panic. GeoCities ain't got nothing on this.
Honolulu Civil Beat managed to get a screenshot, via Hawaii's Office of the Governor, of the system used to launch emergency alerts like the one that went out on Saturday:
This is the screen that set off the ballistic missile alert on Saturday. The operator clicked the PACOM (CDW) State Only link. The drill link is the one that was supposed to be clicked. #Hawaii pic.twitter.com/lDVnqUmyHa
— Honolulu Civil Beat (@CivilBeat) January 16, 2018
Look at that! Just a jumble of contextless plain links, with drills and tests heedlessly mixed in. It's easy to see how this happened. We all click the wrong link now and then, but the consequence isn't destabilizing an entire state. You can't hit the back button on a million text messages and broadcast warnings.
You can see that at the top of the list a new entry: BMD False Alarm. That's surely (let's hope) a band-aid until this system gets dragged into the 21st century. Hell, even the turn of the century would be an improvement.
All you need is a bit of styling to perhaps put tests and real alerts in different columns and colors, in case your finger slips, telling all of Hawaii to pull over, find shelter and lay on the ground until further notice. Apparently there's a confirmation popup that appears, which is a start. Want to bet it looks the same whether you're doing a drill, text or real alert?
Again, these sorts of websites are usually ridiculously old and hooked into hardwired systems even older than they, so it's not much of a surprise to see how shabby this one is. But it's still a little amazing that no one thought to doll it up a little at any point in the last decade or so.
This is not the kind of interface you would expect to see for something this important. https://t.co/0mUWXt33OG
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 16, 2018
Fortunately just about everyone involved is pretty mad about this, from local authorities to the FCC to HI Senator Brian Schatz, so we can expect improvements. But you might just ask your local version of this agency if they're doing any better.