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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 They all shared the same quality: outdated, confusing, problematic design.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.

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

The public sector is bad at buying, building and using tech. It’s hurting everyone.


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