Why America’s emergency-alerts systems need improving

Feb 06, 2018

SOME of America’s “wireless emergency alert” (WEA) systems are poorly designed. After most smartphone users in Hawaii were instructed on the morning of January 13th to seek shelter from an incoming ballistic missile, it took the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) 38 frantic minutes to correct the error with a follow-up message. Meanwhile people were speeding to find their loved ones or to reach seemingly safer spots, including culverts and road tunnels. At least one man died of a heart attack. Officials initially attributed the fiasco to an employee who had selected and then confirmed “Missile alert” in a drop-down computer menu, instead of “Test missile alert”. But on January 30th investigators announced that the employee believed that a missile had really been launched—and that he had confused drills and real events at least twice previously.

HEMA now requires alerts to be approved by two employees, an improvement on a system that a spokesman concedes was designed more for speed than for preventing mistakes. A...Continue reading

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