Hawaii has a UI problem, I’m trying to fix it

Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency recently caused thousands of families to panic when it turned a regular drill into a Ballistic Missile warning.

Shortly after 8 a.m. local time Saturday, an accidental alert went out across Hawaii urging people to take shelter due to an incoming ballistic missile. The false alarm was eventually called off but not before Hawaiians and tourists started scrambling even saying their goodbyes.

Here’s the emergency cellphone alert scores of Hawaiian residents received that sent everyone into a panic.

Screen capture from a Twitter account showing a missile warning for Hawaii


The root of it all – bad UI design

Hawaiian news organization Honolulu Civic Beat has Tweeted this photo of the UI design that led to Saturday’s missile alert. Needless to say the design is insanely bad. Whoever designed this couldn’t use icons to distinguish these options? Or even boldface, italics, or color?

Hawaii's missile threat UI designWhat was clicked on the Hawaiian PACOM


On top of that Hawaii Gov forgets Twitter password. Took 20 minutes to correct missile alert

As if a false incoming missile alert isn’t bad enough, Hawaii’s governor revealed he took 17 minutes to tweet that the alert was a mistake because he forgot his Twitter password.

“I have to confess that I don’t know my Twitter account logons and the passwords, so certainly that’s one of the changes that I’ve made. I’ve been putting that on my phone so that we can access the social media directly,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) told reporters on Monday, the Washington Post reported.


How The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency plans to reboot from this mistake

First it should be noted that the employee who made the choice from the unintelligible list has been temporarily reassigned within the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA). His status with the agency will be decided after a review.

Another issue HI-EMA faced was trying to send out a correcting “false alarm” alert. Hundreds of thousands of people received the Wireless Emergency Alert, a broadcast from a radio or TV station and the agency had to send a correction manually.

The agency has stated that two or more people would now be required to sign off on an alert or drill message.


What I’m doing to fix it

I received an email this morning asking me to participate in a UI redesign contest. These are the prerequisites:

  • Take a look at the original Emergency Commands page that caused all these problems.
  • Now design a user-friendly Emergency Commands page, where each command is clearly distinguishable from the others.
  • Don’t be afraid to think outside the box!

The design is simple on purpose. I only wanted to use 3 colors and not over complicate the design. All the boxes have the test message first in green. The real message is in red at the bottom.

The Hawaiian seal at the top promotes authority and the warning message underneath it makes the user think twice about what they are doing and the consequences.

The different messages are grouped together by alarm type.

There is also a second warning under the real red buttons that reminds the user: *Requires Two (2) People to Activate.

Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency UI design content entry

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