Amber alert, threat level four, seek immediate shelter

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The more you think about it, the more astonishing Saturday’s fiasco in Hawaii appears. First, not only could a single employee send a false alert by ‘pushing the wrong buttons,’ the agency had no protocol to correct the error! That is, they could not use the same threat alert system to distribute a correction. They do not even exercise proprietary control over the system.

I’d like to know how many minutes passed before the agency discovered its error. I expect it wasn’t long, as agency employees’ own phones would light up with their blunder. So they expended most of their thirty-eight minutes trying to figure out how to send a correction, while the rest of the state panicked.

I won’t exaggerate if I say my two-year-old granddaughter could design a system better than this one. I do not see how anyone could even conceive of an alert system you can’t even test. Did you know the president himself can personally issue an alert like the message that panicked Hawaii? Think of the possibilities. Just like that, our man with the ever-active twitter-fingers can create a scenario that looks just like ‘War Games’.

FCC and FEMA oversaw deployment of the system Hawaii and other states use to send emergency alerts via cellular networks. I should have figured. Technical ignorance this colossal could only originate with the feds.

In my last post, I suggested blame for a system this blatantly stupid lay with Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency. I was wrong. FCC and FEMA oversaw deployment of the system Hawaii and other states use to send emergency alerts via cellular networks. I should have figured. Technical ignorance this colossal could only originate with the feds. You find that no program for realistic testing or training on the system is even possible, as cell carriers like Verizon won’t permit it. So the feds said, “We’ll deploy it anyway!”

Interesting how quickly the feds adapted digital technology to spy on us, but they couldn’t get an emergency alert system right. I guess we can see where their priorities are.


Postscripts

I’d like to see the technical manual for this latest-tech emergency alert system. As in a Sesame Street book, it probably consists of five words: DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON! Then in an appendix, it reads in diminutive letters, ‘Because if you do, you are screwed.’ That’s all you need in a manual for a system this bad.


Remember the years after nine-eleven, when threat alerts went out all the time? They were completely pointless for keeping any individual safe, let alone the entire country, but they sure fulfilled their main purpose – to keep everyone on edge. Along with the terrorist threat levels – constantly adjusted along a numerical or color-coded scale – we had amber alerts. Those were geographically targeted messages pushed to your phone to warn you that a child had disappeared – presumably kidnapped. Unwritten message: keep your children indoors, especially while the kidnapper is at large. The danger is everywhere.

So what authorities need are warnings that keep us on edge again – near panic or unconscious anxiety do best – but that are not falsifiable.

Turns out the technology for the push message that panicked a whole state is the same technology used for amber alerts. Authorities love to keep us all on edge, but in those anxiety filled days of terror threat alerts – strangely but predictably gone as warfare spreads and the messages become mundane  – no one in government conceived that a nuclear threat was the way to go. A nuclear threat is too precise, too falsifiable. A nuclear bomb either explodes on your territory, or it doesn’t. A warning like that is quickly tagged a cry-wolf warning, and so loses its effectiveness rapidly.

So what authorities need are warnings that keep us on edge again – near-panic or unconscious anxiety do best – but that are not falsifiable. The vague terror threat levels fit that bill, but the level of anxiety became too low as the effect wore off. I wonder if somewhere in the bureaucracy, someone is thinking about how to put out warnings that make all of us look to government for security and protection, but that don’t cry wolf. It’s not an easy problem to solve. Let’s see if those tax supported thinking caps can devise a technical solution to a challenge that doesn’t involve surveillance.


Related article

Hey, Hawaii: The Telecom Industry Lobbied Against Testing for Emergency Alert System: Everyone in Hawaii received a ballistic missile threat today under a system that currently has no good testing protocols.