Top of Mind Thursday January 18, 2018: This is Not a Drill

Top of Mind Thursday

Saturday morning, less than 12 hours after arriving in Hawaii for vacation, I was rudely awakened by a loud alert on my cell phone: Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.

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Wow. Talk about a shocking way to start a vacation! We were already inside a condo in a concrete building, so we were likely as sheltered as we could get. The problem was we had no idea what was really happening.

It took close to 15 minutes for local TV stations to interrupt programming with banners repeating the warning, and it was a full 38 minutes before the state emergency management team released an official notification that this was a false alarm. CNN didn’t even pick up the story until after the alert had been cancelled. It was on Twitter that we got the most up-to-date information, including tweets that said this was likely a false alarm.

Meanwhile, in Honolulu, people panicked–running from beaches, exiting freeways, clearing shopping areas. This is no surprise. Not only was Honolulu more likely to be an intended missile target than where we were on Maui, but Honolulu’s Pearl Harbor HAD been bombed during WWII. And the alert sent out during that attack 76 years ago ended with the very same words: this is not a drill.

Hawaii is investigating why this alert was sent out: what processes need to be changed to prevent someone from mistakenly sending an alert like this to over a million people? Just as importantly, why did it take so long to let those same people know that this was a false alarm?

How does your business protect itself, employees, and customers from unwarranted communications like this? What safeguards do you have in place to ensure these types of mistakes don’t happen? And, if they do happen, what is your plan to alert all involved as quickly as possible that the threat is managed or not real?

What happened here in Hawaii is that the emergency management team likely didn’t run enough drills to test the system and find the holes. Don’t let this happen to you. Otherwise, that sucking sound you hear may be your customers losing confidence in your ability to serve them. And, trust me, that will be the real thing–not a drill.

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