This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.


On January 13, 2018 at 8:07 a.m., Hawaiians were told the end was near. “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” proclaimed an alert sent through Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency, which notifies residents of Hawaii through the internet, smartphones, radio, and television.

By 8:10, the head of the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency had confirmed with U.S. Pacific Command that the alert was false–but that didn’t stop it from remaining in place for an agonizing 38 minutes. In the interim before a follow-up correction alert was issued, Hawaii’s representatives took to social media to inform citizens. Senators Tulsi Gabbard and Brian Schatz tweeted that it was a false alarm, while Hawaii’s governor, David Ige, spent 15 minutes struggling to remember his Twitter password before tweeting his own reassurance. At 8:45, Ige announced that someone had “pushed the wrong button” during an employee shift change, while the White House gave a contradictory explanation that the alert was an “emergency management exercise.”

As tensions between the U.S. and North Korea rise, with each side increasing their nuclear arsenal and threatening to annihilate the other, there is no room for errors in communication. “The risk of accidental nuclear war is not hypothetical—accidents have happened in the past, and humans will err again,” tweeted former Secretary of Defense William Perry on the day of the alert. “When the lives of millions are at…

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