What causes emergency alert systems to misfire?

Everbridge's Meg Lovell explains the common errors that cause emergency alert systems to push out false messages, and how a combination of cyberattacks and human error can lead to business disruption.

What causes emergency alert systems to misfire?

TechRepublic met with Everbridge's director of customer success Meg Lovell to explain how situations like the Hawaii false missile alert and the NYC tsunami false warning happen. Below is a transcript of their interview.

Lovell: The investigations and the government hearings are going to continue. It's been a couple of weeks, but we can really take a step back now and look at several things that could have happened.

It seems that we have a situation where it's a combination of user error and perhaps lack of practice. I mean, at this point in time, it's still under government investigation, so I can only speculate, but I think it has a lot of emergency managers thinking, "Could this happen in my community?"

Patterson: Are there cybersecurity implications. Could this been the result of an attack?

Lovell: So immediately, when I heard about the news, I didn't immediately think that this was the result of some sort of cybersecurity attack, because the way that Everbridge implements the system, we do require that you put in, not only your credentials to the Everbridge platform, but then you have to go in and put your FEMA credentials in as well, in order to launch the notification.

It seems that this may have been a case of somebody using more of a homegrown system, where the cache those credentials. It's very important though, when you're working in emergency management, that you take those steps and precautions, because you need to practice and drill over and over again, so you're very comfortable with executing the steps in your plan, so that when it comes to being absolutely sure that you want to send out something like a missile to an entire island, that you are very confident about this particular event and you have gone through the necessary steps and checks to make sure that you have documented what you're doing and that you're confident in the button you're about to press.

So you can't have fat fingers in emergency management.

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Image: iStock/scyther5