Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Deconstructing A False Alarm: Boston invaded by Mooninites

The Department of Homeland Security's color coded threat scheme has been the subject of jokes since introduction. Until today, I didn't have a better solution. Well, seeing the Boston politicians trip over themselves tonight to appear tough on the Cartoon Network's viral marketing campaign, it's clear what the new threat scheme should be. You could even use different color lights on the "mooninite" (the symbol for the Cartoon Network Show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force") to indicate threat severity.

It's easy to mistake nothing for something. About 10 years ago, I was involved with shutting down a major waterway because of a "suspicious device"; turned out to be an old microwave with some aluminum foil duct taped onto the top. False alarms are a fact of life. What matters is how quickly the system validates a threat. There is a lot of second guessing going on in Boston about why it took so long to invalidate the threat. Maybe there is some validity to this, but I give them the benefit of the doubt. Best case, maybe the city could have invalidated the threat a couple of hours earlier ... probably not worth quibbling about.

Just as important as response, though, is after action. How do you clean up the mess, how do you learn from the process, what do you tell the public. It's only been 5 hours, but I think the initial grade here is a "D". I had a visceral reaction to the politicians triumphantly announcing an arrest superimposed against footage of the downtrodden artist they arrested. After action is supposed to make citizens feel safer. Legality aside, his arrest made me feel like the city is petty and focused on the wrong things. Of course, I didn't sit in traffic for 4 hours because the roads were shut down ...

As for Turner, I don't know the details or legal issues so I'll keep my judgment in abeyance. I do think that the job of any product manager is to manage risk; I'd be surprised if risk wasn't considered before putting up 100+ signs in over 5 cities.

picture source: CNN, Cartoon Network