Human error? No, the government hates you!

I saw this article in The Age today, discussing an error that occurred with a bushfire warning system. Apparently, somebody screwed up and put test data in their live database, resulting in false warnings going out to large numbers of people.

Apparently this is the Government’s fault because they just don’t care about people. The Age quote the United Firefighters Union secretary Peter Marshall as saying “Either they are incompetent or they simply don’t care” (emphasis mine). The Age also use it as an opportunity to get quotes from the opposition about how terribly bad and evil the government is.

I work in IT, though I have had no involvement in this project. I would bet with almost 100% certainty that this is not because of any government intervention. The government probably had no idea that this was a risk. Some poor sucker has accidentally hit the wrong button somewhere and put test data in the live database. Chillax people, these things happen; it’s a little embarrassing, and the poor person is probably feeling pretty small right now. But it’s not conspiracy, it’s just human error (of course, it’s a bit simplistic and disingenuous to blame it all on one person – the real error is the weakness in the processes that allowed a single person to accidentally do this).

I once worked at a place that had a government client where a similar thing happened – somebody forgot to turn off the automated email functionality in the test environment, so when some test data was created a bunch of alarming emails went out to some very senior people. It wasn’t the government’s fault; it was just an oversight that was rectified by setting up more robust processes for managing the test databases.

When the government screws up, they should be held to account. But there is no need to get into a sensationalist panic about every little thing that goes wrong.