Epic Incidents of History: The 1979 NORAD Nuclear Near Miss

Tuesday, March 21, 2023 - 2:40 pm3:25 pm

Nick Travaglini, Honeycomb.io


Nov 9, 1979—An officer of the North American Air Defense Command unknowningly input dummy data into a computer system built to provide early warning of incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles. This triggered a set of alerts at several military installations which signaled the imminent arrival of a major nuclear attack against the United States, probably launched by its rival superpower: the USSR.

What followed in the next few minutes involved an intricate investigation and evaluation of the legitimacy of the signals and preparations for a counter-offensive. Fortunately, the US declined to "retaliate" and mutually assured destruction was averted.

This talk will consider this dynamic non-event as a "near miss," asking how this situation could have happened and what lessons it may hold for those who maintain and operate distributed computer systems today.

Nick Travaglini, Honeycomb.io

Nick Travaglini works as a Technical Customer Success Manager at Honeycomb.io. His approach goes beyond helping customers to effectively operate the tool to observe their software systems, working with them to understand the complex sociotechnical dynamics that affect the creation and operation of that software.

Nick has previously held roles in CS and Operations at Domino Data Lab, GE Digital, and Solano Labs. He earned an MA in Liberal Studies from The New School and a BA in Philosophy from UC Berkeley.

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@conference {286244,
author = {Nick Travaglini},
title = {Epic Incidents of History: The 1979 {NORAD} Nuclear Near Miss},
year = {2023},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = mar

Presentation Video