The Perfect Storm

My agency has been experiencing an e-mail storm for over a week now. Someone erroneously sent an e-mail message to almost everybody in the organization. Then everyone started replying to all to complain about receiving the message or to ask other people to quit hitting reply to all to complain about receiving the message. Then people began replying to all to send angry messages to the people who sent those messages. Then those people repented and tried to recall their messages, which resulted in – you guessed it – more messages.

It stopped for a few days until someone sent a reply to all to ask if the problem had been resolved.

Oh my Gov.

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L P O'Neil

Yes, it was amazing. Even IT people who should know better continued to use the ‘reply’ function to warn people not to use the ‘reply’ function. Just shows the training and orientation deficit. A global organization cannot afford to contract for or hire staff who don’t know how to carefully drive the tools of contemporary business — e-mail, browsers, cell phones and so on.

If the hirees have hands then they should know how to use a keyboard and when NOT to use e-mail. Global address lists are also top heavy and need weeding.

All workers need training and orientation — from folks who replace paper towels in the toilet room and stuff the metal box so no towels come out in a misguided effort to provide more towels to distinguished alpha monkeys who use e-mail but don’t know what ‘reply all’ means.

The security implications are obvious. Clean up agency e-mail address directories! Attach prompts to large distribution lists (“Are you sure you want to message the 7,800 addresses on this list?”) Made the Reply to All function difficult to use.


This happens about once every year or so here. One time, it was about whether or not it was appropriate to use a “winking Smokey Bear” image in a signature block! Seriously? That’s worth sending a message (and the endless replies) to the entire agency? I don’t blame the initial senders so much as the idiots who think their replies-to-all are so damn funny. One time, it got so bad (two weeks and no sign of stopping!) that the Washington Office finally sent out a cease-and-desist message to all employees. At least I’m glad to know it’s not just the Forest Service, though!

Denise Hill

while reading your blog I was thinking that you were kidding except you lived this. I have too (4 shorter periods of time). Each time this happens I sit on my hands or take a walk so as not to join the “reply all” group. Which lead to the next question “When you want to respond to the sender of a mass email message why is not the reply button (which is right next to reply all) not good enough?

Adriel Hampton

OMG. I heard the news first on GovLoop. Kate, this report says the snafu nearly took out the State Department’s e-mail function. If you hit reply-all, the terrorists win.