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Government scraps, replaces terrorism alert color code system

April 27, 2011 - UNITED STATES

The United States Department of Homeland Security ordered a review in 2009 of the color-coding, called the Homeland Security Advisory System, used to inform the public of the potential for terror. The task force reported that the system suffered from a lack of credibility and clarity, and that it taught Americans to be scared, not prepared. It is due to be dropped by Apr 27 and replaced by the National Terrorism Advisory System, which aims to notify specific audiences about specific threats.

The system, a centerpiece of the George W. Bush administration's anti-terrorism programs after the terrorist attacks on Sep 11, 2001, spans the spectrum of colors from green to red. The colors signify, respectively, low risk to severe risk. Yellow represents elevated risk. The new system, in some cases, might involve sending a one-page threat description to law enforcement officials that includes what they need to do about it, and the actions the federal government is taking to contain it. Facebook and Twitter will sometimes be in, according to a confidential Department of Homeland Security draft plan reported by the Washington Post. According to the ABC network, officials briefed on the issue say the new system will resemble terrorism alerts that are used by the United Kingdom. France and Britain use threat level systems that do not rely on colors. The British threat level system spans five levels from low -- meaning an attack is unlikely -- to critical -- indicating an attack is expected imminently. The British system is currently set at severe, meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely. In the United States in Aug 2006, the code was raised to red -; or severe -; when a plot to use liquid explosives to destroy up to eight airliners flying from the United Kingdom to the US and Canada was uncovered. The plot was disrupted, and after three days, the code was lowered one level, to orange -- or high -- and has remained there ever since for the aviation sector. The current threat level for the rest of the United States is currently at Yellow.

Colorless system for terror alerts in works (Washington Post 8 Apr 2011)

Homeland Security Advisory System criticized for "scaring, not preparing" (ABC 26 Jan 2011)

Department Homeland Security web

Date written/update: 2011-04-27