For Threats of Terrorism, Two Words Will Warn

April 21st, 2011 by Staff

www.nytimes.com – The government’s five-color scheme for terrorism alerts has been reduced to two warnings: elevated and imminent.
The color-coded threat level system endured for nearly 10 years despite widespread criticism, if not mockery, of its sometimes perplexing messages to the public. Now the Department of Homeland Security is phasing out the green-blue-yellow-orange-red palette in favor of a system that officials say will convey more information about the threats.

“Say goodbye to orange,” Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, said Wednesday in announcing the replacement system at Grand Central Terminal in New York.

Ms. Napolitano said the new program, called the national terrorism advisory system, would be put into operation Tuesday. “Elevated” alerts will warn of credible terrorism threats; “imminent” will warn of credible, specific and impending terrorism threats.

The alerts will be “based on specific, credible information about potential terrorist activity” and will include “as many details as we can provide in an unclassified form,” Ms. Napolitano said. They will include a concise summary of a potential threat, a description of the area or type of transportation that could be affected, information about steps the authorities are taking to address any threat and suggestions on how people can be prepared and stay informed.

The alerts will be disseminated through announcements to news organizations and social media sites and will appear on a new Web site, www.dhs.gov/alert.

To avoid a series of “cascading alerts” that can confuse the public, Ms. Napolitano said, each alert issued will expire after two weeks, unless intelligence agencies and the homeland security secretary decide otherwise.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat who joined Ms. Napolitano at the news conference Wednesday, said she thought the public had become inured to the color-coded system, “which many people had basically tuned out because it never ended, and you didn’t really know what it meant.”

Ms. Napolitano said that the new system would provide more concrete information to the public and that alerts under the new system would rely on more specific indications of danger.

The color-coded system was established by a presidential directive in March 2002 during the administration of George W. Bush and denoted five threat levels with a range of colors from green (low) to red (severe).

Nearly from the beginning, the system was maligned as being too vague. The fact that alerts were rarely accompanied by any specific explanation led some people to wonder whether they were sometimes used for political purposes.

“It really didn’t make people more aware or less aware,” said Jim Parker, 46, a lawyer from the Upper West Side of Manhattan who was waiting for a train in the Union Square subway station. “It seemed like the government was putting on a show.”

Edward Mackel, 28, a building supplies salesman from Sunnyside, Queens, said he preferred a system that included information about the nature of a potential threat.

“You walk into an airport,” he said. “You see there’s an orange alert and of course you want to know why.”


Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment. You are free to voice your opinion but please keep it clean. Any comments using profanity will be rejected.