DHS Task Force to Review Color-Coded Terror Alert System

By Matthew Harwood

Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano has formed a bipartisan task force to review the color-coded terror alert system instituted after 9-11 to communicate the threat of terrorism to the United States.

“I have assembled a task force, made up of Democrats and Republicans, elected officials at the state and local level, security experts, law enforcement officials and other professionals to assess our current threat level system and provide options for any improvements that are needed,” Napolitano said in a press release. “My goal is simple: to have the most effective system in place to inform the American people about threats to our country.”

The task force will be co-chaired by  Fran Townsend, former assistant to President George W. Bush for homeland security and counterterrorism, and Judge William Webster, former director of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The task force will have 60 days to review the the terror alert system, know officially as the Homeland Security Alert System.

The task force will either recommend changes to the system or scrap it entirely, according to the Associated Press.The terror alert system contains five color-coded threat levels: low-green; blue-guarded; yellow-elevated; orange-high; and red-severe. The Associated Press reports the threat level has been changed 16 times since its creation on March 12, 2002. (For a time-line of threat level changes, click here.)

The terror alert system has been a non-stop target for critics and comedians. In 2005, homeland security expert Stephen E. Flynn, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, called on the Department of Homeland Security to throw it away as well on the New York Times op-ed page.

Michael Chertoff, the new secretary of homeland security, is studying ways to revise the color-coded terrorism alert system created three years ago. He should save himself the trouble and scrap it altogether.

The stated objective of the five-tier advisory system is to increase preparedness among public safety officials, businesses and citizens when there is a threat of a terrorist attack. The reality, however, is that the warning system ends up alienating the very people whose cooperation is essential to managing real danger. If the color-coded system were to meet a timely demise, the only ones to miss it would be comedians on late-night television.

Currently, the HSAS is yellow for the country and at orange for the airline sector.

♦ Photo by vaXzine/Flickr


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