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ER/Continuity Planning: Colors Be Gone! US Drops the Color-Coded Terrorism Alert System-Wasn’t Very Helpful Was It?! New System Coming Soon!

November 26, 2010

Well, we won’t have that color chart to kick around anymore! The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning to retire the color-coded terrorism alert system, known officially as the Homeland Security Advisory System, the five-color scheme introduced by the Bush administration in March 2002 as part of Presidential Directive Three.

The  DHS website describes the Homeland Security Advisory System as designed to guide protective measures when specific information to a particular sector or geographic region is received. It combines threat information with vulnerability assessments and provides communications to public safety officials and the public. The now fated Color-coded Threat Level System was supposed to communicate with public safety officials and the public at-large through a threat-based, color-coded system so that protective measures can be implemented to reduce the likelihood or impact of an attack.  Red, the highest level, meant “severe risk of terrorist attacks.” The lowest level, green, meant “low risk of terrorist attacks.” Between those were blue (guarded risk), yellow (significant) and orange (high).

The U.S. has generally lived in the yellow and orange range since its inception and in our collective lifetimes, will likely never get any lower than that!

The color-coded threat levels were doomed to fail because “they don’t tell people what they can do — they just make people afraid,” said Bruce Schneier, an author on security issues. He said the system was “a relic of our panic after 9/11” that “never served any security purpose.”

The Homeland Security Department said the colors would be replaced with a new system — recommendations are still under review — that should provide more clarity and guidance.  “The goal is to replace a system that communicates nothing,” the agency said, “with a partnership approach with law enforcement, the private sector and the American public that provides specific, actionable information based on the latest intelligence.” The department has already begun working toward the goal of providing more specific alerts.

Conan O’Brien joked, “Champagne-fuchsia means we’re being attacked by Martha Stewart.” Jay Leno said, “They added a plaid in case we were ever attacked by Scotland.”

Stay tuned!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2010 06:16

    We locally adopted the use of the federal color code system but added a locally designed program (GUARD) that included direct actions that individuals or business were advised to follow.

    Green-Go about your daily business. Ex. Develop a plan & assemble a disaster supply kit

    Blue-Update your plans

    Yellow-Activate your plan. Be observant & report susicious activity, test your plan.

    Orange-Reduce your vulnerabilty. Avoid high profile or symbolis locations, exercise caution when traveling

    Red-Defend your assets. Avoid high risk areas, follow special instructions & restrictions from officials, determine with employer your work status.

    We promoted this with brochures, posters, and power point presentations; one for businesses and one for private citizens. The program was well received.

    The problem with the color code system was/is not the system, it was not changing the colors to match where we really were in the threat level,not modifying the system to address a region or type of industry, developing and implimenting a national public education program.

    • December 3, 2010 05:43

      What a great suggestion! It is too bad that DHS didn’t follow your model and provide clear details on what to do for each level…Kudos!

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