US drops colour-coded terror alerts

2011-01-27 07:48

The United States is scrapping its colour-coded threat advisory system drafted in the wake of 9/11, a US lawmaker said yesterday, criticising the system that “taught Americans to be scared”.

The five-colour system launched in 2002 offered a rainbow of threat levels, from the lowest level green to blue (guarded), yellow (elevated), orange (high) and red (severe).

The higher the threat condition, the greater the risk of a terror attack, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

But the system initiated by then-president George W Bush was often mocked by critics as a relic of post-September 11 2001 frenzy that caused alarm without explaining the reasons for the alerts.

“The old colour-coded system taught Americans to be scared, not prepared,” Representative Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security, said, applauding the DHS for replacing the system.

“Each and every time the threat level was raised, very rarely did the public know the reason, how to proceed, or for how long to be on alert,” Thompson said.

“I applaud the secretary for her decision to create a common sense approach to alerting the public when credible threats arise.”

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who reportedly ordered a review of the system in 2009, is expected to announce the change during an annual address on the state of US security.

The DHS declined to provide details on what would replace the band of colours, but ABC News citing officials briefed on the issue reported that the department would institute a more specific public alert system.

DHS sent its draft proposal to the White House for review last November, with a goal to “replace a system that communicates nothing with a system that communicates precise, actionable information based on the latest intelligence”, a senior Homeland Security official told The Washington Post at the time.

The threat level mostly hovered around the yellow and orange range, never dipping to green or blue.

It only reached red once, on August 10 2006, amid a disrupted al-Qaeda plot targeting transatlantic flights.

In a sign of just how vague it has become, the colour has not changed from orange, or elevated, since 2006.

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