Color Coded Terror Alerts Retired by Department of Homeland Security

DHS to put out specific information instead.

January 27, 2011, 5:12 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2011 -- Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced today that the color coded terrorism alert system would end within 90 days. It will be replaced, she said, with a new two-tiered system to provide clear and specific information about terrorist threats, and actions people should take.

"Today I announce the end of the old system of color-coded alerts. In its place, we will implement a new system that's built on a clear and simple premise: When a threat develops that could impact you -- the public -- we will tell you." Napolitano said. "We will provide whatever information we can so you know how to protect yourselves, your families, and your communities."

Napolitano called the new threat warning method the National Terrorism Advisory System. Napolitano made the announcement in a speech at George Washington University, where she also urged students to consider a career with the Department.

"Under the new, two-tiered system, DHS will coordinate with other Federal entities to issue formal, detailed alerts regarding information about a specific or credible terrorist threat. These alerts will include a clear statement that there is an 'imminent threat' or 'elevated threat.'" Napolitano said.

Napolitano said that the new system, unlike the old one, will have specified end dates when there is an alert. Napolitano said that was possible because of better intelligence collection and analysis.

"The Director of National Intelligence, the CIA, and the entire intelligence community, of which DHS is a member, is producing more and better streams of intelligence than at any time in the past."

In July, 2009 Napolitano ordered a 60-day review of the system used to inform the public of the terror threat environment to see if it needed to be altered. The task force appointed by Napolitano said, "Task Force membership believes the color code system has suffered from a lack of credibility and clarity leading to an erosion of public confidence such that it should be abandoned."

Color Coded Terror Alerts No More

The current threat level -- yellow -- has not been raised or lowered since 2006 and officials say they have been better able to tailor security procedures without making changes to the color code system.

The color codes, initially set up in 2002, were adjusted 16 times in their first four years. The system, which spans the spectrum of colors from green -- or "low" -- risk of terrorist attack, to red -- "severe" -- has never gone below yellow -- or "elevated" -- risk.

In a statement released after word that the color-code system would be replaced House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said, "I definitely appreciate the Department's effort to revamp the alert system. Though the system served a valuable purpose in the terrible days and months following the terrorist attacks of Sept 11th, it was clearly time for the current color-coded system to be replaced with a more targeted system. I know they have been working on this for a long time. It sounds to me like the changes they are proposing make sense."

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