New Terrorism Alert System: More Transparent, No Color Memorization

COMMENTARY | Apparently we’ve been at the second highest terror alert for the past five years. This level was represented by the color orange, and many Americans, including myself, had no clue, didn’t care, and were definitely not keeping track. Even Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, admits that the color-coded system “has faded in utility except for late-night comics” (CNN).

The New System

In New York’s Grand Central Station today, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled a new terror alert system called the National Terrorism Advisory System that will effectively toss the 5-level color code system out the window and replace it with a simplified 2-level system.

According to CNN, this 2-level system consists of the “elevated” level and the “imminent” level. The elevated level “warns of a credible terrorist threat,” whereas the imminent level “warns of a credible, specific, and impending terrorist threat.” Some new features to this system are expiration and public engagement.

Alerts will expire automatically after two weeks and will ask the public to be actively engaged by presenting specific information about a credible threat through several mediums, such as the web (, TV, and even social media networks. According to the Wall Street Journal, an example of specific information may be a type of make and model of car in a specific location.

The new system will be effective next week on April 26.

My Two Cents

What I like about the new system:

Simplicity: I like the fact that we don’t have to memorize colors and what they mean. These two new levels are basically saying, “Hey, there’s a general threat and we have to be more alert in a given area” and “Someone made a serious threat at a specific place, so help the government out and help us catch these guys.” Keeping it simple is always good.

Public Engagement, Transparency, and Alerts: I like the fact that the government is going to be a little more transparent and a lot less vague. Telling the public there’s a “threat” and actually providing a make and model of a car with descriptive factors is definitely a sharp contrast. Keeping the public informed via different media is a great idea. I like the fact it even includes social networks, because God knows Facebook is more popular than news outlets these days.

Expiration: It’s nice to know it’s not always going to be on one alert, and even if it is, it is being renewed every two weeks, which means a little more re-assessing, etc.

What I don’t like about the new system

Public engagement: Gosh, the last thing we need are the crazies with their guns and vigilante justice coming out to be “heroes.” You know every town has a few. In addition, it’s going to be tough for Homeland Security because once the public is more involved, with what manpower do they expect to field every tip, hotline, lead, and false lead? However, like an Amber Alert, any information is better than no information at all, and the risk of folks acting stupidly does not outweigh the safety of a city for sure.

Concluding Thoughts

In the end, since September 11, the U.S. has always been on alert – there’s always a chance someone might do something incredibly stupid and ruin the lives of thousands. The threat of terror is real 24/7. I think most Americans are aware of this and are willing to comply, as they have done with new security measures at airports, and whatever else the government comes up with to keep us safe. Hopefully this new system will be a lot more effective at keeping citizens informed, alert, and safe.