Junking the Threat Colors

November 26, 2010

According to an article in the New York Times, the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] has decided to do away with its color-coded system for indicating terrorist threat levels, in place since 2002.  This is a good thing — the whole thing was more or less a joke from the beginning, principally because it didn’t convey any useful information.  (What am I supposed to do differently when it’s Orange as opposed to Yellow?)   That the levels have not changed in three years would also suggest that the system lacks something in terms of communicating useful and current information.

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.

There is also, I think, a natural bias in a system like this: when in doubt, keep the alert level high, for backside protection reasons.  If the announced threat level is low, and there is an attack, it makes the security agency look bad.

DHS is working on a new system that is supposed to provide more in the way of useful infortmation.

“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.”

We shall see.

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