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DHS to End Color-coded Warning System

Image: Wikipedia, Jack Moore

In an address last week, Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced the agency would end the color-coded terrorist alert system later this year.

Instead, the department’s new plan can be summed up under the theme: The government can’t do it alone.

“This means that the days are numbered for the automated recordings at airports about a color code level that were too often accompanied by little practical information,” Napolitano posted on the DHS blog. “This new system is built on the common-sense belief that we are all in this together, and that we all have a role to play.”

Napolitano promised the new system, called the National Terrorism Advisory System, would be much more open about threats and informing the public.

“When a threat develops that could impact you, the public – we will tell you,” she wrote. “We will provide whatever information we can so you know how to protect yourselves, your families and your communities.

The new system is two-tiered, Napolitano said. Working with other federal agencies, DHS will issue formal, detailed alerts about threats deemed “imminent” or “elevated.” In some cases, the information will be pitched to a particular group, such as law enforcement or, even, a segment of the private sector, such as shopping malls, she said.

Social media will also play a larger role in getting information out to the general public. DHS will update threat information on its website as well as its Facebook page and Twitter feed.

The color-coded system, which launched in March of 2002, predated even the official creation of DHS, but was the subject of criticism and even disdain. Many of the lower levels, such as “guarded” and “low” were never used, and there appeared to clear criteria for when the alert should be upgraded to “high” and “severe.”

Napolitano, who announced the change at a “State America’s Homeland Security” address at the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, said the new system would be phased in over a 90-day period.

The system is expected to officially launch April 27.

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