New terror warning system cans color codes

April 21, 2011
By ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO  

Say goodbye to orange, red and all the other hues in the nation's 10-year-old terror-alert system.

Beginning next week, the Department of Homeland Security will switch to a simplified system with two levels: elevated and imminent, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday in Grand Central Terminal. She was joined at a news conference by NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan).

The new system will replace the old five-color warning grid, which ranged from green, for no threat, to red, when the threat of a terror attack was severe.

"The system clearly is a significant upgrade from what we had," King said.

The old color codes, implemented after Sept. 11, 2001, didn't provide the public with a great deal of information about threats and what people should do about them, Napolitano said.

"In New York City, we were always at red or orange, and I think most people tuned it out," Maloney said. The new system "will give Americans more specific information and tell them what they can do to protect themselves."

The previous system "raised alerts without information, raising anxiety," Napolitano said.

The federal government will start using the new system April 26 to denote a threat as "elevated" when it involves a credible terrorist threat or "imminent" when it warns of specific, impending terror threats. Warnings will be posted on the DHS website as well as through its use of social media like Facebook and Twitter, officials said.

Arthur Hulnick, a professor of international relations at Boston University, didn't think the new system will change things much.

"I don't think people will pay much attention until there is another terrorist effort, and the few we have experienced recently have all been duds," Hulnick said.

The new alerts will tell people how they can help law enforcement, such as using cell phone cameras to take photos at an explosion site, said officials.

Kelly applauded the new system and reiterated that New York City remains the nation's top terror target, having been in the crosshairs of 12 uncovered plots in recent years.

The new alerts will automatically expire and will be removed from the DHS website after two weeks, assuming no new information warrants their continuance, Napolitano said.