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Terror alerts may lose color

The color-coded terrorism warning system was introduced in 2002.  (Associated Press)
The color-coded terrorism warning system was introduced in 2002. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – The threat level has never gone below yellow, once went to red and now may fade to black.

The Department of Homeland Security is poised to end its five-tiered, color-coded terror warning system, a post-Sept. 11 endeavor that has been called too vague to be useful and has been mostly ignored or mocked by the public.

So forgotten is the system that DHS has not even changed the terror alert level in four years, even after the attempted bombing of a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. Instead of changing the alert color, within 24 hours of the foiled plot the DHS opted to issue new security measures to airlines and businesses.

One alternative under consideration is to change to only two threat levels: elevated and imminent. Under the new model, whenever the threat level is changed to “imminent,” government officials would be expected to be as specific as possible in describing the threat and recommending a response without jeopardizing national security.

The homeland security advisory system was created in 2002 under then-Secretary Tom Ridge. In 2004, DHS began assigning color threat levels to general targets such as aviation, financial services and mass transit.

The lowest level is green (low), and it can be elevated to blue (guarded), yellow (elevated), orange (high) and red (severe).

The threat was elevated to red only once, on Aug. 10, 2006, when British police disrupted a plot to detonate liquid explosives on airliners.


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