Good riddance color coded system of terrorism

Published 9:41 am Thursday, April 21, 2011

So it’s finally been done.

The colorful warning system our government used to warn the public of terrorism threats has now been filed away with other bad ideas.

On Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced there would be a change to the alert system that was put in place after the September 11 attacks.

Previously, there was a color-coded system, including red for severe risk of terrorism attacks, orange for a high risk, yellow for elevated, blue for guarded and green for low.

What a vivid rainbow it was. Despite its many colors, the previous system was a little obscure to the American public unless they’re a fan of late-night television where it was the butt of many comedians’ jokes.

Can you blame them? The whole idea of it seems a little silly and, in addition, most Americans wouldn’t be able to tell you what color meant what or what they should do.

On a recent trip home, I saw one of these color coded bars greet me at the security line. What color it was, I couldn’t tell you and what it meant, I definitely couldn’t tell you.

It didn’t make me more aware of my surroundings nor did it “alert” me to what I should find suspicious. Like most people, I already have my own personal alerts built in. I like to think I am observant enough to notice when suspicious behavior is taking place and when it isn’t.

I don’t need the colors from a box of crayons or the latest Sesame Street episode to tell me so.

The previous system seems to have been constructed for a class of kindergarteners rather than a country of more than 300 million.

I find it a little insulting to think the government would think their citizens would need a dramatic alert system to tell them when there was a potential for terrorist activity. Why not just tell us straight out—there is a potential for an attack. Yep, I’m sure most of us would understand that.

According to Napolitano, the new system will provide alerts based on “specific and creditable information about potential terrorism activity” and provide as many details possible to the public.

There will be two levels of alert: “elevated threat,” which “warns of a credible terrorist threat” and “imminent threat,” which “warns of a credible, specific and impending terrorist threat.

What? No neon orange or hot pink?

No, I’m not arguing the concept of having a terrorism warning system. I just want one that does not insist on teaching me the colors of the rainbow.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.