Video: DHS to end color-coded terror alerts

Some may see red over this change, while others feel a little blue, but I suspect most of us will wonder why the DHS color-coding threat system lasted as long as it did. The terror level has rarely if ever changed from its current “orange” after its adoption in the months after 9/11. Predictably, no one wanted to authorize lowering the threat level, lest one be accused of not taking threats seriously. Even when threats did arise, DHS didn’t want to raise the status and panic travelers, either. This led to a rare moment of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill in ending the useless warning system:

Long a joke on late-night talk shows, the color codes are being replaced by a system designed to give law enforcement and potential targets critical information without unnecessarily alarming or confusing the public, according to lawmakers and a Department of Homeland Security briefing paper on the change.

The five-step color codes, which range from green to red, will be phased out in the next 90 days.

Among the changes: Passengers will no longer hear the public-service recordings at airports announcing the alert level. The aviation threat has been on orange, or “high” alert, since 2006.

“The old color-coded system taught Americans to be scared, not prepared,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson , D-Miss., the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. “Each and every time the threat level was raised, very rarely did the public know the reason, how to proceed, or for how long to be on alert.”

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the chairman of the committee, also praises the move. “Though the system served a valuable purpose in the terrible days and months following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, it was clearly time for the current color-coded system to be replaced with a more targeted system,” he said.

The new approach will take more specific action when threats arise. DHS plans to enhance communication with local law enforcement, TSA, and the FBI to address those, as well as keep airlines and passengers in the loop in the targeted areas. If a system-wide threat is discovered, then DHS will communicate that as well by indicating the nature of the threat and the steps passengers need to take to address it. That makes a lot more sense than a color code that had no real discrete definition of the nature of threats, nor of what passengers and airlines were supposed to do about it.