Color-coded warning system has problems

The Homeland Security Director, Tom Ridge, unveiled a new terror alert system for the United States called the Homeland Security Advisory system. Under this new system there are different color codes for the different levels of terrorist threat. What does this system offer that the old one didn’t?

Before, when there was a threat the Attorney General’s office would say we were at a high threat and issue a warning that an attack was possible. Other than be afraid, most citizens couldn’t really do much about it. Supposedly, state and local law enforcement were to be in an increased state of alert during this time, basically the past six months since Sept. 11.

The new system offers a color-coded system for determining the level of threat. Green means a low threat, blue is a general risk, yellow is elevated risk, orange is significant risk and red, of course, means high risk. But why have different levels if they don’t mean anything? Right now we are yellow, so be moderately on the watch for terrorism, whatever that is supposed to mean. I suppose the new system is good for the weather channel. Today’s forecast: sunny and warm with a general risk for a terrorist attack. As Ridge said, “There’s a little science in here and a lot of art.” How reassuring.

Now the government is going to try to be region-specific with the threats. So New York could be at a high risk and Boise, Idaho could be at no risk at all. Which is good, but as many officials have pointed out it is not always easy to know specific targets and if they did know they would not go public with that information. Shortly after Sept. 11, a report came up that the administration knew about, but did not share with the public; a dirty nuclear bomb that may have been in New York City.

I would be happier with no system at all. All it does for the average person is make them afraid. If nothing happens after periods of high risk people will start to become indifferent to the warnings. Tell me who really took the government seriously after it said for the third or fourth time that the nation was at a high risk. Did anybody really act any different and did going public really help to stop an attack?

If we did have the new system on Sept. 11, are we really supposed to believe that a red alert would have prevented the attacks? I don’t think so. And as we know the federal agencies did not have that much of a clue about Sept. 11 so it may have been a yellow threat, at best.

The problems don’t stop there. Just because there is a low threat doesn’t mean an attack cannot occur. In fact that would probably be one of the best times for a terrorist to attack – when we are off guard. In effect, the system says there is always a threat so we must always be on guard.

If they want to have a system of different alerts they should offer alternative ways for people to respond to the threats. The major complaint about the old system was that it was too vague, and so far this system isn’t any better. The system is open to change for the next few months, and hopefully they will add different ways to respond to the threats.

The best solution is to just let the different agencies do their jobs and make them work together and share information so that when there is a threat they know about it and can try to stop anything bad from happening. If the building I am in is going to explode, let me know, but if not I don’t want to know. We have the right to information in this country, but when it comes to terrorism, unless the danger is imminent don’t tell me about it.

When it comes to terrorism I have no choice but to trust the government. It is supposed to protect its citizens. So I would tell them just to do their job, keep me safe, and stop worrying so much about what color to forecast for today and start worrying more about keeping the forecast from getting worse.