Color-coded alerts to change

by Michael B. Perini, ABC
perini & associates

Today, officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will announce that the color-coded terrorism alert system that has greeted all of us when traveling will be  phased out over the next 90 days.

Do we “like” or “unlike” this decision to stop using the five-step color codes for informing us about potential terrorist attacks?  Also expected to change is the public-service recording at airports announcing the alert level.

Here are 3 reasons to like or unlike the government’s decision.


1. Polls have shown that the public hasn’t much cared about the alert system because it was confusing and not useful. Each time the threat level was raised very rarely did the public know the reason or how to proceed or how long to be on guard.  Hopefully, the new system will give law enforcement vital information without unnecessarily alarming or confusing the public.  I support a change in the advisory system.

2.   Though useful right after Sept. 11 — I know it was for me and my family — but it soon became ineffective as there was no messaging to the public when the threat level was increased, i.e.,  useful tips and safeguarding measures. If the new system provides action steps for the public then I am all for it.  Maybe DHS should keep the “Ready” program and market it more aggressively for each alert.

3.  The color-coded chart was just about everywhere.  From websites to airport signage.  You could even get a t-shirt with the colorful chart printed on it.  I liked the fact that it was easy to read and find at a moment’s notice.  If the new system does not use attractive graphics and goes solely to local law enforcement agencies, airlines or businesses like expected,  I would suggest that the method of informing be very visible so that the warning doesn’t get lost in the overcrowded inbox or tweet world for those who are responsible for our safety..


1.  The new alert system is going underground to only law enforcement agencies, airline officials and a few select others.  Why?  Will this effort to NOT scare the public — by limiting  information access — not backfire and cause more public alarm?  I would recommend specific communication plans be developed for each time the new alert is used so that the public can be informed in a logical and timely manner.  And this time, with some specifics without giving the terrorists an edge.  I know it is a challenge to balance the need to provide useful information with the need to protect sensitive information.  But it can be done.  DHS has an experienced public relations staff who can make recommendations.  They should be consulted.

2.  With more and more people using mobile devices to get information, social media tools should be a major element in this new alert notification program.  The Department of Homeland Security already uses social media in their communications with the public.  In my view, this additional integration should be included.  We will know soon if this aspect for keeping the public informed is being implemented within the new changes. Broader public alerts via social media should  be considered if situations warrant.

3.  What will the reaction be for any  terrorists?  Also, will anyone pay attention to the announcement  today?  I mean the color has not changed from orange, or elevated, since 2006.  Information to the public about this major decision has been limited to this point.  I am disappointed.

Here is a link to watch the announcement by DHS Secretary Napolitano 2 p.m. EST  via the web.

I would like to hear from you.  Do you like or unlike this decision?