The terrorism threat level system is being re-worked to include only two levels. Image: Flickr / csoghoian / CC-BY-SA

In 2001, the federal government instituted a color-coded system of terrorism alerts. In the almost 10 years since this system was put in place, it has proven more popular with comics than with the general public. A new alert system is being introduced on April 26 that the Homeland Security Department hopes will be much more effective.


New warning system aims for targeted alerts

In the previous terrorism alert system, the “terror threat level” was listed as one of five different colors. The new system, however, issues just two levels of alerts. “elevated” and “imminent.” The alerts are also going to be issued for a specific area and time period. So rather than “threat level orange”, as airports have been in since 2006, the threat warnings would look more like “Elevated threat in the Boston airport area, expires 5/1/2011.” Threat warnings will also automatically expire after two weeks, and must be re-reviewed to remain active.

Making use of social media

The new terror alert system will also have a new feature, unique for the Department of Homeland Security. Terror alerts will be broadcast on social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. The hope of the Department is that by going to sites where people already spend significant amounts of time, they will help encourage individuals to be more vigilant about what they see, and possibly report what could be a threat. Users can sign up to receive alerts via email, Facebook, Twitter, RSS data feeds, or web widgets for webmasters.

A higher threshold for alerts

The new alert system will reportedly also have a higher threshold for triggering an alert. This decision is to help reduce what some are calling “threat fatigue.” Nonspecific threat warnings that are active for long periods of time tend to reduce the effectiveness of warnings. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has addressed this by stating “”We don’t want people to live in fear, we want people to live in a state of alert and awareness.”

What is your opinion? Will this new terror alert system be effective, or will it just lead to increased “threat fatigue”?

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