Color-coded threat levels fading to black.

In an effort to communicate the current general state of our terrorism threats a color-coded system was introduced that characterized the threat level in broad chunks ranging from a near-zero threat at Green to an impending attack at Red. I’m all for communicating to the citizens of this country, but I always found the system to be 1) far too vague to do any good at all and 2) hopelessly opaque as to the quality of the threat, as opposed to the general sense of the government about how likely an attack was to come at a given moment. After years of being stuck in perpetual Orange at the airports, the government is going to retire the system completely.

The U.S. color-coded terror warning system will be phased out beginning this week, according to government officials familiar with the plan. The officials requested anonymity to speak ahead of an announcement scheduled Thursday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The Homeland Security Department and other government agencies have been reviewing the Homeland Security Advisory System’s usefulness for more than a year. One of the most notable changes to come: The public will no longer hear automated recordings at U.S. airports stating that the threat level is orange.

The Obama administration will take the next three months to roll out a replacement, which will be called the National Terrorism Advisory System. The new plan calls for notifying specific audiences about specific threats. In some cases, it might be a one-page threat description sent to law enforcement officials describing the threat, what law enforcement needs to do about it and what the federal government is doing, one of the officials said.

When agency officials think there is a threat the public should know about, they will issue an announcement and rely on news organizations and social media outlets to get the word out.

Yes, and this is the part that’s kind of causing me to worry about the pendulum being pushed too far in the other direction. Rather than communicate a ready state at all times, we now have to worry about bureaucrats making a decision about whether we need to know something, no doubt with their own interests carefully factored in. That or this system being used to communicate actual information, but only to law enforcement who will then decide they need to keep we citizens in the dark so we don’t “foul up their investigations.”

I will await the description of how that system will really work and see how it looks then.

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