Congressional report says color-coded system lacking

| 8/15/2003

The color-coded system used by the Homeland Security Department to warn of potential terrorist attacks is too vague and fails to provide specific information on appropriate protective measures, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

The system, established last year, uses five color levels to indicate various potential threats-green, representing a "low" risk of attack; blue, representing a "guarded" risk; yellow, representing an "elevated" risk; orange, representing a "high" risk; and red, representing a "severe risk."

Since the system was launched, the level has been raised from yellow to orange four times, according to the report prepared by Congress' public policy research service. Currently, the terrorism threat alert level stands at yellow. In its report, CRS said the system is too vague on the nature of the potential terrorist threat, leading to concerns that the public may begin to disregard it.

CRS suggested to Congress that it instruct the Homeland Security Department to use the advisory system to provide specific warnings to targeted locations when possible. Homeland Security could also issue general warnings, without using the advisory system, to notify state and local governments and the public, the report says.

The report suggests Congress should do more to establish protective measures for states, localities and the general public, even through legislation, if necessary. It warns, however, that a list of general measures may be less effective than those developed by state and local governments.

A Homeland Security spokesman said the department is "well aware" that the advisory system needs revision. "We are well aware that it is a brand new program that will need to continually be refined," Homeland Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe was quoted by The Washington Post as saying. "Communicating threat information even to security personnel is a new and developing field for this country," he said.