Alyssa Rosenberg over at Government Executive‘s blog thinks it’s reasonable to get rid of the color-coding in the Homeland Security Advisory System. I would go a step further and say it’s reasonable to scrap the whole thing.
The system is ineffective because the “alert level” is stuck in the middle of the scale. It has been either yellow or orange since the system was created 7 years ago — except for a few days in 2006, when it went to red because of the British airline plot (and the red level only applied to the airline industry).
That’s understandable. DHS doesn’t want to raise the level to red too often: it scares people, and it creates a lot of extra security costs for all levels of government. And DHS is reluctant to lower the level — can you imagine the criticism if a terror attack happened while the “alert level” was at green?
But the result is that HSAS is stuck in the middle, at the be-alert-but-not-too-alert level, and it’s just not terribly useful for citizens.
DHS should certainly issue guidance when it has intelligence about specific threats. But the idea of a “threat level” just doesn’t seem to work in practice.