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Department of Homeland Security scrapping color-coded terror alerts

by Adam Russett on January 27, 2011

According to officials, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is due to announce on Thursday that the color-coded terror threat alert system, also known as the Homeland Security Advisory System, will give way to a new National Terror Advisory System that will focus more on geographical specifics. The change will occur by April 27.

Not many details regarding the new system are known at this time, though Napolitano is expected to formally outline them at what is being referred to as "the first annual 'State of America's Homeland Security' address" at George Washington University, CNN reports.

According to the news source, the color-coded system was the brunt of many jokes, but it also raised sharp objection over what some say was arbitrary rationale and political scaremongering used to generate fear prior to the 2004 presidential election.

"The old color coded system taught Americans to be scared, not prepared," Representative Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, told the news source. "Each and every time the threat level was raised, very rarely did the public know the reason, how to proceed, or for how long to be on alert…Many in Congress felt the system was being used as a political scare tactic – raising and lowering the threat levels when it best suited the Bush administration."

The color-coded threat system has been in place for 9 years, after the Bush administration instated it in March of 2002, months after the 9/11 attacks.

The national threat level was raised to orange ("high") five times since its inception and to red ("severe") just once, remaining at yellow ("elevated") for the rest of the time. The lower levels were never used, and many critics had suggested removing them altogether.

According to ABC News, Napolitano has been evaluating the system since July 2009, when she hired a task force to conduct a 60-day review of the system. In the report issued by the task force, it was noted that "the color code system has suffered from a lack of credibility and clarity leading to an erosion of public confidence such that it should be abandoned."

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