Department of Homeland Security Scraps Beloved Five-Color Terror Alerts


The Story

The federal government is finally scrapping its five-level, color-coded terror alert system in favor of a simpler, friendlier approach. The previous system, often mocked, as in the example below, will be replaced by a National Terrorist Advisory System. Through the new system, "alerts will include a clear statement that there is an 'imminent threat' or 'elevated threat'" and will be communicated through the Department of Homeland Security website and through social channels, such as the DHS Facebook page and Twitter.  (The Twitter page had no tweets as of this writing, which, I suppose, is a good thing.) Mocking continues, for example, in the PC World article, "Tweet if you see Osama." This article refers to a 2009 April Fools' joke at Info World, which said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would start allowing people to report emergencies through Twitter. Although not quite the same as this announcement of reports from the government on Twitter, the article is close enough to be funny.  

Terror Alert Level

Discussion Starters

  • What has been your view of the previous five-color system? How does this system compare to other visual approaches, such as those discussed in Chapter 9 of the book? 
  • In what ways is the new system an improvement?
  • Assess the government's use of social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. Would you visit the new sites to find emergency information? Why or why not?

Assignment Ideas

  • Write a report assessing the successes and failures of the previous five-color system. Read about the original intent of the previous system here. Also research articles about the system to get a comprehensive perspective of what has worked and what hasn't. In your report, recommend a new approach for the Department of Homeland Security, which may include the new plan as well as other ideas you have for communicating important information about threats.
  • Imagine that you work for the Department of Homeland Security and have identified a threat: a potential terrorist attack in your hometown. Write a tweet (140 characters or less) to convey the threat to the public. You can invent whatever details about the situation you would like. Just be sure to balance seriousness with reassurance -- you certainly don't want people to panic unnecessarily.